While you are navigating the wonderful little towns and countryside of Oxfordshire you’ll want a couple of places to stay that will make you comfortable and kept in the mood for searching up medieval remnants of castles et al. Wallingford Castle’s ruins are host to historical gardens which I have included at the conclusion on this entry. To keep you feeling at the top of your game, whether you are deep in the Cotswolds or closer to Greater London as you move further south, the following offerings should keep you feeling chipper and fresh. Oxford, itself, is abundant with quite a few marvelous hotels of all kinds and may be the best base for your odyssey of her ancient architecture. There are also some nice surprises further afoot. Wherever you roam within Oxfordshire, tell your hosts The Castle Lady recommended them, okay ?
The Randolph on Beaumont Street in Oxford, an old-fashioned luxury hotel which was built in 1864, has hosted visits by royalty, statesmen and celebrities through the years. Just last March this AA five-star hotel played official host to the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival which was a fitting spot- being the next-door neighbor to the Ashmolean Museum and convenient to all of the wonderful historical venues of this town. Its reputation as a premier hotel is well deserved and was newly restored in 2001. Everywhere you look around you’ll see visions of Inspector Morse backgrounds and luxury in its vast 114 ensuite bedrooms and suites with updated media and amenity facilities along with interiors which hearken back to another era and beautifully recreated at that ! Deluxe suites include private and spacious sitting areas, sumptuous and comfortable décor and furnishings and at rates that won’t leave you high and dry. Reduced rate parking is close at hand at an adjacent car park and there are wonderful opportunities to relax and enjoy a night aperitif or a wonderful supper in the restaurant. As one of Oxford’s most historic and exclusive hotels it’s well worth the price of admission.
T- 0844 8799132 http://www.inoxford.com/specs/inspector_morse_dvd_oxford.html
Some Landmark Trust properties you may want to look into are the Old Parsonage and the Steward’s House. These are wonderful if you have a good sized group or you want to really get into the historical part of England with both feet in the water. The former mentioned property is just south of Oxford at Iffley and Steward’s House is on St Michael’s Street within the town of Oxford. Even though the Old Parsonage was built at the same time as the elaborate Norman church close by, you ‘ll find that each part, whether the rectory (which is its origin) or the very recently restored riverside garden, is faithful to its time period. Livability is made possible by LT’s wonderful restoration and refurbishment program. The 16th century new wing is the portion, which those who are given the fortunate chance to occupy, will find to be a real haven. The rooms have been repaneled and given fresh fireplaces. In the 19th century a restoration was done in the parlor by J.C. Buckler and completed with a wonderful biblical gothic Latin inscription which states: ‘For we know that, if our earthly house were destroyed, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’ A wonderful view of the gardens and the Thames River completes this room and makes it a wonderful temporary sanctuary for up to six people. The staircase tower has a wonderful attic bedroom in which you can look out over all of Oxford!
The Steward’s House is a great place for a couple who really want to dig into the elegant environment and history of Oxford and for those who have not visited the town. The rich architectural mosaic spanning the eras can be seen throughout the town of Oxford and this house is full of wonderful architectural surprises for such an enthusiast especially because of the gallery window bays which bear the artistic handiwork of none other than D.G. Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones! William Morris even painted the roof! The building was designed by Benjamin Woodward who was a student of Ruskin and the influence definitely shows in both the exterior and interior. If you detect the Edwardian influence that is the work of W.E. Mills who added a new look with a large addition accompanied by a brand new library in 1910. Landmark Trust’s hallmark is making these historical abodes quite livable and comfortable without compromising the integrity of what remains historic. This particular building was the place where the Oxford Union Society began their debates back in 1852 and the original library was used for their purpose. Today a self-contained floor and a half in the former official residence of the Union is available with two bedrooms and a spacious and well lit sitting room for guests. It is a wonderful opportunity to occupy and explore an historical interior and quite exclusive in the bargain.
www.landmarktrust.org.uk T-01628 825925
In neighboring towns near Oxford, Weston Manor and Studley Priory are very good choices although the status of the priory as a hotel has changed since it was acquired by a lawyer nine years ago. My guess is that you’ll want to stay at Weston Manor but also check out Studley Priory even if you can only tour the grounds or view Studley from the outside.
