An afternoon spent sipping mulled wine and perusing antique markets in wintery Cirencester was the perfect way to leave London behind and begin to focus on the important task in hand relaxing. Not something I often struggle to achieve, admittedly, but this was not to be taken lightly. I’d been promised a weekend of undisturbed serenity, and was determined that this should be the case.
As it transpired, this took very little-nay-no effort whatsoever, on my part. Having arrived through a coded gate, we passed a chocolate-box community of cottages, and, if I’m completely honest, a small part of me baulked. The driveways were perfectly manicured. Not a leaf to be seen, despite it being extremely blustery. I’m used to my countryside wild, messy, natural you won’t catch the Herefordshire potato farmers raking the leaves. But having wound our way down tracks and over bridges, my fears subsided. Yes, it was gated and you could see neighbouring buildings (not something I’m accustomed to), but it was quiet. Blissfully quiet. I couldn’t hear or see anyone, and I’m told it was far from empty. The noisiest resident was some manner of coot, fussing on the lake that sat directly outside our back door.
The cottage itself, (Reid Villa), was warm. This was what struck me first. It was, after all, December. The underfloor heating didn’t lose its appeal over the course of the weekend, as we padded around bare-foot, watching wildlife (everything from badgers to beavers) come and go on the frosty lake, through the modern, floor-to-ceiling windows that walled one side of the building. As a result, the rooms were light, even at dusk, spacious and unbelievably comfortable. The shower that adjoined the main bedroom was also something of a wonder to behold. A grown man could lie down and still have room to swing a cat, if he so desired. And the cat didn’t mind being wet. Anyway, it was large. Evenings were spent in front of a roaring fire, nibbling on delights from a treasure trove of a food package, while mornings were all about bracing walks around the 600 acres of nature reserve that surrounded us.
Highlights spring to mind thick and fast, but the spa is a must my ‘luminous C and sea facial’ left me feeling unusually radiant, and the tennis, pool and gym facilities were fantastic. The height of indulgence was having a chef (Rod McCormick of www.mcbaile.com) visit our kitchen, to cook for us. Not only was he a dab hand with a spatula, he was also an extremely interesting man, who made us the most delicious meals, largely from local fare. The idea of having someone in the kitchen making you breakfast is a bit odd, as you mooch around in your pyjamas, but in practice it is both laid-back and incredibly spoiling.
The estate came into being 15 years ago, as the brainchild of the Paxton family. For the most part, these are holiday homes that people buy and live in for up to 10 months of the year a bolthole away from urbanity. But there are now short rentals available too, for anything up to a month. What Lower Mill does best is letting you do as much or as little as you desire. If you want to be up at 5am to spot birds, a man is on-hand to go with you, but equally, if you want to be left to recuperate and recline, this is the place. Lower Mill has awards coming out of its ears. And it’s easy to see why.
Reid villa costs £881 for a week’s stay
(01285 869 489; www.lowermillestate.com)