Travel review: The Cotswolds
'˜Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.' Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.
The honey-hued cottages are carved out of a chocolate box illustration and the dewy fields are straight out of a Constable watercolour.
Alongside, the river warbles along so peacefully I fully expect to see Mole or Badger pop up their heads from the bank, like a scene from Wind in the Willows.
This could be rural England any time in the past few centuries, the scene unchanged in this balmy, beautiful, corner of the Cotswolds which seems immune to time passing by.
Then a car passes on the winding lane (no parping, it’s not Mr Toad) and the illusion is briefly shattered as the softly chirping birds scatter.
I am in Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire, for a long weekend in a Cotswolds on the cusp of fully-fledged spring.
During the two days we experience both the first spring sunshine of the year and some unexpected snow.
Here both only serve to make an area famous for its charm, even more beautiful.
Our home for the weekend was the welcoming and charming The Slaughters Country Inn, a peaceful idyll in the heart of the village, and bordered by the meandering River Eye.
The Inn itself is a converted and extended 17th century cottage, constructed in the ubiquitous golden limestone seen throughout the Cotswolds, surrounded by newer cottages and hotel rooms and suites, all sympathetically designed to blend in.
Privately owned, the buildings carefully mix old and new, luxury and comfort provided through classic charm and contemporary design.
I stayed in one of the newer buildings, up my own staircase to a two-bedroom suite, comprising a double bedroom, single bedroom and bathroom.
There is free wi-fi and a flatscreen TV, plus coffee, tea and posh biscuits.
This is definitely 2016.
Feeling the chill of a spring evening, we soon found ourselves drawn into the main inn itself, where you can relax with a drink in front of several open fires in rooms that hark to days gone by.
You can eat here too, enjoying the comfort of a sofa or move next door to the more formal surroundings of the restaurant.
During our stay, we did both.
Tempting as it is to sink into a chair in front a fire for the duration, Lower Slaughter is the perfect base for exploring the stunning Cotswolds.
On foot, we trekked up through Lower Slaughter along the banks of the river ( and yes, there were willow trees bending elegantly across the water), past the old water mill and through the kissing gates into the fields, from where we meandered our way to Upper Slaughter, where we gazed at grand old homes and adorable village cottages in one of the most desirable and expensive postcodes in the UK.
But dreaming is free and here, everything is pretty, and at this time of year garnished with tiny daffodils and a sea of snowdrops.
The landscape is like a fairytale.
Also on foot, we took a walk along the river in the other direction to the famous Bourton-on-the-Water.
This large village is famous for its picturesque main street with long wide greens, and the duck-filled River Windrush which runs right through the middle, crossed by low arched stone bridges that have led to the village’s nickname ‘The Venice of the Cotswolds’.
With a plethora of delightful tea shops, cafes and fascinating little stores and cottages, it would be quite easy to while away an entire day here.
It is also home to the Cotswold Motoring Museum, itself a charming Cotswold stone building on the banks of the river.
A brief car journey, but a worthwhile one, will take you to the market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, a historical delight which would make a fantastic setting for a costume drama, with charming, higgledy-piggledy cottages and enjoy some liquid refreshment at the Porch House.
There has been an inn on this site since 947 AD, which allows the Porch House to be called the oldest hotel in Britain. But this is no crumbling old building, instead a creatively converted space which retains the highest standards of hospitality while retaining character and features including a roaring fire in the bar - useful as snowflakes has just started to fall outside.
We also drove through Burford, a beautiful town and certainly another on my wish list for the next time I visit the simply stunning Cotswolds and its watery delights.
Mole, Rat and Badger would love it.