Weston Manor has been situated on thirteen acres of pleasure gardens about eight miles north of Oxford, in some form, since the 11th century as a part of the pretty village of Weston-on-the-Green. Most modern photos of it showcase the uniquely-wrought iron gates flanked with sculptured grey stone pillars guarding the pathway entrance. As the ancestral home of the Earls of Berkshire then Abingdon, from the 16th century, it has gone through many changes and currently living in its evocation as a luxury hotel. It has only been crumbling since the Tudor period, fortunately and only in areas, at that. In the 1800s the stone faade was restored in neo-Jacobean style with strengthened bosses in the entrance hall during the early part of the 20th century and the old Tudor courtyard sports a set of Jacobean doors from Exeter College Chapel.
When the Greville family gave up the manor a comprehensive restoration was carried out in the 1980s and the hosts have been receiving guests quite well since 1983. With thirty-four refurbished bedrooms all of which have Jacobean fireplaces, a four bedroom cottage and fourteen more rooms available in the old coach house there is plenty of accommodation to suit- all with private bathrooms, elegant surroundings and views. The restaurant is central, being the original Baronial Hall with vaulted ceilings and oak linenfold paneling from Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire, where the finest cuisine is served in Weston’s historic heart. A deep minstrels’ gallery is on the far end.
You’ll find the grounds equally as elegant and refreshing with a croquet lawn, squash court, secluded heated outdoor swimming pool and golf and riding nearby. Then there’s the garden which features topiary with hedges and trees of all heights and shapes. Weston is a pleasure to be had at reasonable prices.
Studley Priory’s exterior appears to have been frozen in Elizabethan times but the interior has been sympathetically updated for luxury to offer eighteen en suite bedrooms- The Elizabethan Suite offers a half tester bed dating from 1700 and, as far as we know, many fine antiques remain in this historic property. Studley, situated seven miles northeast of Oxford, is twice as delightful a sight inside as it is on the outside. As a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World it is distinctive not only as an historical edifice but has also been brought to high standards for luxury living. The Croke Restaurant, named for John Croke who acquired this medieval nunnery before the time of the Dissolution, received 3 AA Rosettes for its excellent cuisine within the past decade and offers a seasonal menu using only the finest local produce, complemented by an extensive wine list. Up until recently, conferences and weddings were accommodated with facilities capable of housing up to fifty people and more in an attached marquee. Studley’s ten acres comprise two fine golf courses and there is Oxford horse racing at Cheltenham and Ascot and motor racing at Silverstone.
If you receive an opportunity to tour the interior you’ll find that the original medieval layout, from the 16th century, remains with a porch leading into the Great Hall and reception rooms beyond. None of the original priory from the 12th century still stands.The ceiling was raised and gothic embellishments were added by Sir Alexander Croke circa 1820 along with family heraldry in the cornice and finished with stained glass. Elizabethan paneling lines the waiting parlor and also many of the bedrooms. The withdrawing room of many centuries displays Victorian glass and Jacobean paneling- now a well-equipped bar. A winding staircase in the back of the house runs up to the entire height of the house (and still has the original Tudor balusters) at the top of which you’ll be treated with a view of Beckley, the next town, with Otmoor further in the distance! A chapel wing still exists with a 17th century Sanctus Bell and stone-mullioned windows were inserted most likely during the 17th century as well. The two-storey porch was a marvelous classical addition to an earlier building with the window treatments altered and a coat of arms laid over several others from four generations of families- Cave, Unton, Blount and Bennett- emblazoned with the motto virtutis amore. The date of 1587 is related to the first three families and a later insertion displays 1622 with the Croke-Bennett addition.
