Winter by the roaring fires of Oxfordshire's Cotswold pubs

by Richard Shayler

Winter has fallen heavily this year but a weekend exploring the Oxfordshire Cotswolds can be done on a budget and, with a roaring fire in many pubs, the chill is kept at bay

A weekend away in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds will pick up your spirits whilst avoiding airport hassles with their endless queues. Furthermore you will only have to loosen your belt after a hearty pie and roasted vegetables, whilst shoes will only have to be removed prior to sinking into a bath after a day's walking or perhaps to preheat some woolly socks by the pub fire!. 

Many groups head for Bourton on the Water but the touristy twee chocolate box nature brings in coach loads, pushes up prices and causes a scrum for every pub table. This guide avoids those by exploring some of the lesser known hamlets and villages north of Oxford where the stirred honey Cotswold colours begin to blend with the darker mash of the Northamptonshire ironstone.

Whatever the season, the villages are always strikingly pretty. Crooked lanes of thatched cottages, some dressed but usually of rubble stone sitting comfortably beside their thousand year old church. Others snooze round a green like slumbering deck-chaired cricket match spectators.

The walking or cycling between these villages is always gentle. All the pubs mentioned have had a roaring fire going on my recent visits so if you feel the weather is beyond your rain mac and boots then settle in beside it with good company or a good book. 

Great Tew, Ledwell and Sandford St Martin

The Falkland Arms of Great Tew is an absolute jewel. Irrespective of the season I love it. For overseas travellers wanting to visit an "English country" pub this is where to go. Tied up with the Great Tew estate it gained its name from Viscount Falkland, who, prior to his death in a suicidal charge into the Roundhead musket line during the English civil war, had filled the main house with philosophers, politicians and theologians. I certainly gain enlightenment sitting near the fire with a pint and a book. 

A good lunch will start from £8.95. The pub has 6 rooms with prices starting from £85.00. As the pub has narrow passageways and steep stairs it sadly cannot provide full facilities for disabled travellers.

The village has a small store for provisions and thankfully a designated car park so the crooked lanes are not jammed with vehicles.

The bridleway from the side of the Falkland Arms marks 2 miles over to Ledwell. Depending on the heaviness and heavenliness of lunch this should take less than an hour. The small road into Ledwell looks as though it is passing into just an estate. Press on for a hundred metres and view the well.

From Ledwell there is a small road to Sandford St Martin. A happy twist in the road another 2 miles away. The churchyard here feels like a well tended college quad but one tomb rises above the immaculately kept grass. The tomb belongs to the Deloraine family, whose main estates sit in Scotland, however the Earl also owned the manor at Ledwell and he and his wife were buried here.

Across from the church is a medieval cross which the present vicar, Reverend Graeme Arthur, confirms has through the centuries been a preaching post. The upper parts were restored in the 1850s. Today its stoneworks act as an anchor point for the roads converging on the village. 

Deddington and Adderbury

Up on the North-Eastern frontier of the Cotswolds are Deddington and Adderbury. They are 5 miles further east than Great Tew. I particularly like Deddington's Horse Fair and Market Place, which are one step away from the Oxford Road. 

 In the market square there a several good pubs. I particularly like taking a sofa by the fire at Deddington Arms. There is both a restaurant and bar meals with 2 course lunch prices starting from £10.95. They also provide accommodation with prices starting from £62.

Also in the square is the Unicorn ( Their telephone number is 01869 338838. Food prices start from £9.00. The Unicorn lives up to its promise of always having a fire going.

Spend a few minutes exploring the market square, lower lanes and alleyways in Deddington. It is best during the day as fewer parked vehicles will be around and only the gentle peal of the church bells will note the time since lunch. Just to the south east of Deddington is the remains of its motte & bailey castle. There is some archaeological evidence for Saxon defence works but the main castle was built for Bishop Odo of Bayeaux, a brother of William the Conqueror. It fell into disrepair by the mid 14th century and little remains but the earthworks with the dressed stone now appearing in various houses in the village. The 8 acre site allows an hour of pleasant exploring and either helps build an appetite or aids digestion.

Deddington is also a good point to aim for if you wish to spend the day walking parts of the Oxfordshire canal that is some 3 miles away on the Aynho road.

Some 4 miles to the north and just before Banbury is Adderbury, here the stonework is of dark molasses. Beside the busy Oxford road but opposite the large village green is the Red Lion pub. It is a cosy coaching pub with lunch prices starting from £7.00. The Red Lion also has some 13 rooms with prices starting from £50 depending on season. It is also an excellent base to take a warming drink by the fire before exploring the village.

Behind the Red Lion are Adderbury Lakes. A pair of lakes fed by 5 springs with well marked footpaths to allow an easy walk around the nature reserve. Previously part of The Adderbury House estate the lakes still have the ice house, boat house and summer house alongside them. The whole estate was previously owned by the Earl of Rochester, a Royalist cavalry commander under Prince Rupert. 

Just across the corner of the green from the Red Lion is Adderbury Theatre, where amateur dramatics has been undertaken since 1977. They also support 2 Morris Men teams.

The tucked up cottages in the lanes on the western side of the Adderbury  make me feel like I am walking or cycling through The Shire in J.R.R Tolkien's Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, with thatched roofs touching down to low walls of winter honeysuckle and the quality of one's garden produce of paramount importance.

If you have come by bicycle then continuing through the lanes on the western side will eventually bring you full circle to Great Tew. 

How to get there

This area is 10 miles south of Banbury and 15 miles north of Oxford. The M40 motorway from either north or south allows easy access. Oxford is on the mainline rail from London Paddington or Birmingham with Banbury being one of several intermediate stops.

For overseas travellers then both the M40 via the M25 and the rail network serving Oxford and Banbury is easily reached from Heathrow.