I recently stayed at the Kings Head Inn at Bledington in the heart of the picture perfect Cotswolds, set on a village green intersected by trickling streams and small wooden bridges.
If you wanted a rural scene of quintessential Englishness (at least of the type that foreign visitors expect from their holiday brochures) you couldn’t do much better than this – there’s even a Union Jack Flag flying above the Inn.
I’d read about the Kings Head Inn from a number of Sunday Paper reviews and it’s a pretty typical story on the country pub and hotel scene, going something like this…stylish young couple take over country pub, renovate and upgrade the rooms with charmingly individual décor, overhaul the menu with locally sourced and seasonal produce and establish their gastro pub credentials. It sounded like the perfect place for a short break with bracing country walks and fresh air to counteract the pints of real ale, delicious local food and cooked English breakfast.
On booking I was given a couple of choices – either the smaller bedroom immediately over the bar in the main inn or the larger bedroom in the Courtyard annex and decided on the latter, on the basis that it might be quieter, even though it was quite a bit more expensive. The annex behind the inn was a modern building although built in traditional style, accessed through a pretty gravelled courtyard at the back of the inn and up the stairs. We entered our room through a characterful panelled and studded door, with windows on both sides overlooking the courtyard in one direction and the village green in the other.
The room was papered in cream, traditionally furnished, managing to stay just the right side of twee with red and cream floral curtains and matching bed head and a muslin drapery over the bed. On the walls were pretty watercolours of Cotswold village scenes and floral prints. The wooden sideboard was a more junk shop chic than a covet-able antique (was the missing drawer handle part of the distressed look?) and on top were laid out bottles of water, a kettle and sachets of tea and coffee, with a bowl of Murray Mints. The bed and pillows were ultra comfortable and we lounged around reading the magazines provided with a good view of the flat screen TV on the wall.
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The bathroom was in neutral shades of cream and stone, with limestone style floor tiles and little mosaic floor-to-ceiling tiles with classical chrome sink and shower fitting. We gave it full marks for fast flowing and piping hot water for the bath, cosy heating and gorgeous smelling hand made soap. The minor gripes we had were that the room was showing some signs of wear and tear and could have done with a bit more attention to detail on the housekeeping front – there were stains on the cream carpet and rug and the curtain sagged where a couple of hooks were broken. Overall it felt stylishly Best of British and more like staying in a friend’s rather nice spare room than in a hotel.
On arrival, as our room was not quite ready, we borrowed some maps and leaflets about local walks and sat in the bar to decide a route. There were plenty of options but we decided to strike out in the direction of Stow on the Wold, with the weather alternating between bright and sunny one minute, overcast the next. The walk over muddy fields wasn’t especially pretty but it certainly blew the cobwebs away and after an hour and a half (and a few wrong turns) we reached the typical Cotswold market town of Stow on the Wold.
The town is a magnet for tourists who appeared to be driven in by the coach load to admire the mellow old stone buildings and stop off for a traditional English cream tea. Even early in the season it felt as if the place was teeming with visitors wandering around and cars circling looking for parking. I concluded that it was a place I’d avoid in the summer months just because of the crowds. We sat and had some tea, cakes and scones in lieu of a late lunch but concluded that after a quick walk around, there wasn’t too much to detain us. On the way back to the inn we stuck to the small roads and lanes with easier walking, passing fields of cute spring lambs enjoying the sunshine.
We’d already booked a table for dinner in the bar that evening and as we’d sat by the large open fireplace at lunchtime looking at maps we asked to be seated there again for dinner. Unfortunately the settle we were given was a little narrower than the first and I felt I couldn’t get comfortable to eat my meal – the waitress was solicitous but had nowhere else to put us as all other tables were booked, but when the couple sitting opposite left we bagged their place to finish the meal.
The bar had perfected the Old Country Pub look with low ceilings, uneven flagstones and a mixture of old and new sturdy country furniture. Those with a discerning designer’s eye would be casting it approvingly over the battered old Persian rugs and leather, tweeds and checked velvets furnishings over the high backed settles. Although we were seated in the main bar, there was a second side bar and also a dining room at the back which was similarly furnished in the country-chic style of rugs, terracotta walls and woven tweed furnishings as well as country modern pictures of pheasants and hunting hounds.
After our afternoon’s walking were really looking forward to our meal, savouring every mouthful and could really find no fault. We started with a bowl of mixed olives and an antipasto salad with slices of prosciutto, mini mozzarella balls and sun dried tomatoes mixed with a deliciously herby pile of salad leaves. Next my dearly beloved had a pile of excellent devilled kidneys although not especially devilish and I enjoyed a thick piece of baked cod on top of a seafood risotto. If a restaurant can be judged by the skill with which it does the simple things, such a mixed bowl of vegetables, this one came out tops and had us cooing over a bowl of buttery carrots and greens.
For desert my dearly beloved decided to go for the local cheeses, which were beautifully presented on a wooden platter with sophisticated trimmings such as walnuts and a slice of quince jelly. I had a very seasonal rhubarb crème brulée, with a melting shortbread biscuit and a shot of rhubarb schnapps.
Despite being such a mecca for food lovers, the inn seemed to also attract the local drinkers and country set and the dogs and wellies were very much at home here. At the next table we ear wigged on a group of well-heeled students, back home for Easter and catching up on news and gap year experiences.
We slept extremely well in our courtyard room which was very peaceful as expected, and we awoke to sunshine and lovely country views from the bedroom. Breakfast was taken in the dining room and was a ggod range of everything you’d expect with cooked options of smoked salmon or kippers as well as the more typical cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs and all the trimmings. We got a chance to size up the others staying at the inn, mainly couples of various ages and a multi-generational group from grandparents to young children who were having a lovely time together.
I’d recommend the Kings Head Inn at Bledington for a great weekend getaway or short break as it’s tucked away from the tourist hustle and bustle but is in easy reach of many different stately homes and pretty market towns of the Cotswolds. Couples will find it charming and I think it would also be fun as a short stay for families, as the village green had a swing and was ideal for a run-around, with the chickens and ducks for added interest. And if you’re staying elsewhere in the area I’d go out of my way to have my dinner here again, but you’ll want to book a table as it was obviously popular.
The room rates were advertised from £80 for a smaller room in the main inn to £125 for the larger courtyard room where we stayed. And just in case you think a travel blogger’s life is all freebies I paid for my stay myself.
The King’s Head Inn, The Green, Bledington, Oxfordshire, OX7 6XQ
Telephone: +44 (0) 1608 658365
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