The Handbook
The Handbook

If you’re a parent of small children, you know the drill. You’ve spent the best part of five months staggering through darkness, cabin fever tantrums and bouts of norovirus. And then the first remotely spring-like day occurs (over 10 degrees; not pouring with rain) and you begin to slowly emerge from your unsolicited hibernation and the kids start going bonkers with excitement because they can’t believe there is life beyond the telly and baking cupcakes and ooh isn’t the magnolia lovely and yes I suppose we can get an ice cream (it’s nearly 12 degrees after all) and that’s when it hits you – WHAM! You are actually SO tired. 

And so that’s how it came to be, after the long winter slog, that my friend, Sophie – the proud owner of a very fine set of twin rascals –  and I – mother of two dragon daughter delights – found ourselves in urgent need of a spoiling and childfree retreat. When the opportunity arose for these two worn-out mama bears to spend the night at Thyme, the Cotswolds hideaway I’ve had to listen to everyone else raving about in recent months, we untangled the nit combs stuck in our hair, dug out our dusty Barbours and grabbed it. 

Every single minute we spent at this farm-based, plant-based rural idyll was blissful and we returned to town rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to face all that bathtime would inevitably throw at us. 

Herewith seven of the thousand of so reasons to visit Thyme, especially if you’re a Knackered Mum:

The Location

When you’ve only got 24 hours and the clock is ticking faster than it does on one of Jack Bauer’s bad days, you need a short commute in order to make the most of that precious time away. It took us less than two hours to whizz up the M4 from west London to get to Thyme, which is nestled in the heart of the Cotswold village of Southrop, but felt a light-year away once we’d arrived. 

The Look

I won’t lie – I am shallow and I need my mini-break to be one of the very highest aesthetic standard, and Thyme does not disappoint on that front. It is a collection of 17th century farm buildings, houses and cottages that have been beautifully restored over the past 15 years by owner Caryn Hibbert. Within these buildings are bedrooms for guests, a restaurant, a bar, event spaces, a spa and a cookery school, though this is certainly not a case of grand style over substance – every square foot of the estate has been carefully designed and thought through, and what they have succeeded in doing so brilliantly here is creating a particularly welcoming and intimate vibe; a village within a village. I felt more like I was staying at the (very nice) house of a friend, rather than in a hotel.

The Rooms

There are 31 bedrooms at Thyme, all of which are unique and have been inspired by the natural world, with botanical names such as English Rose and Mallow. We stayed on the ground floor of the Lodge, in Angelica, a gorgeous mustard-coloured room with a freestanding roll-top bathtub and a super-king size bed, the latter of which was especially welcome because Sophie likes to spoon at night-time, so I was able to construct a fence of pillows between us in order to discourage her and still have enough space for sleeping. It is impossible to overstate the quality of the turn-down service we received too: usually there is a child waiting for me in my bed but at Thyme there was a hot water bottle, which is obviously even better as it won’t kick me in the head. 

The Food

Thyme has a fully productive kitchen garden and farm – its sustainability really is at the heart of the brand – and ingredients are therefore sourced within just metres of the kitchens. We ate lunch at their award-winning pub, The Swan, just a few minutes’ walk through the village from the main reception, where the atmosphere is informal and the menu is simple and rustic. Both Sophie’s risotto and my ravioli were absolutely delicious, though I can’t quite remember in detail exactly what flavour either of them were because by that point we’d each had a glass of sparkling wine and it was a small miracle we made it through to the puddings (which were also very tasty… I think).

Dinner was in The Ox Barn, a vast 19th century former oxen house with soaring archways and original Cotswold stone rubble walls. It is a really fantastic space and was packed and buzzing with merry diners – including us, who had sobered up (a bit) after our earlier lunch and didn’t want to tip the scales of inebriation too much, having already enjoyed a cocktail at The Baa before dinner, and so I am pleased to report that I can remember exactly what we ate and that it was all scrummy. The goats curd, nettle, picada & anchovy crisp starter, in particular, was glorious, and it took all my self-restraint not to steal it from right under Sophie’s fork. I regret not doing so immensely. 

The Drink

Situated in the old lambing sheds and only open to residents of the hotel itself, The Baa draws inspiration from the farm’s two flocks of rare breed sheep with its fabulous bespoke life-size “sheep seats”. It’s a comfortable and cosy place during the day to relax, read the paper or play a board game, while at night the lights are dimmed, the candles are lit and the room is transformed into a cocktail bar. Bartenders are on hand to create cordials and cocktails that, inspired by hedgerows, water-meadows and kitchen gardens, change regularly depending on seasonal availability and provide the perfect sharpener before dinner. I was just one more delicious Flock Off (many spirits and a dash of orange bitters) away from posing on and petting the sheep stools. 

The Meadow Spa

The spa, situated in the Greenhouse and Meadow Cottage, offers treatments prepared in partnership with award-winning British brand, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. With a commitment by both Thyme and Aurelia to using entirely natural products and tailoring treatments for the individual, a massage here is guaranteed to dust away the cobwebs and restore you to your former, pre-winter-slog glory. Alas, time restraints meant we didn’t get the chance to have a treatment but having been blessed with a warm and sunny afternoon, we did sleep off the lunch fizz by the outdoor swimming pool, which is filled with pure, fresh underground spring water, filtered without the use of chemicals. Also coming later this summer are a natural spring hot tub, yoga and pilates classes and a hammam-style “hot house”. So we obviously need to go back to test them out. 

The Cookery School

The Cookery School was one of Thyme’s first offerings over a decade ago and is perhaps the best example of its “love of the land” ethos. The classes – like the kitchens and the Baa – are led by the seasons and use the freshest of available ingredients, and the setting – overlooking the Olive Gardens – is the perfect space to enjoy expert guidance from their chef-tutors. They assure me that even the least experienced cook can produce a good dish and that above all the classes are terrific fun. 

The Final Word

My 24 hour Thyme Out came exactly when I needed it and was perfect tonic after such a tedious winter – where better to recharge your townie batteries than somewhere that focuses so heavily on natural surroundings, a love of the land, sustainability and slowing down in general? It would be wrong to limit such a vital cause to just an annual basis, and so I shall now be requiring a Thyme Out after every season.

Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate, Gloucestershire GL7 3NX