Thyme is an English country idyll, an imaginary village as perfectly bucolic as Tolkien’s Shire, created from renovated honey stone buildings on a sprawling estate in the Cotswolds. Almost ridiculously handsome, there’s a hotel and cottages, a cookery school with visiting chefs, 150 acres of kitchen gardens and working farm, cocktail bar, village pub, the Meadow Spa and a restaurant called Ox Barn.
Charlie Hibbert is the chef at Ox Barn, son of the estate owners, alumnus of Darina Allen at Ballymaloe, who has served under some of the best. Last seen in this country slaving over fire at the feet of the master, Francis Mallmann, at the much-missed LitFest, Charlie has also worked as head chef for Jeremy Lee in Quo Vadis and is making a name for himself with his sophisticated but rustic modern British menus at Ox Barn. Jeremy and Darina are about as good as I can think of as food parents. With few exceptions, everything on the plate is grown or farmed on site, from the herbs, fruits and vegetables to eggs from the resident hens, and quail, geese and rare-breed sheep reared in the grounds.
I may be more city than country, but this time of year Thyme comes into its own and the notion of a country stay with a side of city polish makes working up an appetite as active a holiday as I’m ever going to have.
In its own walled garden, the natural black slate outdoor swimming pool is filled with the estate’s own spring water, filtered through the Cotswold limestone and through a biodynamic filter so no need for any chemicals. No dodgy additives either in the spa brand, the first hotel partnership with pioneering cult natural British brand, Aurelia.
Looking at country houses on the other side of the water isn’t usually that compelling because we have some beauts here. We do not have anything though remotely as considered and complete as Thyme. A swim under the sky, surrounded by rustling leaves and busy bees, a good pummelling with something essential that smells great, and a Charlie Hibbert dinner to look forward to – the edited highlights of England’s green and pleasant land at Thyme.
Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate, Gloucestershire. www.thyme.co.uk
Tim Magee @manandasuitcase
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