The sensory invocation of Wild Thyme & Honey’s name is no empty promise; here the hours drip by slowly and deliciously, herbaceous scents transport you, and a land of plenty gives generously in feeding and watering you. This centuries-old inn and its neighbourly country pub offer up the agrarian dream of the Cotswolds, with its bursts of wildflowers, simpler-times style and pastoral pursuits, but there’s also plenty of polish to keep it in step with the times, not to mention barkeeps who mix a mean negroni, espresso martini and more; haute-rustic rooms; and a bank of heated glass dining domes given an all-access pass to scenic views. An all-thyme great in the making.
24, including the luxurious No 3 London Road apartment.
11am, but flexible. Earliest check-in, 3pm; subject to availability, both are flexible if arranged with the hotel before arrival.
Double rooms from £150.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast, a – not insignificant – Continental buffet or impressive full English with St Ewe organic eggs, Sandridge Farm bacon, Cumberland sausages, sage-and-onion rostis, black pudding and cider-apple rings.
Shooting parties or groups of horse riders can arrange private group meals in two private dining rooms (the Hide and the Eaves): one set in the rafters with a rustic chandelier and intimate feel and another with sliding barn doors and flowers running along the table.
At the hotel
Courtyard and garden, lounging space, Hunter wellies and umbrellas to borrow. In rooms: Decanter of sloe gin, selection of books, flatscreen TV, Nespresso machine, tea-making kit, free bottled water, bathrobes and slippers, storage for muddy walking gear, Bramley bath products. The No 3 London Road apartment has a private terrace, barrel sauna and hot tub.
Our favourite rooms
The hotel’s mood-board seems to have borrowed heavily from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, because these are the kind of fairy-tale bowers we could happily bunk in. Each is replete with organic materials: natural linen curtains tied with rope, woods laid bare, woollen throws, tweed upholstery, rattan matting… And reclaimed vintage pieces (mirrors, church pews, steamer trunks) and Crittall-glass panels in showers add a modern edge. The Waterside Suites are perhaps the most serene, with the brook running past, and they have a bit more space and most have a romantic freestanding bath tub in the bedroom. But, the No 3 London Road apartment – which has a cooler-than-your-average-cottage, New York loft by way of Bibury feel to it – is certainly the stand-out stay for its outdoor space, private sauna and hot tub – plus a dressing room (ideal for any bridal parties staying) and separate sitting room.
No need to fill your suitcase with muck-about footwear – the hotel has Hunter wellies to borrow. Load up your Kindle with lazy reads and bring a pack of cards for lingering-by-the-bar nights.
The hotel has ramps and an accessible restroom to help guests with mobility issues get around and the Serenity Waterside Suite has an adapted bathroom and lowered bed.
Various interconnecting rooms make stays possible for all family sizes and generations. Close by, the only distractions are setting kids free into the leafier surrounds, but there’s more to do a short drive away, and the pub has a menu for smalls.
The hyperlocality of produce served at the Crown at Ampney Brook pub is a source of great pride, most coming from Cotswold farms and growers.
If there’s anything cosier than a cushioned nook, we haven’t found it – the pub has plenty to burrow into. Groups should go the novel route of dining in one of the heated ‘igloos’ set up by a babbling brook outside.
A loose waistband will be a life-saver.
The Crown at Ampney Brook, set across the courtyard from the hotel, has been a linchpin of the community since the 16th century. And no matter that it’s the only pub in the village, it’s just the kind you hope for when you head to the Cotswolds, with plenty of friendly faces, a fireplace to get cosy by, and dining rooms of beamed ceilings and crumbly local stone. And, they’ll feed you like a worried grandmother, using cream-of-the-crops produce from local farms. Hot-smoked Bibury trout piled on a crumpet with a dollop of caviar mayonnaise, Armagnac-enriched prawn and crab cocktail, Sykes Farm ox-cheek bourguignon with beef-fat-roasted veg and Tunworth-cheese soufflé will fuel you for any length of country walk, or possibly polish you off for the night, especially if you make it to the dessert menu with its Bristol cream trifle and citrusy baked Alaska. A robata grill turns out za’atar-spiced aubergine, emperor prawns, Gloucester Old Spot tomahawks and steaks that have spent some time in a Himalayan salt chamber; hearty roasts are religiously served on Sundays; and for lunch there’s an elite selection of baps and burgers (hello, to the upgraded house club with smoked chicken, seared duck liver and Sandridge Farm bacon). And, there’s no sleeping on breakfast, when the chefs whip up hashes with chorizo and organic eggs, hot buns filled with belly bacon and ‘nduja ketchup and poached pear and cinnamon granola.
