Deep in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds is this unassuming inn, loved by locals and travellers alike
In the unspoilt village of Church Enstone is the 17th-century Crown Inn, a pub with five cosy low-beamed bedrooms. A proper country pub, is has a welcoming open log fire and locals chatting about country matters. The oak-panelled bar room has long plain wooden tables and settles with cushions, and serves traditional ales and beers by local breweries along with seasonal cocktails and delicious gins. It’s perfect after a country walk along the many footpaths that surround this tiny village of golden stone and thatched cottages.
The Crown is owned and run by George and Victoria Irvine. They have turned it back into a traditional inn, beautifully run by charming local staff who are very much part of the local community. The supper manager is also a part-time shepherdess who can tell you all about her clever sheep, trained to appear in television commercials and films. The whole inn is a small art gallery of paintings, some by the owner George, others by local painters and some by famous British 20th-century artists.
The warm, comfortable bedrooms, each named after a local hamlet, have tea-making facilities with fresh milk, and the bathrooms come with big reusable bottles of 100 Acres Apothecary toiletries. There are plenty of pillows and a furry hot-water bottle if you want an extra-warm bed.
If you would rather stay separately there is also the Crown Cottage, which sleeps up to four people with two double bedrooms, a sitting room and kitchen. The Crown lay a log fire daily and supply everything needed in the way of fresh bread, milk, butter, jams and biscuits.
The whole area is ripe for exploring. Chipping Norton, the stylish and lively Cotswold town, is only a few miles away, as are the picture-perfect Tews – Great Tew and Little Tew – whose famous thatched houses and wonderful topiary hedges have everything you could expect from the Cotswolds, but with far fewer crowds.
It’s also a great place to stay for visiting Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill and the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough for the last three hundred years. It is just down the road from Woodstock. And Bicester Village is close by, if outlet shopping is more your thing.
After an afternoon spent exploring the area, or a quiet board game by the fire, it’s time for dinner. The delicious rustic food includes such seasonal treats as game terrine with sticky fig chutney and blackberries, or roasted woodland mushrooms and blue cheese gratin, to start, followed by guinea fowl with wild mushroom velouté, potatoes and parsnip crisps and pan-fried duck breast with beetroot. The desserts are well worth saving room for: the likes of iced blackcurrant soufflé with mascarpone, and milk chocolate panna cotta with a rich chocolate truffle.
After your meal there is always that lovely log fire to get back to and the buzz of tavern conversation, or on warmer nights you can head to the pub garden for some first-rate stargazing or a stroll around this unspoilt village with its beautiful church, St Kenelm, that dates in part right back to the Normans.
The next morning, breakfast is served back in the dining room, again with as many local ingredients as possible. There is a choice of smoked trout kedgeree from nearby Bibury or a full English breakfast, served with freshly baked bread and local honey and jams.
For a real Cotswold experience in a local’s country pub, served by lovely, courteous staff, The Crown Inn can’t be beaten. And in the depths of winter, it’s the perfect place to hibernate.
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