After 1877 the estate was sold to the Hendersons and Studley was used by the BBC during WWII as a sanatorium but also most likely for allied broadcasts besides care of RAF personnel. The priory’s beginning as a hotel was as early as 1947 when it was leased by the Bawtrees with their business partner, Wilma Hessey and run as a country house hotel for fourteen years. There were many famous British guests which came to stay but the best known, C.S. Lewis was a guest often and a regular Sunday morning pub haunt after church for him. In later years he stayed at the hotel quite often with his American second wife, Joy. When the lease was up in 1961 and the Hendersons auctioned off their entire estate, the priory was purchased by the Park family who have continued to run it as a hotel up until nine years ago. In 2004 it was purchased by a London lawyer who has occupied the house since last year and the status remains as a private home, presently. This beautiful landscaped area and the hotel were part of a filming location as Sir Thomas More’s home in the classical 1966 version of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons.
As you move north a bit you’ll want to try out The Feathers Hotel which is a privately owned and run townhouse hotel situated in the center of Woodstock. You’ll find that Woodstock’s buildings are constructed mostly from Cotswold stone many of which date from the 12th century in the original part of town. Feathers is a 17th century inn and was originally four separate houses. Antiques, log fires and traditional English furnishings give the hotel an ambience not often seen in historic hotels from its time. Twenty charming bedrooms are en suite and the hotel drawing room and study are intimate and comfortable. The small garden is a delightful setting for a light lunch or afternoon tea and guests can enjoy a drink in the cozy courtyard bar, which has an open fire in winter. The restaurant is internationally and historically renowned for its fine cuisine complemented by a high standard of service earning 3 AA Rosettes with a menu changed frequently that offers a wide variety of dishes and, best of all, using the finest local ingredients. The Bear is also a comparable hotel, which I cited in my Woodstock Palace entry. It is the closest inn to Blenheim.
Henley-on-Thames has The Red Lion and Phyllis Court Club with Red Lion uniquely situated for the annual Royal Regatta Course directly on the River Thames and has catered to guests since the 15th century ! Its elegant and comprehensive facilities can accommodate leisure guests, business meetings and weddings. The restaurant has an outstanding reputation for serving modern and traditional dishes alongside excellent wines. Lunch and dinner are both available and your adviser will offer assistance in creating menus for private events. The Snug Bar is welcoming in all seasons with its open fire, fine wines and spirits and locally brewed beers. Restoration has rendered 26 ensuite bedrooms individually decorated to reflect its era and character and most guest suites offer river views. Antiques and paintings throughout includes a portrait of Charles I, just one of three English kings to have stayed at the hotel. History and beauty are very much on offer here, as The Red Lion provides a perfect base from which to explore Henley, The Thames Valley and the rest of the Cotswolds.
Phyllis Court Club opened its doors on Marlow Road to guests and Regatta Course enthusiasts during the early part of the 20th century. It appears quite fresh and modern in its architecture and ambience but has an intriguing history spanning six centuries. It also overlooks the banks of the Thames very much like the Red Lion but has the distinction of excellent catering to one and all- whether you are a London businessman or a bride in need of romance and expertise in handling the necessities for a splendid wedding and reception. Phyllis Court can boast of patrons such as Prince Albert, King George V and Edward, Prince of Wales. Historically, Oliver Cromwell stayed long enough to build the embankment wall and it was on the spot that William II held his first Royal Court !
T- 01491 570500 www.phylliscourt.co.uk
For a wonderful stay close to Wallingford Castle ruins and Greys Court there is The Springs Hotel & Golf Club at North Stoke, just outside Wallingford. As a grand Victorian timber-framed Tudor country house it was built deep in the heart of the beautiful Thames Valley, on six acres of pleasure grounds. The south windows overlook a spring fed lake, from which it takes its name and a good many of the luxurious bedrooms and suites offer views over the splendid lake and lawns. If you have preference for more seclusion there are also rooms with windows open to the quiet woodland that surrounds the hotel. Private balconies provide patios for summer relaxation. The award-winning Lakeside Restaurant has an intimate atmosphere inspired by its gentle décor and the lovely view of the lake. The award-winning restaurant’s menu takes advantage of fresh local produce and provides international wines from a well stocked cellar for your meals. Leisure facilities include an 18 hole, par 72 golf course, a clubhouse and putting green, swimming pool, sauna and touring bicycles for guests. T-01491 836877
Wallingford Castle Gardens http://core.estatevue.co.uk/platform/uk/wallingford2
Full of surprises and fun,
The Castle Lady