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A country break in a very English idyll
Nestling at the foot of the Ilmington Downs, amongst the gentling rolling Cotswold Hills is the village of Ilmington – the highest in Warwickshire, just 3.5 miles north-west of Shipston on Stour and 8 miles south of Stratford. This picture postcard village embodies a very English idyll, with its Norman church and a village green, a pond overhung with weeping willows and sheep grazing in the surrounding meadows. And it’s perfectly situated for reaching local places of interest, including Hidcote Manor, run by the National Trust, and Kiftsgate Court. It’s a wonderful location for ramblers, too, with plenty of beautiful rural walks on its doorstep.
The Howard Arms is in the heart of Ilmington, right on the village green, equidistant from the stations at Moreton-in-Marsh and Stratford – a taxi ride of nine miles respectively.
The village shop is run by members of the community, as is the pub itself…It’s a charming traditional 17th century inn, which evolved from a collection of barns, built of mellow golden limestone quarried from the village. It’s much loved by the locals and is currently owned by a consortium of local residents, which no doubt accounts for its friendly, community feel.
The pub is divided into two areas. The main bar features dark polished flagstones (look out for a mysterious doggy paw print in the stone at the back door) low ceilings, wooden beams, and a massive welcoming hearth with a real log fire and two deep, leather armchairs. Up a couple of steps is the restaurant, which is likewise wooden-beamed but much bigger and classically styled, with paintings and vintage photos of the village hung on powder-blue walls. An imposing pine dresser stands statuesque at one end, and large circle-top windows look out onto the village green.
On arrival, we received a warm greeting and were shown to our lovely attic accommodation, one of 8 charming, individually styled bedrooms, each of which is beautifully furnished with all mod cons; en-suite bathroom with bath and shower, smart television, Wifi, and percolator with fresh coffee and tea.
‘The Study’ was both spacious and cosy, with a subtle palette of stone-coloured walls, oak flooring, tan leather bucket chairs and soft furnishings with a splash of rustic reds. Our windows overlooked the lovely pub garden and green slopes beyond, and the ample king-size bed was made up with fresh white linen and soft down duvet and pillows. The en-suite bathroom was bright and airy, featuring a deep claw-foot cast-iron bathtub, a shower and a selection of aromatic Temple Spa toiletries.
Having unpacked and settled in, we enjoyed a refreshing beer in the pub garden, before setting off to explore…
We took a lovely stroll alongside a brook, past thatched cottages and beautiful manor-houses, up to the 12th Century Norman parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, where we spent an enjoyable half-hour searching for 11 mice hidden throughout the church, carved into the pews and pulpit by master carpenter Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson of Kilburn.
Then it was back to the Howard for a delicious meal.
The pub is known for excellent Sunday lunches, but Head-Chef Gareth also offers a classic bistro style menu combining hearty pub favourites and fusion dishes, with something to whet all appetites.
We sipped on a bottle of Gavi La Contessa Broglia 2017, Piedmont, Italy – a light, fruity-dry citrus white, which went rather well with the crisp garlic herb focaccia and a balsamic oil dip.
Then, to start the meal, a potted salmon – satisfying flaky chunks of tender pink fish, with a tang of grapefruit and aromatic dill, served with toasted tomato bread and caper and watercress salad.
A fresh and creamy burrata was accompanied by zesty blood orange and toasted hazelnut salad.
For mains, we tucked into Pan-fried chicken breast, chorizo, & sauté potatoes; a satisfying combination of flavours and textures with spicy, smoky sausage and fruity-rich tomato coulis, served with purple sprouting broccoli.
And, tender grilled lamb steak served on a bed of a sweet potato purée, interestingly combined with asparagus and juicy bok choi, with a tasty sprinkle of toasted almonds.
Puddings were suitably indulgent too.
A classic, fruity raspberry creme brûlée was absolutely delicious while the Canterbury Apple tart did not disappoint either with its rich buttery pastry and lightly spiced fruit complemented by sweet vanilla ice cream.
Coffee and brandies were a lovely conclusion to a great meal in very pleasant surroundings.
We slept soundly up in ‘The Study’ and awoke to birdsong and sunshine, before heading downstairs for a delicious breakfast.
Steamy coffee, toast, fluffy-buttery scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and fresh orange juice were the perfect prelude to a day out exploring the beautiful Cotswolds.
Blue skies not guaranteed, obviously – what with it being England. But if it’s chilly there’s a cosy spot by the fire. And, you’re assured a warm welcome, great hospitality and a pleasant stay at the Howard Arms, Ilmington – a beautiful, authentic local pub, with stylish accommodation, in a picture-perfect English Cotswolds village.
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The Howard Arms,
Shipston-on-Stour, CV36 4LT. England.
Tel: 01608 682226