After spoiling my son for two whole weeks over the Christmas period, the time came on New Year’s Day to return him to university: cue motherly sobbing and gnashing of teeth. His exams were starting on 4th January and his girlfriend, Juliana, had a shift for her part-time Sainsbury’s job at 5pm on 1st January, hence the early departure.
I don’t think I’ve ever been awake on New Year’s day so early but it proved to be an excellent day to travel as the roads were very quiet. The only irritation was the deluge of rain during the final hour of the trip as we approached Exeter. Miraculously it dried up for a few moments as we unpacked the car then returned with a vengeance for the rest of the weekend.
Dougie and I were loathe to just come home to an empty house so, with a bit of prior planning, we organised a staggered return, staying for three nights in three different counties.
First up was Exeter itself and our third stay in The Magdalen Chapter (click through to read my review from last time). They had an excellent January getaway deal of one night’s accommodation with breakfast, three course set dinner and two glasses of wine for £149, which was a huge saving. When we arrived we were also upgraded (which was a real treat) so we had a spacious, comfortable room on the top floor of this cool, contemporary hotel.
|First night in The Magdalen Chapter, Exeter.|
The following morning we did a little shopping and sightseeing in the city. Every time we visit Exeter we find something new: this time it was the beautiful Northernhay Gardens and the RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery) whose oldest resident is Gerald the giraffe. The RAMM was an excellent museum, ideal for families, with lots of random exhibits, plenty of useful information and just the right amount of hands-on fun for children.
I wasn’t looking forward to leaving Rory but I couldn’t stand around in his flat forever looking like a spare part so I was gently persuaded that we ought to make a move. Next stop, Somerset, and the picture perfect pub, The Queens Arms, slightly off the beaten track in the village of Corton Denham near Sherborne. We had stayed here previously but I had neglected to write about it (Shameful! Call myself a travel blogger?). This is a fabulous pub with superb food, a myriad of gins and whiskies and the most cosy rooms with the warmest feather duvets and special touches such as a roll-top bath and a jute bag full of old-fashioned bath salts.
|Second night in The Queens Arms, Corton Denham, Somerset|
After the most delicious breakfast, cooked to order (Bloody Mary crumpets for me, thank you) we had to dash out in the pouring rain and leave this little Somerset gem to drive north. We were heading to Gloucestershire but had a stop to make en route in Bath to meet a blogger friend of mine. I have been online friends with MsCaroline of Asia Vu for some years now, connecting while she was living in Seoul. She has been in the UK for a year so it was high time we met up, particularly as I am virtually passing her door on our university runs. We agreed to meet, with our slightly bewildered husbands, at Cote restaurant in the centre of Bath. Two hours later, with all four of us having got on famously, we took some photos and pledged to see each other again in the near future. It’s always so reassuring when blogger friends prove to be just as you’d hoped they would be in real life.
|‘Mum’s Gone To’ meets ‘Asia Vu’.|
Our final stop was The Village Pub in Barnsley near Cirencester. We have eaten at the pub before, when we stayed at the beautiful Barnsley House hotel, its sister establishment, across the road. The pub is just as welcoming and charming but naturally more informal. Shaking off the rain, we settled down near the fire in the bar and read the Sunday papers, whilst supping on steamed cider with brandy. Our room, No.3 of 6, was gorgeous: warm with underfloor heating and even a hot-water bottle provided. Dinner in the pub was huge: Dougie’s Hereford beef consisted of two fillet steaks when one would have been more than adequate. My fish and chips were good but left me no room for pud. We staggered up the stairs to bed with our large slate welly-shaped key and slept like babies.
|Third night at The Village Pub, Barnsley, Cirencester|
Another impressive freshly-cooked breakfast the following morning (funny how our appetites returned so quickly) before a bit of retail therapy on the way home. The Village Pub is ideally located for so many gorgeous Cotswold sights but, when you’ve had your fill of sleepy towns with honey-coloured stone houses, the designer shopping outlet at Bicester Village is just the thing to bring you back to the real world. I found a bargain leather bag from Kipling (£215 to £57) and a little black dress from Anne Fontaine which made the journey back to Lincolnshire without our boy just a little more bearable…