The Fleece in Witney

[This stay was gifted to us, but opinions and full stomachs our own.]  Tom and I were invited to check out The Fleece in Witney, Oxfordshire, which has recently had a top-to-toe refurb. We’ve been to the Fleece in Witney before, as Tom’s brother and sister-in-law live and work not far from the town, but it was good to go back to see it in its new splendour.

The Fleece in Witney

The Fleece overlooks Church Green and all 10 of its guestrooms have had a makeover, but still in keeping with its Georgian heritage. Once upon a time, the building was home to the Clinch family, which owned Witney’s Eagle Brewery, but now belongs to the Oxfordshire’s Peach Pub Company.

The Fleece in Witney

The Fleece does have its own parking behind the pub, but it does get busy, so there’s also free parking on the green on Friday night at least.

We had room six at the top of the stairs. I’m always a little anxious about pubs with accommodation as I often wonder if you’ll be kept awake by the bar activity downstairs, but with the mega soundproofing doors, you wouldn’t even hear a mouse. Our room was decked out in turquoise, a patterned wallpaper reminiscent of a stripped back William Morris print. These are hand-printed by Cotswolds Rapture & Wright. The bed included a velvet-covered headboard in dark red and pops of burnt yellow pillows – very now.

I stuck my head in around the doors of a couple of other rooms and each one has its own individual quirks. Our bathroom had a powerful, rainfall shower that made me jealous, those trendy herringbone tiles plus herbal enriched products for hair and body created by Damana. Classic FM was playing as we entered and suddenly everything slowed down a few notches.

Dinner for two at the Fleece in Witney 

It’s nice to have an overnight stay sometimes as it means both Tom and I don’t have to worry about who is pulling the short straw and driving home. With this in mind, Tom started with a pint of North Cotswold Brewery’s Windrush Ale and I a Forest G&T.  The Fleece had a good gin menu, with some more unusual small batch varieties.

Mike, the manager, and his staff were very friendly and happy to offer up a recommendation, which is just as well as between the spring menu and the specials I had trouble choosing.  For starters, I opted for the duck rillette and sunflower toast from the specials (which I originally thought would be like a croquette type thing, it’s not – it’s a pate!), whilst Tom had a beetroot and onion Tarte Tatin with goats cheese. Both slipped down very easily.

For mains, I went for the panko breaded chicken with lemon and skinny fries and a green side salad with avocado dressing. Tom had the sea bream with curried polenta, pea puree and carrot bhaji which looked like something from Masterchef.

We were both beginning to fill quite full at this point, but our waiter had been super keen on this warm blondie with raspberry ripple ice cream, that Tom felt he had to force one down. It would have been rude to leave him eating alone, so I had the chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate ice cream – with every intention of stealing some of Tom’s.

I did get a mouthful of Tom’s but the waiter was so worried I hadn’t experienced it in its full glory, he bought out a small version just for me. Two puds. I ate so much I felt sick. No regrets. This was all washed down by a bottle of Rioja.

Breakfast at the Fleece in Witney

After a good night’s sleep, in our firm, yet comfy mattress, we headed down for breakfast. We were both looking forward to this after the great banquet we had the night before, plus we knew that we had a weekend of gardening back at our place so a hearty breakfast would go down a storm.

Breakfast is open to guests staying and normal diners. Toast is self-service on the bar and cereals, fruit and yoghurts are ‘help yourself’ at one of the tables in the main dining room. There’s also a reasonably priced separate cooked breakfast menu. Tom opted for the full English which included sausages from Jimmy Butler’s Blythburgh farm in Suffolk; black pudding and scramble eggs, whilst I had the American style pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

The dining room is decked out in a similar style to guest rooms, polish wood, plush seats, with touches of warm reds – cosy and comfortable.

The details

With a weekend night stay costing between £100 and £150 for two people in a premium room including breakfast, The Fleece is ideal for a leisurely break in the Cotswolds, for a spot of shopping at nearby Bicester Village or simply for enjoying the tranquillity of the pretty market town of Witney.  The pub also makes for the perfect place for business travellers seeking a friendly, convivial stay.

For more information please go to https://www.fleecewitney.co.uk/bed-and-breakfast-witney/ where there are also details of ‘Pay Now, Sleep Later’ offering an even better rate for booking and paying 30 days in advance and ‘The Weekender’, with a saving for adding a Friday or Sunday to a Saturday night booking.

It was with some reluctance that we left the Fleece as we knew we’d be barrowing four tonnes of hardcore into our backyard as soon as we got back, but we’d be looked after well in preparation.

