Review: Wild Thyme & Honey, Ampney Crucis
Cotswolds corker! Brand new for this year and showing all the honey-stoned charms you'd expect of an historic 16th century inn (with some multi-million pound mod-cons), read on and book in. You'll love it.
So this is what a multi-million pound refurb looks like. A Cotswolds glow up of epic proportions has been gifted by Grosvenor Pubs to Wild Thyme & Honey, a 16th century pub that’s been transformed into a 24 bedroom stylish inn, in the village of Ampney Crucis, around a five minute drive from Cirencester. Touted as one of one of The Times’ hottest hotel openings for 2022, it’s a thoughtful and slick offering, with Hunter wellies at the door, duck-egg blue bikes for hire, welcoming log fires as you enter the large atrium and Ampney brook babbling past the back of the inn. The inn is attached to The Crown at Ampney Brook pub, which serves a mix of enthused locals and resident guests.
Soho Farmhouse meets the Wild Rabbit in Kingham after a day’s ploughing. There’s enough exposed honey-hued brickwork, exposed wood, tweed and muted colour schemes to please the most ardent Cotswolds tourist, alongside the classic accoutrements to the English countryside – old farming utensils on display on a dining wall, plus taxidermied stoats, pheasants and a large trout (or is it a perch? Let’s just say it’s large and fishy and not moving).
As a counterbalance, there’s a sprinkling of ski-holiday cool to the outside courtyard with its sheepskin throws, fairy lights and wood burner, a large bar, and a gorgeous outdoor garden space with a huge courtyard plus three private dining domes overlooking the brook and the bridge. No question that this will be the local go-to over the summer months.
SCOFF & QUAFF
With 116 covers across 3 different dining zones plus two private dining spaces, the food is a serious offering here, offering a farm to fork philosophy that chimes with the countryside setting. Though you can eat downstairs, the main restaurant up the flight of stairs past the bar feels a bit more special, with its faux-wisteria strewn feature wall and statement oversized wicker lampshades. We ate in the private dining area at the end of the main room (see at the back centre of the image above), separate to but still part of the restaurant rather than closed off entirely and I liked that approach – I think it’s good feel the buzz of others rather than slam the door on the atmosphere.
Foodies will be happy here – there are dishes like Cornish Crab cake, Wye Valley asparagus, lobster and champagne sauce with caviar crème fraiche (£9.95) or whole sole cooked on the bone with wild garlic and caper buttered shrimps, and fresh lemon in muslin (£21.95). But late on a Friday night with two teenagers in tow, our palates weren’t quite up to that level of sophistication, so we went for the classics that the pub does so well – two beer-battered fish and chips with beef-dripping chips and minted marrow peas for the kids (£15.75); and, for me, a marinated flat iron steak, with peppercorn sauce and skin-on fries (£15.95) plus an indecently large glass of Côtes de Gascogne Moonseng merlot (thanks for the tip, Mr Sommelier). It was tremendous.
Dessert was totally unnecessary after a pre-amble of home-made bread and the generous main course, but I’ve never let that get in the way of a weekend pig out. The blackcurrant cheesecake was sublime.
The meal was finished off with an Amaretto on ice, because yes, I’m classy like that.
I stayed in a Riverside suite, overlooking you know what, but also with views out onto the cricket pitch. Come summer time it will be lovely to hear the thwack of leather on willow but just be careful when you open your curtains! There are 24 bedrooms here, 13 of which have freestanding bathtubs, three which interconnect for families, one accessible room with lower double-sized bed and accessbile bathroom, 11 dog friendly rooms and one of which, No3 London Road, is exclusively a honeymoon suite though that too can be dog-friendly on request if you can’t bear to leave your pooch at home even for your nuptials (like, really?).
Just as in the rest of the hotel, the design is en pointe in the bedrooms, with exposed walls, textured concrete down-lighters, herringbone throws, and in my room the tour de force, the freestanding bath, artfully arranged with Bramley products and a book opened ready for reading during a soak (but first – an instagram post). An aside – the robes were the softest I’ve snuggled into for a long while.
A lovely touch was the honesty Pantry nearby where you could collect a kettle, teabags (always on my ‘more’ list), milk, more loo paper, shower gel or any other basics you needed.
OUT AND ABOUT
Ampney Crucis is the biggest of the three ‘Ampney’ villages, and worth a meander on one of the Wild Thyme bikes. It’s pretty sleepy here, truth be told, but that’s no bad thing when you’re on a bike. Make sure you visit the Norman stone church, just past the cricket pitch.
A five minute drive up the road is Cirencester, the self-styled ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’ with its Roman origins on show at the Corinium Museum (Cirencester was second only to London back in the day). There’s a lovely open air lido for families in summer and plenty of parkland to while away a day. Nearby National Trust properties include Bibury, Lodge Park and Chedworth Roman Villa, and Cotswold Water Park with its 150 lakes and wetlands is an 18 minute drive. Malmesbury, Burford, Bamford and Bourton-on-the-Water are all within easy distance for total Cotswolds immersion.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Romantic couples, families if you can grab the interconnecting rooms, dog lovers, and large parties (btw, the wedding reception room is really gorgeous with long social tables, lots of light and its own bar). Anyone wanting countryside with a side order of chic. The breakfast was magnificent – order the eggs benedict!
Not for: Wild Thyme & Honey is definitely family-friendly but I think toddlers could be a bit of a handful here with the river and lack of ‘play’ facilities. The rural location might not suit those who want to step straight into the action.
The damage: Rooms start at £170 per night.
Wild Thyme and Honey, Ampney Crucis, Cirencester, GL7 5RS. Tel: 01285 851 806.