26 August 2016

Warmth and sunshine soak into stone walls, filter through leaves and simmer in the golden-brown and green fields, which hum with summer insects

From the first delicious crunch of the gravel drive on arrival, every detail at Thyme creates an immersive experience of a quintessential English idyll. It is in the texture of the place, reiterated in golden stone, wild grasses, smooth lawns, wooden beams, and tweed and velvet sofas. The estate has the air of an old country pile passed down for generations, yet, it is in fact a young, thriving project, bought derelict seven years ago. Set in 150 acres of land, the manor estate in the tiny Cotswold village of Southrop, Gloucestershire, is now home to a boutique hotel with rooms, self-catering cottages, and a cookery school, as well as a private manor house and working farm. It is also a wonderful base from which to explore the Cotswolds.

Thyme House, its cottages, and spacious barns are a collection of carefully restored, welcoming spaces which embody all the appealing decadence of a country estate, balanced with a contemporary informality and lightness of touch. Rooms are sumptuous yet airy. Imposing portraits and large, still life paintings overlook banquet tables set with linen tablecloths and flowers, while contemporary sculptures and paintings dot moments of contrast, surprise and humour elsewhere around the walls and gardens. The ‘Baa’, a large barn amply furnished with plump sofas and armchairs, invites guests to linger over a herbal infusion or botanical cocktail made with ingredients from the kitchen garden. The Cotswolds seem to roll in through the large glass doors to meet the interior, which reflects the soft greens, gold, and greys of its rural surroundings and even houses a flock of rather life-like sheep seats, clad in natural fleeces. 

Food is central, and part of a hands-on approach to the land. A flower garden, kitchen garden, and bee hives accompany special breeds of poultry, sheep, and pigs on the fertile strip of water meadows, which run alongside the River Leach. Produce from here finds its way not just to teapots and martini glasses, but to vases, breakfast tables, dinner plates, and cookery classes. The Swan at Southrop, a cosy pub just a few yards along the lane from the estate, collaborates with Thyme’s agricultural projects to produce a fresh and elegant seasonal menu. Thanks to the focus on unusual and heritage varieties, the farm attracts chefs from all over the country.

This is no happy accident, but part of a careful philosophy of sustainability and close appreciation for nature which threads together every aspect of the Thyme experience. Visiting in late July, the estate seems suspended in perpetual summer. Warmth and sunshine soak into stone walls, filter through leaves and simmer in the golden-brown and green fields, which hum with summer insects. Other details, however – open fireplaces, a hefty boot scraper, a row of umbrellas – allude to wintery days and comforts. The great pleasure of a visit to Thyme is that each transient joy of the season is captured and savoured while it lasts.