We took a cruise over Christmas which went to Caribbean and Brazil. Here's our first stop. Four hours in San Juan, Puerto RicoUsually, my blog posts especially when writing about holidays abroad are fairly lengthy, capturing several days at a time at a specific destination. This trip is very different as the Friend-Bartlett family embarked on a 22-day cruise over Christmas and New Year on board the Viking Sea taking in the Caribbean islands and the Amazon river through Brazil.

This is our first voyage, but as many veteran cruisers will know, your time in port is more often than not, brief, sometimes even just a few hours. With that in mind, these posts are going to be about how we got the flavour of each destination.

What to do with four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We flew from Heathrow to San Juan via Miami and met the boat on Tuesday evening. This gave us all of Wednesday. The Viking team has a number of organised excursions to help you quickly find your feet. We went port side at 12.15pm and had to be back on the boat by 5pm. So here’s what we did in 240 minutes…

Walking tour of Old San Juan

Our walking tour of Old San Juan took us through the main square where the Christmas tree was up. Puerto Ricans also celebrate King’s Day which marks the arrival of the three kings to baby Jesus. Our guide, Jose, explained that children are given gifts on both Christmas day and King’s Day, but often, they’ll be given in component parts – so you’ll get the PlayStation at Crimbo, but will need to wait a few days before the games arrive.

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The main part of our walking tour was to take in Fort Cristobel. Christopher Columbus apparently discovered Puerto Rico on the day dedicated to St John the Baptist, November 19th, in 1493, and the island was originally known as ‘San Juan’ with the port known as ‘Puerto Rico’ or the golden port.  At some point in history, the two reversed. When Columbus arrived, he was greeted by the indigenous people, known as Taíno. In 2010, the US census showed over nine thousand people identified as Taíno, descendants of those who survived colonisation, European diseases and intermarried.

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Spanish started building a fort complex, known as El Morro, across the peninsula following attacks by other tribal chiefdoms. Fort Cristobel was begun in 1552 and also withstood several attacks from other seafaring nemeses including Francis Drake in 1595, Earl of Cumberland in 1598 who came over land and finally the Dutch in 1625. Not a single one took the fort – with its 20ft thick walls and 150ft above sea level. In fact, 2017’s terrible hurricane season barely scratched it.

We walked from Saint Cristobel toward the Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista, or in English, Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, which houses the tomb of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish settler and first governor of Puerto Rico. It also has a shrine to the first person born in the Caribbean to be beautified (or the first step to sainthood) Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago.

Our last walking tour stop was the Governor’s Mansion all decked out for Christmas. The street leading up to the mansion currently features an art installation with multi-coloured umbrellas creating a street canopy, recognising 2017’s challenges following the extreme hurricane season.

Mojitos and mofongo

At the end of the road, we stopped for a mojito, effectively the official drink of Puerto Rico. Bacardi moved its operations from Cuba once the revolution started to Puerto Rico in the 1960s. By now we had about 90 minutes left in San Juan and I was quite desperate to try Mofongo, the island’s signature dish of mashed plantain with chicken, shrimp or skirt steak. We got a couple of plates between us and a took a bottle of hot sauce home for good measure.

So there we have it  – 240 minutes in Puerto Rico!

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's CottageThey say with blogging that each piece of content you write should provide a unique perspective, something original that’s not been said before. Well, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is a Stratford upon Avon institution, as it was the former home of William Shakespeare’s wife. This means that there are some three million results for it should you punch it into Google. So the question is, what can I offer, that the other three million results can’t?

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Well, I went to school next to do my A Levels at Stratford upon Avon’s Grammar School for Girls which is also in the village of Shottery and is practically next door. And I’m going to offer some local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway’s cottage. 

Anne Hathaway’s connection with Shottery Manor

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Within the girls’ school’s grounds includes Shottery Manor, which was when I was there, the sixth form block. Younger years couldn’t be trusted to look after it?

The manor as we see it now was built in the 15th century and was once part of a farm that belonged to the Evesham Abbey. In 1402 it was taken over by the Harewell family (from 1402 – circa 1746) and converted into a manor house. The house was altered and partly demolished in the mid to late 18th century and In 1958 it was bought by Warwickshire County Council and Girls school was founded within the grounds of the manor house.  

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

It’s a place that Anne would have been very familiar with and tradition has it that in one of the rooms, which was once the manor’s chapel, was the setting for the betrothal of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway.

The Cottage 

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage started life a farmhouse, built in 1463 of cruck construction which means it uses two curved timber supports to support the roof. It originally had just three rooms, including the kitchen and parlour which remain the same to this day since their medieval construction. It was Anne’s grandfather, John, who first moved to the property as a tenant sheep farmer and in 1556, Anne was born.

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

As a farm, it was known as Hewlands, and the garden we see now would have originally housed livestock and maybe a practical herb garden. Anne’s father died in 1581, a year before she married Shakespeare, and Anne’s brother Bartholomew inherited the tenancy of the 90-acre farm, and later he bought it outright.  

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Shakespeare was 18 when he married Anne, then 25 and three months pregnant. They had three children together, Susannah and then twins, Hamnet and Judith; sadly Hamnet died at 11 during a plague epidemic. Notoriously, Shakespeare left his wife his ‘second-best bed’ in his will, but many suspect that this was actually their marital bed and not intended as an insult.

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Under Bartholomew’s ownership, the cottage saw several improvements including an extension, the insertion of the first floor and chimneys added. Bartholomew died in 1624.

The Hathaway family continued to live at the cottage right into the 1800s. The cottage itself was sold in 1838 as the family’s fortunes dwindled but they continued to live there as tenants. Mary Baker was one of the last tenants of Anne Hathaway’s cottage and in 1892 the cottage was sold to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Mary was employed as a guide to show people around and share stories with visitors.

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage

The Trust has furnished the house in the style of the Elizabethan period, using original furniture and objects where possible.  In an upstairs bedroom is a wooden bedstead said to be the very bed upon which Anne Hathaway was born. Another piece of furniture believed to be original is the settle beside the main fireplace, upon which William Shakespeare is believed to have courted Anne.

Local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

  • Stratford upon Avon is dead popular all year round, especially in the summer, and that applies to the village of Shottery on the town’s outskirts. That means traffic can be a nightmare and Shottery has a terrible traffic problem, the main route in can often get clogged.
  • I think that the best time to visit is right now, in March.  March tends to be a tad quieter especially for visiting, especially if you go on a weekday. There is dedicated parking for the cottage, just follow the signs.
  • On our recent visit, we also went Sunday morning and arrived around 10am. There was barely anybody else their at this point but by lunch, the coach parties had started to arrive.
  • There’s also still plenty to see at this time of year. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is set with nine acres of gardens, woodland and orchards which all begin the spring into life – cherry blossom opens and the daffodils begin to show their faces.  There is also the sculpture trail which shows a number of works inspired by Shakespeare and his plays.

  • On our last visit, we had a scone at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Cafe which is over the road from the main house. It’s a quaint place with a good view of the house and stream which runs through Stratford, however, there’s probably not a great deal of choice.
  • If you’re looking for hot food, chips, etc. then you’re probably better off heading to the Bell Pub, where I spent many a Friday lunchtime as a student.
  • You probably need about two hours to do the whole place justice and there’s a choice of tickets on offer. You can get one ticket for all five Shakespeare houses (Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Mary Arden’s Farm, New Place and Hall’s Croft) known as ‘The Full Story Ticket’ which includes 12 months unlimited visits to all five properties – £22.50.  You can also buy single entry which is £12.50, just to Anne Hathaway’s.
  • Let me know if you have any more good local tips for visiting Anne Hathaway’s cottage in the comments below ⬇️

Sonnet 45

So I will end this post, with this sonnet, one which I studied during my English Lit A Level and which is said to be attributed to Anne. The words ‘hate away’ may be a pun (in Elizabethan pronunciation) on ‘Hathaway’ and it has also been suggested that the next words, “And saved my life”, would have been indistinguishable in pronunciation from “Anne saved my life”.

Those lips that Love’s own hand did make

Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’

To me that languish’d for her sake;

But when she saw my woeful state

Straight in her heart did mercy come,

Chiding that tongue that ever sweet

Was used in giving gentle doom,

And taught it thus anew to greet:

‘I hate’ she alter’d with an end,

That follow’d it as gentle day

Doth follow night, who like a fiend

From heaven to hell is flown away;

‘I hate’ from hate away she threw,

And saved my life, saying ‘not you.’

 

 

Here Amy takes in Annie at the New Theatre, Oxford…

I’m a musical theatre fan. I think I’ve already seen four shows this year; considering March has only just begun some might say that’s a bit excessive. But I’ve never seen Annie and, quite frankly, never planned to.

I have a really vivid memory of watching Annie on Channel 5 one rainy Sunday afternoon when I was very little and being scared. Scared of what exactly I’m not sure – Miss Hannigan, her brother, the shrill tones of a chorus of 1930s New York orphans? I don’t think I watched the film to the end, and since then have never picked up the movie or listened to the soundtrack again.

However, seeing Annie at The New Theatre Oxford has totally changed my opinion of this beloved musical.

It’s hard to resist the joy of a stunning take on ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’, all orphan attitude and sharp choreography. Anita Dobson’s (EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing) Miss Hannigan is performed with razor-sharp humour and physical comedy.

The whole cast is superb. Richard Meek (Rocky Horror, Thoroughly Modern Millie) cuts a dastardly Rooster and Gary Davis creates a wonderful caricature of President Roosevelt – but perhaps all performances are shaded by Carolyn Maitland (Ghost, Miss Saigon) making the most of the straightest role of the show, Daddy Warbuck’s assistant and love interest, Grace Farrell.

My personal highlight of the performance was the choreography. It’s been a while since I’ve seen traditional Broadway jazz and tap performed so well in a touring production, so a special shout out goes to the ensemble cast.

You, of course, have to take the show with a pinch of salt. The idea that an Irish orphan somehow inspired President Roosevelt to create The New Deal with a group rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ is just a tad abstract – but this doesn’t take away from the fun of the show.

As well as the traditional jazz dancing, and performances of Anita Dobson, Carolyn Maitland, and the wonderful Taziva-Faye Katsande as Annie, what I also loved about the production was the audience. It was filled with mums, dads, grandmas, and grandpas bringing their young children to their first show.

The small girl sat directly in front of me audibly gasped when the young actors started performing Hard Knock Life, she was enthralled and I couldn’t help but think maybe another avid musical fan like myself had just been born…

Annie is at the New Theatre Oxford until Saturday 9th March and you can find other tour dates here: https://www.anniethemusicaltour.uk/tour-dates

My answer to the question, ‘did you know that Chipping Norton had its own country market?’ three weeks ago, would have been ‘No’. Chipping Norton has its very own craft market, which runs every Saturday between 9am – 11am, and is part of the wider ‘Country Markets’ movement. I was told about it by one of the stall holders, Sally and I felt that it was fitting that my first ‘real’ blog post for 2019, shone a bit of light on it.

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?

Each week, except the third Saturday of every month when the Farmers’ Market pitches up, several local producers and craftspeople set up in the Lower Town Hall selling wares from freshly baked cakes, homegrown vegetables and fruits, plants, meats, plus arts and crafts.

How did I not know about this?

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?

For over 100 years a network of 250 Country Markets across England and Wales has been selling homemade and local goods. It’s a Co-operative Social Enterprise and each local group is organised in co-operative societies registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. It’s all very official.

Membership is open to anyone over 16 and the cost of joining is 5p. Yep, 5p. The cost of an old school shilling. Everything is sold cooperatively, producers receive payment at the end of every month for their sales, minus a small commission to cover running costs and insurance. In Chippy, that’s 13 per cent. 

 

So when you rock up, you’ll be presented with a piece of paper and as you fill your basket, each stall holder will mark up what you’ve had and you pay on your way out. You can even use a card.

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?

What can you expect at Chippy’s market

Chippy’s market features meats and sausages butchered at Long Compton abattoir; handmade cards, soaps and gift bags; a plant stall; local honey; fruit and veg; Sally’s hand-printed tea-towels, totes, aprons and storage boxes (I can vouch for the aprons, super they are!) and a chap that even makes walking sticks.  You can even have a slice of cake and cuppa for a mere donation!

 

Tom and I came away with a packet of sausages, soap and an upcycled keyring made from a bit of skateboard, for about £8.50. This was absurd when you compare the fact I bought a £25 ticket for the Christmas Fair at Daylesford last November and paid £4.50 for one hand printed card alone. Suffice to say, that this Mother’s Day, I will not be heading to Daylesford for my gift inspo.

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?

It’s clear that there are several visitors to the market who come to do a spot of shopping every week. For these regulars, it’s an important part of their social life, but the market to thrive needs both more producers and visitors.  But a word to the wise, the regulars know that to get the best stuff, you need to be prompt when doors open at 9am.

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?

I’ve seriously started to think about upscaling my fledgeling candle-making exploits a bit further and getting myself my own stand, which will probably bring in more income than this blog ever will.   

What to expect when you visit Chipping Norton's craft country market?