Time for a short break - in Buckinghamshire

The Bell Hotel

The Bell Hotel - Credit: supplied

Ahead of the summer holiday season, VisitEngland has launched its largest domestic marketing campaign to encourage Brits to ‘holiday at home’.

The Old Thatched Inn dates back to 1702

The Old Thatched Inn dates back to 1702 - Credit: supplied

Aimed at boosting our domestic tourism, and get people exploring the many wonderful places and experiences the UK has to offer, it is hoped that the £2.5 million marketing plug will inspire people to take a short break at home.

If you are a busy couple with little spare time on your hands, it makes perfect sense to stay for a night or two close by.

With that in mind, my time-pressed husband and I headed ‘over the border’ from Herts to Bucks for a relaxing staycation, at The Bell Hotel in pretty Winslow.

We were lucky to have had blue sky and plenty of sunshine, which made for a near-perfect drive through the lovely countryside in the county which claims to be the “most filmed in England”, according to Visit Buckinghamshire.

The Old Thatched Inn in Adstock

The Old Thatched Inn in Adstock - Credit: supplied

One of the first things I ask the helpful receptionist at The Bell Hotel is whether the premises have played host to television crews and movie stars, because it has such great character inside and out, from its historic crooked floor, to its many oak beamed ceilings.

I know that it was visited by the late Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales, and was once renowned for refusing to serve strangers.

Although uncertain about whether it had been filmed in the past, the receptionist was a minefield of knowledge about its history.

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This very English hotel dates back to the 1500s and what we enjoyed was that it has lots of cosy seating areas near the entrance, and with more than one bar to choose from, you don’t feel hemmed in. A bonus is the newly laid, large car park behind the hotel, which is free to use.

We were given a tour downstairs, and the building itself is much bigger than it would seem upon first glance. I kept getting disoriented because of myriad passageways.

This is because the rear section of the hotel was formerly a separate inn known as The George. Part of the hotel complex is a former flour mill.

We are shown through the restaurant into a massive function room for weddings, which can seat about 140 people. There used to be a cattle ring next door to the The George – but that is long gone.

Beyond the function room is a patio also used for local events including, we are told, for pig racing and charity fundraisers.

A pie shop is also inside the premises, selling award-winning fare.

All bedrooms are en suite and there are four ‘executive’ rooms, which are comfortable, spacious and have spa baths.

Because we always enjoy having a meander around English villages and towns, we headed outdoors to check out Winslow itself. Locals were friendly with everyone we passed calling out a cheery ‘hello’.

We noticed loads of charming historic homes, with names harking back to their former functions, hence ‘The Maltings’, ‘Hop House’, ‘The Old Quilters’ and ‘Old Bakery’.

There were also several tea houses – all independent businesses, which made a refreshing change from the chain coffee shops you usually see.

Of course part of any staycation is to eat out. We visited The Old Thatched Inn in picturesque Adstock, about a seven minute drive away.

The Old Thatched Inn is a countryside gastro-pub, and dates back to 1702. It is postcard-pretty from the outside, and this flows through to its interior which oozes with heritage and charming features.

The night we visited, it was packed with what seemed to be regular diners, with staff greeting many by their first name. However, a chat with one of the managers reveals that the gastro-pub is keen to attract new customers from further afield, including from Herts, because of its close proximity to this and other Home Counties.

After a drink at the bar, we were taken to our table. Our attentive waiter was happy to give advice, and because I can only eat gluten-free food, double-checked none of the ingredients would affect me.

The menu of course changes regularly, to offer diners seasonal ingredients provided by small specialist food producers and suppliers, including organic.

Favourites include locally sourced rare-breed lamb, an extensive fish selection delivered direct from Billingsgate market, and home-made ice creams.

The night we were there, starters on offer ranged from goats cheese mousseline, served with roasted heritage beetroot, to Coronation chicken terrine and homemade soup of the day. Starters ranged from £3.50 to £11.95.

However I chose from the day’s specials, a Scottish smoked salmon plate with shaved fennel and cucumber salad, and lemon dressing (£7.95). It was refreshing – very crisp, light and cool for summer.

My husband had black pudding and bacon croquette, with apple cider sauce (£6.50).

He said that while black pudding would normally taste strong served by itself, he found this blend “very subtle” but flavoursome.

The main courses ranged from 10oz aged rib-eye steak (£21.95) to slow cooked pork belly (£15.50) and home made beef burger (£12.95).

The vegetarian menu included roasted beetroot and fig jam tartlet with goats cheese, rocket salad and seasonal vegetables (£13.50) and tomato and white bean casserole, roasted parsley and garlic potato cake, also with greens (£12.95)

But I was really in the mood for fish, so chose another special, grilled fillet of Scottish salmon with creamed leeks, peas, baby leaf spinach and new potatoes (£14.50). It was delicious – the salmon was cooked to perfection, the creamed leeks complemented the meal as they were not too rich and heavy, and even the spuds were tasty.

My husband asked for pan fried Aylesbury duck breast, served with duck leg sausage roll, fondant potato and spring greens (£17.50). He described the unusual sounding sausage roll as ‘incredible’ while the duck breast was very tender.

We were so full that we could not contemplate eating dessert. But the menu included warm carrot cake, Belgian chocolate parfait, baked apple and custard tart, yoghurt and honey panna cotta, or warm banana bread – all for £6.50.

The Old Thatched Inn has a comfortable waiting lounge, a bar area with seating for 35 and a large conservatory - where we dined - seating 60 people, and offers casual dining and business lunches. It also caters for special events.

• The Old Thatched Inn, Main Street, Adstock, Buckinghamshire, MK18 2JN www.theoldthatchedinn.co.uk

• The Bell Hotel, Market Square, Winslow, Buckinghamshire, MK18 3AB www.thebell-hotel.org

• The Bell Hotel is the ideal location for anyone wanting to explore Aylesbury or Milton Keynes. There are many attractions nearby including retail outlet Bicester Village, Silverstone, Waddesdon Manor and Gardens and Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. For more information on places to visit see www.visitbuckinghamshire.org