Review by Fiona Duncan, published 25th November 2011.
Oh Lord, here we go again. That's what I thought as once more my tyres crunched over pristine gravel and once more I squeezed my humble micro car between a Chelsea tractor and a BMW. Here we go again, I thought, as I watched two clean-cut ex-public school types in green bartenders' aprons carrying refuse sacks to the bins while I humped my bags unaided through newly landscaped gardens filled with outdoor tables and furled parasols towards the newly painted (Farrow & Ball, of course) old inn. Here we go again, I thought, when I saw that the one person propping up the bar was not a horny-handed son of the soil as of old, but a leggy blonde in designer country-wear, martini twirling idly in her hand.
Welcome to the Cotswolds. Like purple and silver nightclubs are to the girls and boys in The Only Way is Essex and slick wine bars are to the folk from Made in Chelsea, so posh, newly converted inns – springing up faster than you can say hedge-fund baby – are to the good folk of Gloucestershire. I'd meant to give this breed a rest – the last one, The Feathered Nest, had bedrooms with names like Cockerel's Roost, riding saddles for bar stools, breakfast hampers on sale to local weekenders. But then I met Peter, the 23-year-old manager, who showed me around the hotel he is so proud to run: the attractive dining areas, gleaming with polished wood, the sitting room, the informal Game Bar for coffees and light dishes, the glamorous private dining room, the charmingly rustic treatment room, the pretty enclosed garden, perfect for children, and some of the 14 bedrooms.
And I was won over, especially when I then met the owners, Sam and Georgie Pearman, who are down to earth, unpretentious, incredibly hard- working, not snobs at all, but with the talent to know what people want and how to deliver it. The Beckford Arms in Wiltshire is a posh pub that gets everything absolutely right; though The Wheatsheaf lacks its beautiful location, and its sitting room is not as alluring, it's as good in every other respect, and its fabulous bedrooms are better.
I would say that, wouldn't I, since I dined that night with the man who happens to be responsible for most of The Wheatsheaf's wonderfully imaginative wallpapers and fabrics (Stephen Lewis of Lewis & Wood), though my deep zinc bath and Hypnos bed were worth the room price alone.
Mind you, I could have done without Jack Nicholson: his portrait by Sebastian Kruger made an uneasy companion. I preferred the row of early 20th-century portraits of the Wills tobacco family in the dining room, originally painted for their boardroom and bought at auction.
The food, from the experienced chef Anthony Ely, doesn't miss a beat. Marks out of five? Four point seven, says Stephen Lewis's wife, a professional cook. And I'll add another point three for a superb breakfast next morning, including the best devilled kidneys ever.
- West End, Northleach GL54 3EZ (01451 860244;cotswoldswheatsheaf.com). Doubles from £120 per night, singles from £80, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities
In the area
Northleach stands at a crossroads on the Roman Fosse Way, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The streets in and around the ancient market place are rich in architectural interest, from half-timbered Tudor houses and merchants’ stores to the great House of Correction, built in the 18th century.
The town also boasts the finest example of the Cotswold perpendicular style in the impressive Church of St Peter and Paul, known as the Wool Church. The hotel holds directions for several excellent local walks.
Where to eat
In Cheltenham, try The Royal Well Tavern (5 Royal Well Place; 01242 221212; theroyalwelltavern.com), also owned by the Pearmans; in Cirencester, Made by Bob (The Corn Hall; 01285 641818;foodmadebybob.com), for breakfast, lunch and tea; and in Stow-on-the-Wold, The Old Butcher’s Restaurant (Park Street; 01451 831700;theoldbutchers.com), serving modern British food in contemporary surroundings.
What to do
Children are welcome at The Wheatsheaf and there’s an enclosed garden for them to play in and child-sized wellies. Family-oriented things to do locally include the Cotswold Wildlife Park (cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk) in Burford and Cotswold Farm Park (cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk) in Guiting Power, Cheltenham; or how about a boat trip down the Thames from Lechlade (lechladetripboat.co.uk)?
More culturally minded activities might include visits to Sudeley Castle, Hidcote Gardens, Snowshill Manor, Berkeley Castle and Blenheim Palace. Or there’s the annual cheese-rolling contest, due to take place next on May 28, 2012 on Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester.