Every now and then this city girl needs an escape to the country, what my literary twin Bridget Jones describes as a ‘full-blown mini-break holiday weekend’. My heart yearns for a slice of rural life, I convince myself that things are somehow better in the countryside, it’s greener, smiling locals will wave from their thatched cottages, pubs will be nicer.
What better place to live out my countryside living fantasies than in the Cotswolds, the rural heart of England? Six counties of rolling hills, stately homes, thatched roofs, quaint villages and fields of lavender. The Cotswolds are calling me and I simply must answer darlings.
Imagine therefore my delight at receiving an invitation to stay at the Fuzzy Duck, a boutique hotel in Armscote, a little Cotswold hamlet near Stratford-upon-Avon. I gathered my ‘lady of the manor’ outfits and set off for a countryside jolly with beloved husband Luke.
The Fuzzy Duck is rather surprising owned by soap company, Baylis & Harding. Why would a soap company own a hotel you might reasonably ask? The rather sweet answer is that siblings and business partners Adrian Slater and Tania Fossey saved a former pub from closing down in the community where Tania lives. It was then rebranded and reborn as a luxury boutique hotel retreat, with a country style gastro bar and dining area below.
I loved the Fuzzy Duck as soon as I saw it, an adorable little red-brick building on a very quiet country road. The demure outer exterior belies the elegance inside, it is country life meets modern here, with touches of luxury everywhere you look. It was all so lovely that I felt I had to be on ‘best behaviour mode’, this was a boutique hotel, not a 76-bed hostel in Bangkok. I must strive to be a lady whilst vacationing in the Cotswolds, just as soon as I took a ‘selfie with wine’ by the bar.
The Fuzzy Duck offers four luxurious rooms rather charmingly named after the various species of duck, that can be found locally on Armscote’s pond and the lakes of Armscote Manor. Guests can choose from the Buff Orpington, Mandarin, Indian Runner and Muscovy rooms. All rooms offer beautiful big beds, Frette linen, towels, bathrobes, a smart TV, complimentary Baylis & Harding toiletries and tea and coffee facilities are available on the landing.
Our room was wonderfully stylish, with gorgeous linen, modern design and bespoke furnishing that made the entire room look like a Pinterest account.
After running around the room, taking photographs and shrieking ‘look at this’, picking things up, putting them back down, taking more selfies, we decided to explore the area. To be fair to my endlessly patient husband, there is only so long he can feign interest in chic bed throws.
Armscote is a tiny little hamlet surrounded by fields, it is very rustic and very rural, we had no idea where we should go. Thankfully the Fuzzy Duck provide guests with a map of a walking route around the area and they even have posh Hunter wellies you can borrow, my inner child immediately starting planning a puddle jump. As I emerged outside, looking like I was on a photo call for Horse and Hound magazine with my floral shirt, cardigan and knee-high wellies, I confidently led our walk with the manner of Countess surveying her lands.
Due to my short attention span, the fields all felt like they were blurring into one, where was the nearest pub? I needed wine refreshment, how big is the countryside exactly? And then I saw it. A field of wheat, just begging to be run through. If it’s naughty enough for Theresa May then hell, it is certainly naughty enough for me.
A marvellous time was had joyously running through wheat [through already trodden down parts I might add before angry farmers turn up at my door with pitch forks]. What can I say my loves, you have to make your own fun in the countryside.
Should you wish to explore further than the local wheat fields, there are many quaint villages within driving distance from the Fuzzy Duck such as Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh and Shipston-on-Stour. We spent some time exploring the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water, described as the ‘Little Venice’ of the Cotswolds, with its numerous pretty bridges crossing the tranquil River Windrush.
It is full of limestone buildings, riverside pubs, tea shops, greenery, weeping willow trees and colourful flower baskets. The entire town is completely Instagrammable and you could spend an entire day snapping away until your heart is content. Whilst you are there make sure you check out some of the lovely pubs, cafes and restaurants they have on offer, including the Mousetrap Inn, the Kingsbridge Pub, the Croft restaurant and Mary’s Rest Tearoom, all fabulous foodie finds.
Back at the Fuzzy Duck, it was time for dinner and drinks in the bar and dining area. The design here, like the rest of the building, is flawless, it’s a mash-up of cosy meets modern, it is both opulent and warning at once with framed pictures, gorgeous lighting and even an indoor fire. You feel like you have accidentally wandered onto a photo shoot for Country Life magazine.
The menu is a sophisticated take on classic pub food, with some delicious sounding dishes on offer. We are informed by friendly staff that fresh produce is used from local suppliers where possible, for the seasonal, ‘contemporary Cotswold’ menu.
We ordered a bottle of one of our favourite wines, A Cape Heights Merlot, whilst we tried to narrow our menu options as there were so many delectable dishes to consider. The current summer menu features options such as Goat’s cheese & red onion jam tartlet starter, Seabass fillet with grilled baby bok choi & sweetcorn and Asparagus and spinach & parmesan risotto.We opted for Chorizo scotch duck egg and slow cooked chicken terrine to start. Admittedly I have often looked down on a scotch egg as a starter, it’s for hipsters and old men in pubs who need basic sustenance to go with their 9 pints of ale. The waiting staff insisted that this was no ordinary scotch egg, this was of the duck egg variety and was cooked to order, this was a superior scotch egg they claimed. We put our faith in the waiting staff and sipped on our merlot in anticipation.
From the first bite, it was clear this was an exceptional scotch egg, with a distinctly rich flavour from the duck egg and a freshly cooked warmness. It was heavenly. The Chicken terrine was deliciously salty and beautifully seasoned. The addition of sweet corn puree was not only a tasty accompaniment but made for a rather Instagrammable ‘colour pop’ presentation, which for a blogger like me, is always marvellous.
We ordered the Todenham Manor Farm aged 8oz sirloin steak with hand cut skin on chips and Roast Loomswood farm duck breast with crushed potatoes peas, lettuce and bacon for our mains. Both dishes were excellent, cooked to perfection, seasoned correctly and beautifully presented. Despite declaring ourselves, utterly full, we managed to squeeze in a dessert. We chose the Affogato featuring vanilla ice cream, espresso & a shot of Kahlúa. Like with most Italian inspired desserts, it was simple, yet heavenly and light, the perfect way to round off dinner.
We had a nightcap or two at the bar before retiring to bed, it was here that I discovered Cotswold gin made locally by the Cotswolds Distillery, with notes of juniper, grapefruit and coriander it was a wonderfully refreshing drink and I am now a tiny bit obsessed with it.
After a peaceful nights slumber in our wonderfully comfy bed, we ravenously ate a smashing full cooked breakfast and local smoked salmon and scrambled eggs washed down with a large pot of filter coffee. There was also a selection of lighter options such as cereal and fruit but I am a firm believer that bacon is the best way to start one’s day.
Our time had sadly come to an end at the Fuzzy Duck and as we packed we chatted about the things we had most enjoyed about our stay. For me, I loved all the little touches, the robes, the complimentary toiletries, the fact you could borrow wellies for a walk. Luke loved the stunning food on offer and of course the bar, he is a man who loves his wine to be fair. I would really recommend a stay there if you are heading to the Cotswolds and fancy a lovely boutique hotel stay.
Our stay at the Fuzzy Duck was complimentary but all my views, as always, are my own.