The Crown at Ampney Brook, which has been whetting punters’ whistles for hundreds of years now, has all you could want from a traditional Cotswolds drinkery: a roaring inglenook fireplace, wonky walls in honey-hued brick, cushioned nooks and wood beams… But, while you may find yourself nursing a pint of Meantime with a good old boy in wellies, you’re maybe more likely to be gossiping over rounds of smoked old fashioneds, negronis, passionfruit-laden Rockstar Martinis, or the signature drink of Cotswold gin, lemon tonic, honey syrup and a sprig of thyme (naturally). Or perhaps something chilled from the enomatic machine – the well-travelled wine list makes for a fascinating read. And, with no-gronis, virgin mojitos and gourmet soft drinks, abstainers can merrily join in too. In winter, sheepskin rugs are slung over the chairs in the hotel courtyard and a fire is lit, so you can still take drinks under the stars, or you can gather in one of three glass domes set by the brook.
Breakfast runs from 8am to 10am, lunch from 12 noon to 2pm, and dinner from 7.30pm to 9pm. Drinks flow till 11pm.
Wild Thyme & Honey comprises two of just a handful of buildings, set by a babbling brook, in dinky Gloucestershire village Ampney Crucis, a five-minute drive from Cirencester and 30-minute drive from Cheltenham.
Arrivals from Europe can touch down at either Birmingham or Bristol airports, each just over an hour’s drive from the hotel. Heathrow is the closest London hub at around a 90-minute drive away. The hotel can help to arrange transfers on request.
Kemble train station is the closest, a 15-minute drive away; frequent services from London Paddington run direct, and to Swindon and Stroud, both of which are around a half-hour drive away.
With its large green expanses and somewhat scant public transport, even the hardiest of ramblers will admit that a car is nigh on essential in the Cotswolds, and it’ll help you hunt down those pubs the locals seemingly know by osmosis and teeny villages time forgot. There’s free parking at the hotel, and Ampney Crucis is easily reached via the M4 and A419 from London, and the M4 and A249 from Bristol.
Worth getting out of bed for
Gloucestershire village Ampney Crucis looks like it belongs in a snow globe or perhaps on the lid of a tin of gourmet biscuits. It’s the kind of Cotswolds village that bears much historic beauty within its diminutive borders and plenty of glorious greenery rolling out beyond them. For fun, you could join the weekly pétanque club (you’ll need to pay the £5 annual membership fee), or see what’s playing at the local cinema for its monthly screening. Or, you could visit what’s left of the Holy Rood church – parts of which date back to the 15th century – but beyond that, country rambles and spells in the Crown pub are the remaining distractions, which very well may be why you came to this charming rural enclave in the first place. But more entertainment can be found in the ancient Roman market town of Cirencester, a five-minute drive or hour-long country hike away. See the remains of an amphitheatre and artefacts dating back to the Stone Age at the Corinium Museum, or splash about in the open-air lido. A moveable larder of local brews, chutneys and pickles, home-baked cakes and cookies, fruit and veg and other edibles, the Farmers’ Market is perhaps the most sensually engaging in Cirencester – it’s held on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. And, complete the village-hopping circuit with a tour of crowning-beauty Bibury, indie-shop-filled Burford and antiques-trove Tetbury (close to Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate). You might be far inland, but the Cotswold Park has its own beach and a range of watersports (SUP, kayaking, pedalos and electric boats) and a huge inflatable obstacle course come summer, while the Cotswold Water Park is rich in lacustrian beauty, encompassing 140 lakes and wetlands. Country pursuits, such as clay-pigeon shooting and horse rides from the Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre can be arranged, or you can get lightly sloshed at the Cotswold Gin Distillery, where tours are followed by a tasting of their gins, whiskies or a cocktail-making class. Within 30 minutes’ drive, you can see exotic animals in a quintessentially English setting at the Cotswold Wildlife Park, admire the regality of Sudeley Castle and its 10 landscaped gardens (or William Morris’s country retreat Kelmscott Manor), and have a dramatic or musical evening at the Barn Theatre.
Ampney Crucis has much going for it (timeless charm, a gently babbling brook, cottages to ‘squee’ over…), but its only claim to gastro glory – and not an insignificant one – are the meals you’ll eat at the pub next to the hotel, which serves as its eatery. To mix things up at mealtimes you’ll need to head into restaurant-blessed Cirencester. Fellow Smith stay the Kings Head fires up serious longhorn and wagyu steaks at the Grill, and soups, pastas and other more casual eats at its MBB Brasserie. While Barnsley House’s the Potager is an eatery befitting its elegance with superlative seasonal fare: duck breast doused in miso butter, red wine- and star anise-braised octopus, stone bass with a slick of burnt-lemon pureé. And, to the east of the hotel, near Lechlade-on-Thames, the 17th-century Swan at Southrop has flagstone flooring and roaring fireplaces, and a menu that plucks the finest ingredients from the neighbouring estate, from hogget and organic eggs to a cornucopia’s worth of fruit and veg.
New Brewery Arts is a community hub of makers, with a craft shop, art gallery and a welcoming space for sandwiches, cakes and coffee. Keep an eye out to see which all-ages workshops they’re holding too. And trays of ‘cookie pies’ (a sort of muffin -cookie hybrid), mini bundts and warm-from-the-oven cinnamon buns will lure you into Pretty & Pip, who also serve a tempting array of savouries. And, it’s a 40-minute drive away, but the Daylesford Organic Farm Shop in Kingham holds legendary status in the area for its top produce, stylish homewares, and covetable beauty products, and a cookery school where you’re connected with local farms and suppliers for courses covering dinner parties, brunches, vegan dining, pudding and pastry making and many more. The Trough café serves much more elegant fare than its name implies, with grass-pastured beefburgers topped with pale-ale rarebit, Jerusalem artichoke risotto with truffled brie, market-garden salads and cheese plates from its house creamery.
Somewhere Else’s stone façade might promise a slightly different night than you’ll have in its much more modern interior, but you won’t be disappointed by the cocktail list that balances classics and a few house favourites (we like the Elderflower Bramble with Chambord or the passionfruit-laced caipirinha), stomach-lining burgers and street-food pop-ups. And, we’re taken with Téatro’s flamingo-sporting accent wall, multicoloured parquet and large terrace – live music and a lengthy gin list ensures the atmosphere is as vibrant as the decor.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this honey, honey how you thrill me hotel in handsome hamlet Ampney Crucis and unpacked their Cirencester market finds (jars of Auntie Caroline’s chutneys and cans of IPA from the Fresh Standard Brewery), a full account of their bucolic break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Wild Thyme & Honey in the Cotswolds…
If you’re looking for a wild time, then it’s probably best not to check in at Wild Thyme & Honey, where you’re more likely to contemplate the countryside on long meditative walks, sink into a deep copper bath tub filled with botanical suds before swaddling yourself in a wool throw, or eat yourself into a coma with the pub’s herculean roasts and robata-grilled sharing steaks – all hailing from local farms, of course. Swap FOMO for slo-mo at this spruced-up 16th-century inn (and the equally historied pub next door), named for the purple-flowered herb that grows wild and fragrant in England’s green lung and the distinctively hued Cotswold stone it’s built from. It’s oh so quiet, but oh so wonderful, with suites that quaintly overlook a brook that burbles by or the village cricket ground; authentic yet aspirational decor of wood, wicker and wool (with the odd upcycled church pew and hurricane lamp); and locals propping up the bar. But, for all its rowboats planted with wildflowers, antler chandeliers and barn-style doors, there’s a cosmopolitan savviness to proceedings in the slick cocktail menu and well-informed wine list, alfresco glass dining domes of the sort you’d see along the South Bank; and an apartment that feels like a city loft (albeit one with its own barrel sauna). All the more reason to come here for a good time, if not a wild time.