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In the Middle Ages, the rolling limestone hills of the Cotswolds were perfect grazing ground for sheep. For centuries the wealth of the area rested on the wool trade, and its legacy stands today in the picturesque stone villages, churches and merchants’ houses that were built on the profits.
Filkins, which sits close to Oxfordshire’s border with Gloucestershire, is one such village. Although wool is no longer the source of most of its inhabitants’ income, a tangible sense of affluence remains – in its neatly trimmed lawns, tidy stone walls and the vaguely competitive ornamental hedging that can be glimpsed here and there on the main street.
We arrive at The Five Alls, the village’s 18th-century coaching inn, cold and tired on a wintry night, and there is something instantly restorative about the sight of a log fire crackling in an inglenook near the main bar. The pub was reopened last year after a stylish refit by its new owners, chef Sebastian Snow and his wife Lana, and a warm bustle pervades the place, from the attentive bar staff to the deceptively large dining area. Almost every table is taken – a testament to Snow’s culinary skill, honed first at the eponymous Snows on the Green in London, then as head chef at the award-winning Swan at Southrop a few miles away.
Upmarket comfort food dominates the seasonal menu, perfectly matched to the weather outside: chargrilled calf’s liver and bacon accompanied by bubble and squeak, beet relish and sage butter; succulent Moroccan lamb served “two ways” with couscous and harissa. We eat ravenously, realising too late that we have not saved enough room for dessert, and only manage a slice of banoffee pie between us.
Our room, one of four, is a calm pebble-grey, with a single wooden beam across the low ceiling and the occasional splash of colour – a gorgeous red armchair upholstered in wool, a space-saving coat rack that serves instead of a wardrobe.
A sign on the wall cheekily suggests: “If you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen”, which seems apt; The Five Alls will look after you well, but it won’t mollycoddle you. So there is no coffeemaker or minibar in the room, but there are very comfortable furnishings, and fragrant organic Bramley toiletries in the walk-in shower. We sleep soundly, under crisp white sheets and a duck down duvet.
Breakfast, served in the flagstoned bar, is a laidback affair: buttery scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and toast, washed down with pots of tea. Afterwards, we wander down the main street to Cotswold Woollen Weavers, a museum and mill where the historic cloth is still produced. The curtains, wool-upholstered headboards and armchairs at The Five Alls were designed and made here. Finding a replica of the lambswool blanket that was thrown over the chair in our room, we buy it impulsively: a soft square of the region’s history to take home with us, and a memory of a deeply relaxing weekend.
The Five Alls
Filkins, Lechlade, Gloucestershire GL7 3JQ
01367 860875; thefiveallsfilkins.co.uk. Doubles from £110
Filkins is 18 miles west of Oxford. Swindon station is 13 miles south; trains from Paddington take 54 minutes
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