The road is narrow and long, fields span out on both sides, and in between the hedgerows, you catch glimpses of wheat poetically weaving in the wind, pastures, with their grass cut low, and the impossibly zingy yellow of rapeseed.
You drive on, the burnished colours of autumn spectacular to behold in this southern part of the Cotswolds, which falls west of Oxford. Finally, after twists and turns, with flurries of leaves raining down on you, you arrive: a home-from-home in the midst of the Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve, which places you in the heart of the quintessential English countryside.
Before you even step into the cottage-like courtyard garden, the property already oozes romanticism from its name etched onto the gate. “The Lock Keeper’s Snipe” is a u-shaped, scrubbed-up barn, with boutique-hotel interiors, in a wonderfully remote part of the UK.
The property is part of the new Quince portfolio – launched by founder Sarah Wood to offer a specialist collection of British holiday homes to rent in Kent, Hampshire and Oxfordshire. Each characterful home has been renovated and revamped, with Sarah working with local gardeners, artisans and makers to make each feel unique.
“For Quince, choosing an English holiday spot wasn’t enough,” says Sarah. “There had to be a brilliant setting within that hot-spot, too. We strive to take our offering one step further. So, it isn’t enough to be in the Cotswolds, for instance, Quince has to be in the heart of a nature reserve, with Barn Owls and the River Thames as neighbours, too.”
At the Lock Keeper’s Snipe, your first impression hits the senses. Gardeners Posy and John have created a garden that feels curated yet wild, with planted herbs – Rosemary and Thyme – mixed with tall grasses, reclaimed railway sleepers, and an eclectic choice of plants that draw your interest, think: plum Heuchera, Red Hot Pokers and pale-pink Japanese Anemones. As you drift through the courtyard, wispy trails of these plants and herbs catch your arm or rub against your leg, releasing their scent as you move through.
Inside the barn, which sleep 14 across six bedrooms, the interiors are wonderfully cosseting and imaginatively designed. At its heart is a petrol-blue living room – bold in décor and large enough to bring everyone together. Exposed beams and a log burner add plenty of character, while huge curvy sofas, large scale contemporary artwork and cosy groups of velvet chairs add interest for all generations to socialize together. It’s the perfect place for multi-generational gatherings, groups of friends to reconnect and extended family to spend precious time together.
The large kitchen-diner, in tones of salmon-pink and teal, meanwhile, is a vibrant (and pleasingly practical) place. With its palm-leaf print wallpaper, velvet palm-tree-printed seats and rattan light shades, it has an intrinsic holiday feel – bringing a touch of ‘Cabo’ to the Cotswolds. From the Nespresso coffee machine to the double fridge/freezer; the range cooker to the dishwasher (in fact there are two, so there is absolutely no washing-up to be done) – it’s brilliant for conjuring up feasts for all, with all the mod cons necessary.
After tramping around the fields all day, the boot room is your first port of call to kick off any muddy boots. And, if the sun is shining, or – later, if you wanted to bathe under the stars –you can take advantage of the charming outdoor ‘bath house’ with its copper tub, and running hot water, for a magical way to soak the day away.
Lock Keeper’s Snipe is found on 13 acres of land to explore – the first thing to do is to go in search of the swings (no matter how old you are!) and find the scenically-placed benches to kick-start your mini adventure. It’s also surrounded by the 760-acre Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve. In fact, to help you navigate this area, and to cherry-pick the finest countryside walks, the property comes with a whimsically-illustrated map. With this in hand, it becomes easy to find the hidden bird hides – keep still and quiet to catch sight of snipes, curlews or waders – or to make your way to Shifford Lock, a 20 minute amble away, where you can access a host of activities on the Thames.
Nearby, the pretty village of Bampton has a local butcher, deli and baker, for stocking up, and is famously the location used to depict ‘Downton’ in the filming of Downton Abbey. Another scenic walk to take is to The Trout Pub, where you can enjoy a local ale and a hearty meal; while, for liquid adventures of a different kind, head to Duxford Pond for those brave enough to try a spot of wild swimming.
The beauty of Lock Keeper’s Snipe is its proximity to both Oxford and the idyllic towns of the Cotswolds. You can spend a day exploring Bourton-on-the-Water, say, or the ‘dreaming’ Spires of Oxford – both within easy reach of the property.
At night, however, you might be faced with a problem: what room to choose? Will it be the olive green bedroom with its red-and-white textiles; or perhaps the glamorous hideaway, with its claret velvet headboard and chic bathroom with powder-pink subway tiles? There’s an ideal children’s room, with three beds and an en suite; while the master suite has a stand-alone tub; chinoiserie furniture, soft eiderdowns and vintage pieces of furniture.
After a day spent in the fresh air – following winding paths through autumnal scenes – whatever room you choose proves to be a welcome space. Each has high-quality British-made beds, crisp sheets and eco-friendly toiletries. As you fall asleep, you might hear the resident barn owls ‘twit-twoo’ to each other. It’s the perfect soundtrack to the ultimate countryside stay.