Okay, so it might not be London, or Berlin, or New York, but in terms of active get aways, we had the BEST time exploring the South Oxfordshire countryside.
When Dan and I both took an impromptu week off work, we decided that rather than rushing around to go abroad, we’d have a more relaxed week and explore some of the beautiful places in England that always escape us.
Our first stop was a whistle stop tour of Winchester on route to our airbnb. I actually worked in Winchester for a year, but because I lived so far away I only ever drove too and from the hospital without making it into the city.
The obvious highlight is the gothic cathedral, which is the longest anywhere in Europe. As it’s currently the flower festival it was looking even more fantastic with the entrance fully decorated. We didn’t go inside because we had Blitzy dog with us, but instead we wandered along the river and back around the grounds. We stumbled across Cheney Court, just a short walk from the Cathedral. Possibly the most photographed house in Winchester, it’s a grade 1 listed timber framed house built around 1450. I wonder how many modern houses will live to see more than 500 years!
Winchester high street reminds me a little bit of Horsham. It has a very medieval feel, with some tudor style buildings and monuments such as the ‘buttercross’. It’s a city where you need to look up as you walk around in order to appreciate the architecture and not just the shops. That way you also notice the little things, like the fact that WHSmith is on Parchment street! Which, incidentally, sounds like it should be a street in Diagon Alley.
We just had time to grab a coffee from Coffee Lab before heading back to the car to continue our journey.
I found The Lime Studio on Airbnb and instantly knew it was where I wanted to stay. Set in the middle of a private country estate and 170 additional acres of parkland, it’s heaven for anyone wanting a quiet escape.
The imposing Wyfold manor was originally a Victorian mansion, which then became a mental institution. More recently it was converted into 11 separate apartments along with numerous other houses build in secluded spots around the vast grounds. One of which is the Lime Studio, where we stayed. It had everything you could need for a two night stay. A small, fully equipped kitchen, cosy, comfortable lounge, a separate bedroom on the mezzanine floor and one of the best showers I’ve ever had!
Henley on Thames
As the closest local town, we drove into Henley in search of food on our first evening. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and so lots of places were already closed. Henley was beautiful though. The matching hanging baskets are so delicately done, and I loved that Henley bridge had fairy lights illuminating the 5 arches. I’d really like to come back another day when everything is open and explore some of the independent shops. I’d also love to run the Thames path. Obviously! In the end we bought pizzas and headed back to the Lime Studio to have a lazy night in watching The Bodyguard.
Wyfold Estate Running
Two nights stay = two morning runs. The first was a 5K trail run to explore the private grounds. Ever since we’d arrived, I’d been itching to get out and it was a real ‘feel good’ run. Most of my running is on roads, so it was a lot of fun to pick my way through the woodland trails.
The estate is so varied that one minute you’re running through the forest jumping tree roots, and the next some manicured grassy pathways. I even came across some horses and a paddock of shetland ponies alongside the numerous squirrels and rabbits. 5K and not a single car in sight. Not even the noise from one. It really is the most peaceful location. At the end of my run I picked an apple form the orchard. Yes, the estate has it’s own orchard. And tennis courts if your keeping track. Then sat on the grassy bank to share my apple with Blitz before heading back to making full use of the waterfall shower. I think I might have found a new happy place!
Windsor and Eton
Windsor and Eton are twin towns, joined by a bridge across the Thames that would otherwise divide them. A bit like conjoined twins I suppose! I’m not sure you’re supposed to choose your favourite twin, but I’m going to throw it out there and say that I much prefer Eton.
Windsor is dominated by the castle. It’s both the largest and oldest occupied castle anywhere in the world. Sadly, there was no royal standard flying from the keep, so her majesty must have been lunching elsewhere. I also didn’t bump into her in Nandos!
In addition to the royal family, more than 500 people live and work in the castle each day. Although no longer living, King Henry VIII, is buried beneath the altar in the LADY chapel. An idea I find funny as he wasn’t exactly known as being particularly respectful to women was he? Apparently his best wife was Jane Seymour, as she firstly gave him the son he craved and then had the curtesy to drop dead before she could cause him any trouble!
One of my favourite facts about the castle estate though, is that is has over 450 clocks. Next time you moan about having to change both your oven and microwave when we move to British summer time, spare a thought for the Queen’s clock maker who will be starting the 16 hour process of moving every one of the 450 forward an hour! It also takes him a further 18 hours to move them all on another 11 hours again, in October. Thinking about it, there’s a possibility it may have taken me that long to fathom out my car clock once.
I was fairly disenchanted with the rest of Windsor to be honest. The park around the long walk, the three mile tree-lined avenue from the George IV Gateway at Windsor Castle to the Copper Horse statue in the deer park, is nice. The rest of the town though, is fairly unremarkable, and quite touristy.
Over the bridge, Eton is a completely different story. It’s quiet, historic and has far more interesting, independent shops. The hub is undoubtedly Eton College, the private boys school that has churned out numerous famous names, such as George Orwell, Prince William and Harry, Hugh Laurie and even Bear Grylls. It is strange seeing 12 year old boys in full suits walking around clutching latin text books though.
I would recommend a visit to Eton Fudge Shop. The smell from outside enticed us in, along with the view of the fudge being handmade just inside the door. I thought it would be rude not to try the Eton Mess flavour. That, the peanut butter, and the Toblerone were my faves. And yes, I bought one of most flavours to try!
After a busy day in Windsor and Eton, we fancied a more relaxed evening. The Cherry Tree Inn was just a mile walk through the estate’s woodland to Stoke Row. I very rarely eat meat, but it was a chilly evening and I was craving a hearty meal with lashings of some gravy. I went for the local farm sausages with mash, and it was delicious.
There are two things in particular I love about country pubs. Unlike larger chains, they are free to design their menus and source their produce from local sources. The Cherry Tree had a sign up saying: ‘have a surplus of fruit and vegetables from your allotment? Why not exchange some for a free pint or two?’ What a great idea. And secondly, they are almost always dog friendly! In fact, I think Blitz may have received more attention than us! (In a good way!) He even got some biscuits brought to the table. Needless to say, he would definitely recommend the Cherry Tree Inn if you’re passing.
Although I wanted to hit the trails again, I needed to get a faster paced run in, so I decided to explore some of the nearby villages. You can tell from the map that I got slightly lost and had to backtrack on two occasions!
My favourite thing about running in new places though, is that you never quite know what you’re going to find. In amongst the traditional cottages and farm buildings I came across Maharajahs well. It has a very obvious Indian influence and was paid for by the an Indian prince, the Maharajah of Benares in 1863. He heard the story of a boy who was disciplined for drinking the last of his families water that had to be collected by hand from miles away, and funded a 368 foot deep well to supply the village in future. The well was the village’s main water supply for 70 years and apparently can still draw fresh water today. The gold bit on top of the mechanism in the middle is actually an elephant.
Sadly, after two nights in the beautiful Wyfold estate it was time to pack up and head to somerset to continue our adventure. South Oxfordshire was such a beautiful area to explore, and I’d love to come back again to run some more of the Chiltern pathways and perhaps spend a day in the cute town of Marlow. I’m long overdue to visit to Burgers Artisan Bakery. As always, so much to do and so little time!
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in this area, then definitely check out the Lime Studio. It was the perfect base for us, and to be honest you could spend a couple of days just exploring the estate. If you do, make sure you keep an eye out for Roger the rogue owl. With no traffic noise, or light pollution, his strangled sounding hoots were like a beacon on our evening walks, guiding us back to our cosy studio!