Honestly? I was a tad disappointed when Mr Smith said he’d booked a pub for the weekend. Being seven months pregnant, I was hoping for something luxurious for our last weekend à deux for some time. Turning off the motorway, we swung onto a country road shrouded by dark forest, punctuated with glints of cute, hidden cottages. I wondered if Mr Smith had thought this one through. He knew my litmus test for an overnight stay by now – amazing beds, huge bathtubs, brilliant but unfussy food, and sophisticated but not too try-hard. Could the unassuming-sounding Wheatsheaf Inn deliver?
Perched on bar stools several hours later, encouraging Mr Smith onto his second pint of local ale by a warming log fire, I had to admit he had nailed it. Formerly a coaching inn, beyond the ivy-clad stone façade, Wheatsheaf Inn keeps the same friendly atmosphere I imagine it had when welcoming weary days-gone-by travellers. Original stone flags are suitably worn and roaring hearths keep the pub toasty.
Checking in, squeezed between locals at the bar, was a little more cosy than I had anticipated, but we were ushered into the fold with cheerful banter. Around us other weekend-awayers were crashed out in padded alcoves for wind-down drinks, lively chatter floating in from the two dining rooms flanking the bar. Subdued green walls, exposed Cotswold stone and antique armchairs hemmed in by the low-beamed ceilings conveyed chintz- and clutter-free charm and impeccable taste.
And oh our room! My smile stretched to a broad grin when I spied the most welcome sight in our Excellent Room: a freestanding claw-footed slipper bath. Bath lovers can attest just how exciting little details such as a big pot of bath salts and a stack of plump white towels warming on the rail are. Open-plan, apart from a small room for the loo, opposite the bath is an enormous bed with robust oak headboard. This passed Mr Smith’s super-king test: lying widthways across the bed still leaving plenty of room. Contemporary flair was there too in the dusty pink and grey goose colour scheme, the Lewis & Wood wallpaper and a vast B&O television. (Due to my burgeoning bump the bath stood little chance of accommodating us both, but the all-in-one design of the room ensured an easy bed/tub rotation.)
Dinner in the Wheatsheaf proved a convivial, noisy affair. Huge tea towels masquerade as napkins and foil-wrapped Gloucestershire churned butter accompanies freshly baked bread. Great British fare, but excellently executed: perfectly pink partridge, whole plaice with shrimp butter and an oozing ginger sticky toffee pudding. The wine list, perhaps reflecting the better-heeled clientele stretches into the hundreds.
Waking the next morning I wondered why I couldn’t move. I was just that comfortable. It wasn’t only the Egyptian cotton or the comforting weight of blankets; turns out it was because the beds have Hypnos memory-foam mattresses. The Wheatsheaf Inn has a knack of making guests happy – just as it’s met one set of demands, it throws you a little something extra to really warm the cockles. Mmm… afternoon toast and peanut butter in the snug by the crackling fire… a bowl of gourmet chocolate eggs in the room (perfect with a cuppa)… O-Check Design Graphics notepads to hand. OK – who needs the hotel to have five stars when you've got touches like that?
The village of Northleach, a 500-year-old market town, is well worth a mooch around, with its pretty vaulted church, the bells of which we could hear from our room. It’s what Americans would call ‘quaint’, but lacking the saccharine-sweet chocolate-box veneer that some villages in the Cotswolds have. It’s window-shopping gold too – we found ourselves in the extraordinary Dolls House shop and then in a time-warp emporium selling antique clocks and tiny music boxes.
Back at our 17th-century bolt hole, staff were revving up for the next busy mealtime so we retreated to the sanctuary of our room for another round of baths. We heard the pub door bang repeatedly as hungry customers eagerly arrived, reminding us that the chilled-out Wheatsheaf is not just a Cotswolds boutique hotel but a thriving boozer with a lively atmosphere – and thank goodness for that. It’s the way forward for a relaxed, stylish break. And, as Mr Smith later informed me, the hotel welcomes babies, children and even dogs (the hotel also has its own Labrador, Pudding), perhaps providing the perfect solution for our own growing Smith clan.
We loved the public house feel to it all. Pints of fine ale in the bath, a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary at breakfast, and everyone so smiley. So, you can keep your big country hotels where couples eye other couples over fancy martinis and dine formally in a Michelin-starred dining room, after all. And you can wipe that smug look off your face, Mr Smith.