Stressed out? Strung out? In need of some headspace? Susannah Taylor knows just the place to find it. She heads to Thyme for the ultimate English country escape
If I was to imagine somewhere serene to escape from the rat race, somewhere to down the digital tools and properly relax in the most beautiful surroundings I could think of, I don’t think I could imagine anywhere more heavenly than Thyme.
Thyme is nestled within the village of Southrop, deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, with all its English roses, immaculate lawns and Cotswold stone. It is the creation of Caryn Hibbert, owner of nearby Southrop Manor and its sprawling country estate. Whilst the very beautiful main house remains private, Caryn and her family have, over the last 15 years, restored all the farm buildings, a Georgian Rectory nearby and the award-winning Swan Inn over the road to create what is the quintessentially perfect English village retreat.
A celebration of Britishness, Caryn has managed to create a luxurious and modern experience whilst keeping the sense of the history of the buildings intact. The magnificent 17th-century Tithe Barn has been revived without any chi-chi embellishments – soaring ceilings and ancient beams give it a grand yet humble vibe, or there’s the 19th Century Ox Barn, which is set to house the new destination Ox Barn restaurant this November, with its 65ft beams and an original herringbone ceiling. This marks their official launch as a 'Village within a village,' the perfect description of Thyme because it isn't like a hotel in the traditional sense in shape or form.
Thyme feels a million miles away from city life, both physically but also metaphorically speaking, probably because its heart is the land it sits on. So often we’re told that the key to destressing is in getting back to nature and at Thyme there's an abundance of it. There’s a 150-acre farm that provides a rich, healthy soil for abundant vegetable gardens, a herb garden, cutting gardens and polytunnels that are productive all year round. The sprawling grounds supply the spa, the restaurants and the cookery school and every morning, chefs and gardeners meet to discuss what they can pick and create for the day ahead. Then there are the gardens that weave throughout the grounds, brought to life by Bunny Guinness a six-time Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist complete with orchards and working gardens too. Every doorway is climbing with roses, every flower bed is bursting with florals, whilst bumble bees and wildlife fill the air and trees that soar high above.
When it comes to the rooms, you either choose to stay in the Farmhouse and the cottages around the courtyard or The Lodge, a Georgian Rectory where I had the luxury of staying the night. Again, the rooms are inspired by the lush surroundings and mine – English Rose – looked out onto the gardens and was painted the most sumptuous shell pink (if you are interested it was Cuisse de Nymphe by naturally pigmented paint company Edward Bulmer, whose earth-friendly paints are used throughout – again another reflection of Caryn’s love of the countryside).
What to do when you’re at Thyme apart from rest? Head to The Baa (there are stools that look like shaggy sheep to sit on) for a cocktail created with cordials, flowers and herbs fresh from the garden and straw blades in the place of plastic mixers (Thyme has a commitment to sustainability and a drive to remove single-use plastics from the site). Or you can book in for a cookery class where you can really experience Thyme’s ‘love of the land’ first hand. These normally start in the gardens where you can harvest some culinary treats before heading to the kitchen for some season-led cooking. Other treats are picturesque walks, picnics, a visit to The Swan Inn Caryn’s award-winning pub across the road and for me, a run to the next village and a long soak in my roll-top pink bath.
But you absolutely can’t leave Thyme without a visit to the Meadow Spa right in the centre of the Thyme nest. A botanical-inspired haven with a chemical-free pool that uses the water from Thyme’s natural underground spring that flows deep below their meadows, the minute I entered the green and white tiled Greenhouse reception (I fell in love with that tiled floor and immediately told my husband we needed a new bathroom), I could immediately feel my shoulders drop. After a drink of botanical-infused water (using herbs from the gardens obviously), I was then shown to my treatment room in Meadow Cottage for an Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Signature Treatment (just for the record, one of my fave skincare brands). Given the refreshingly simple option of ‘shorter facial and more massage' or 'more facial and shorter massage’ I chose more massage. I don’t remember a huge amount about what happened next but I just about recall being pummelled and scrubbed to awake with seriously glowy skin and a much less knotty neck. The following morning I fell out of bed into a super chilled yoga class (which start officially in November too) before wafting into breakfast.
If you’re looking to escape the humdrum of modern life for a night, a weekend or longer, this would be my go-to place to hide away and forget about the outside world. If I were you I’d leave your phone at reception, the experience and being mindful of the surrounding nature is just too good a restorative experience to miss.