Review by Fiona Duncan, published 5th October 2008.
We needed a night south of Oxford at short notice. Anything decent would do; we weren't searching for a near perfect place in a little known, idyllic location – but that's what we found. "There's somewhere near Faringdon", I told my friends Lui, Hugh and young Millie. "I don't know anything about it, except that it sounds worryingly twee. Still, it will have to do."
The Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge. I don't know why, but visions of a quaint, doily-draped, froggily-themed hostelry that had seen better days flashed across my mind as I hurriedly booked the rooms.
Somewhere near Farringdon was about the sum of my knowledge. We weren't even aware which river flowed under Tadpole Bridge and, finding that its humped span was as diminutive as its name, were
surprised to learn that it was the Thames.
We had much more to discover about the spot in which we found ourselves. It's here that the infant Thames is at its most peaceful, slipping past miles of understated countryside, rich in wildlife. Downstream from Tadpole Bridge are the wildflower meadows and wading birds of the Chimney Nature Reserve; across the fields is Bampton, one of the oldest and prettiest villages in the county. William Morris's Kelmscott Manor lies farther along the river, while Blenheim Palace and Cotswold Water Park are within easy reach. I couldn't think of a better base for weekend away.
Many customers arrive by boat, whether for a pint of real ale or a night ashore. The Trout's spacious garden runs down to the water, where there are moorings for patrons. Boats can also be hired for the day at nearby Radcot, or you can take the Trout's motorised punt (£40) and a champagne picnic.
The neat, old brick inn has all the usual hallmarks of a recently modernised pub-with-rooms but in owner Helen Pugh's hands it adds up to a particularly appealing, unpretentious, family friendly whole. Winning ingredients, in no particular order, include lovely bedrooms that make you stop in surprise; a clutch of faithful regulars propping up the bar (like so many similar places, the Trout is essentially now a restaurant); the owners' young sons playing on the lawn or catching crayfish in the river before proudly handing their haul (licensed of course) to the chef; great breakfasts in an elegant room; cheerful local staff.
Dinner would have been perfect (tasty starters; excellent wine list devised by Helen's husband Gareth) but for a few negatives: "is everything all right?" asked too many times; overcooked lamb cutlets; and a dud plate of cheese; and a nasty case of SSS or "same sauce syndrome", my lingo for when two different main courses are ordered, in this case duck and lamb, but the sauce on both is exactly the same. Back to the river. "We have a friend who has just walked the length of the Thames for charity," I proudly told Helen. "Oh really?" She was clearly unimpressed. "We get a lot of those. And the swimmers." The swimmers? "Yes, people who swim the Thames for charity". Ah. Well, they deserve a night at the Trout. Everyone does.
The Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge, Buckland Marsh, Faringdon (01367 870382; www.trout-inn.co.uk) Doubles £110 per night, including breakfast (family suite £140). Ground floor rooms for guests with disabilities.