The Bull Inn
Midway between Woodstock and Chipping Norton, Charlbury is an excellent base for exploring the eastern Cotswolds. It also happens to have a terrific place to stay in the 16th-century Bull Inn – Charlie and Willow Crossley's self-styled 'home away from home’, which is a tremendous pub bang in the centre of this small market town that manages to be both sharp and stylish and ridiculously comfortable at the same time. It's the sort of place where it's impossible not to relax, with all the bells and whistles a good gastropub should have – delicious, locally sourced, unpretentious food, decent ales and an all-round cosy atmosphere – together with a comfortable set of boutique rooms.
The pub has been around for a while but Charlie and Willow have updated it with sensitivity and care. There are 8 en-suite guest rooms in all, 4 in the pub and 4 in a converted barn, each styled by Willow herself, who is a florist and interior designer of some renown. Each room has a distinctive and individual colour palette and all come with extremely comfortable super-king-size beds with high quality linen and big squashy pillows, upholstered headboards and bold, ample curtains. Everything is right up-to-date and chosen with care and huge attention to detail – essential in what is a seriously ancient building. Some rooms have bathrooms with either a bath or a shower, some have both, and a couple have free-standing baths in the room itself; every room comes with good wifi, flatscreen Freeview TVs, tea- and coffee-making facilities, complimentary water, bathrobes and Bramley toiletries. Dogs are allowed in half the rooms and small children can be easily accommodated with a fold-down bed or travel cot for a small additional charge.
They serve an excellent breakfast. and at lunch and dinner the menu features the sort of high-end yet well-priced gastropub food you expect to find in these parts – simple and delicious, with great steaks and burgers, pork belly, fish and chips, lovely sharing platters and homemade bar snacks and a choice of three roasts on a Sunday, You can enjoy this either in the bar or restaurant area, and there's no question that the Bull makes a lovely place to come back to after a day exploring the Cotswolds. There's loads to see and do nearby: for the energetic, Wychwood Forest offers a wonderful 8-mile-long circular walk, and the Glyme Valley Way passes nearby; for culture-vultures, Winston Churchill's birthplace Blenheim Palace is a short drive away, as are the popular outlet shops at Bicester Village and the remains of a Roman Villa at North Leigh. And Oxford isn't much further.
But really the pleasures of this part of the world are aimless ones: country walks, cosy pubs and farm shops stacked with local produce. Days out from the Bull, finished off with dinner back at the pub, are heaven, and it's easy to forget you're just a 90-minute drive from London. Not only that: Charlbury is just over an hour away on the main line from Paddington so you can just leave the car keys at home.
RoomsEight individually decorated en-suite bedrooms – 6 doubles, 2 twins with ziplock beds – split between the pub and a converted barn.
PriceLow season rates: double rooms with breakfast £79–£109 a night during the week, £150–£170 on weekends; high season rates double rooms with breakfast £99–£129 during the week, £170–£200 at weekends. Two-night minimum stay at weekends through the year.
Opening TimesOpen all year.
Trains run to Charlbury from Lodnon Paddington at least every hour and take around 1hr 15 mins. By car, coming from the south on the M40, leave at junction 8 and follow the A40 around the north of Oxford, then take the A44 (signposted Evesham, Stratford, Woodstock). After Woodstock, turn left on the B4437. From the M40 north, leave at junction 15 and follow the A429 south to Halford, then turn south on the A3400. Continue through Shipston and Long Compton and after it becomes the A44 turn right on the B4022 at Enstone. From the west, take the A40 from Gloucester and Cheltenham; turn north at Burford on the A361 and after Fulbrook turn right on the B4437. Rather than use the pub's postcode put OX7 3PN into your satnav; then once you reach Charlbury ignore it and follow the signs to the town centre.
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