If you are looking to start off the New Year with some bracing countryside walks, a hearty pub meal and then a nightcap in front of a roaring fire, then The Old Swan and Minster Mill must surely be high on your list.
Located in the pretty Oxfordshire village of Minster Lovell – and set in 65 acres of Cotswolds countryside – the exterior of the Old Swan alone is so picturesque that it could go straight on a chocolate selection box or feature in a Cotswolds calendar.
Its twin, the Minster Mill which is just across the road, isn’t too far behind in the ‘quintessentially English’ stakes. The surrounds here are stunning and perfect for weddings: the River Windrush runs – as you’d expect – right alongside the Minster Mill (there’s even a fish-friendly Archimedes screw turbine which harnesses the power of the running water) and there is outside seating so that guests can fully enjoy the view in warmer weather.
Of the two, the Old Swan is definitely more of a classic pub inside, with a low roof, flagstones, warming log fires, cosy sofas and classic pub fare served in the restaurant. There are some small but pretty gardens and upstairs there are 15 rooms, some with four-poster beds.
Walk into the Minster Mill on the other hand, and it is immediately a much grander affair, containing a huge entrance hall with a minstrels’ gallery, vast ceiling and impressive fireplace. Up in the gallery itself are board games, a pool table and lots of squashy chairs in which to curl up with a good book.
Here the 37 rooms are more ‘business hotel’ rather than ‘cosy English inn’, with modern windows and blinds and less of the romantic pub feel. Most of the rooms are reached by a long cobbled corridor which looks as if it belongs to a museum, with tapestries and even the occasional suits of armour, but some have their own private terraces and entrance along the river.
All meals are served in the Old Swan, so once we had checked in we popped across the road for a late lunch – we shared a massive Ploughman’s which was just what we wanted – then enjoyed a walk to the ruins just up the road.
Just 10 minutes walk away from the Old Swan, the ruins of the Minster Lovell Hall were free to wander around and it was fascinating trying to imagine where the various rooms had been.
Dinner was a grander affair in the impressive back room at the Old Swan. The menu was clearly laid out with a range of classic dishes including smoked salmon, beef carpaccio and potted trout to start, followed by options which included ribeye steak, lamb cutlets and duck breast. I went for the wild mushroom risotto which was very good indeed, warm and hearty after our wintery walk, while the fish of the day was also declared excellent.
The next morning after a very pleasant and hearty breakfast (again at the Old Swan) we were greeted with bafflement when we asked at the reception for a walking map of the area, so we struck out on our own and spent a very energetic few hours tramping along the riverbank and being scared by the occasional bird which shot out of the undergrowth.
On returning to the Minster Mill grounds we discovered the new spa building which was still under construction when we were staying but which I gather is now finished. According to the hotel’s website the spa contains an indoor heated plunge pool, a rock sauna, steam room and ice fountain which sounds great – although apparently hotel guests have to pay £25 to use the facilities unless they have paid for a treatment, which seems a bit steep. However if you prefer to relax in the great outdoors or beside a real log fire, then you have plenty of options open to you.
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Old Swan & Minster Mill
01993 774 441
Old Swan and Minster Mill is part of Andrew Brownsword Hotels
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