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15 April 2019

escape to oxfordshire

*my dinner, bed and breakfast were complimentary, but all thoughts are my own*

a couple of weekends ago, jasmin and i decided to escape the city for a few days, and take ourselves on a day/night/day trip west to oxfordshire to breathe in some fresh air, drink in some cheap wine, and spend the night in the comfort of a new bed (literally, the hotel we stayed at is new!), all before spoiling ourselves rotten at bicester village. we didn't have a plan outside of the hotel and the trip to bicester, but after a couple of excellent suggestions from jasmin's other half, we sort of kind of had a plan to our escape away. want to know more? read on!

wander henley on thames

we stopped mid-morning in henley on thames. it's only an hour and a bit out of london, the trickiest bit of that commute was taking the back roads via west london to get to the motorway - once we were there, it was all straight through. i'd never before been to this oxfordshire town, though it's obviously a town that has a lot of history. we parked a little way out of the town itself and wandered along the river into the centre, where we got to watch quite a few people rowing out there, and play with soooo many puppies who were out on their morning strolls!

we fell in love in the town centre, with the tudor buildings, the pastel facades, the wonky structures, and the literally rabbits warren of local charity shops we fell into along the high street. i adore local charity shops; they have so much more variety in them than your high street ones, and are usually for charities that need a little more help than most. i found a treasure trove of bits for the new flat in there, and for a steal, too. we were probably only in henley for a couple of hours, but it was just beautiful, and we will definitely be heading back in the sun.

stop at the catherine wheel

after the incredibly beautiful wetherspoons i visited recently in folkestone, i've been on the hunt for other pretty pubs like it. the catherine wheel was another stunner, but less because it was inside of a giant church, and more that it was all wonky and wooden and tudor and quaint. and, it had an epic gin menu, alongside the usual wetherspoons classics. and truly, what's not to love about a wetherspoon's menu? we were both a little hungover from the night before we (i) drank many, many bottles of wine at jasmin's flat), so i went for something carby with chips, with unlimited lemonade to refresh the soul. and, just like that: i was cured.

stay at the marriot courtyard

about half an hour from henley is abingdon, which is the perfect spot to stay if you're planning to hit a few off the oxfordshire towns while away. a friend from work had recommended the marriot courtyard there to me after a weekend she had spent inbetween oxford and henley herself, and so we jumped on that plan too.

the hotel is really, really new - so new that it still has that fresh paint smell in the halls. the carpets in the rooms are still all nice and springy, and the ben linens and towels are still crisp from minimal use - all very luxe things in a chain hotel, you can agree! but, sadly, when it came to sleeping - for me, the bed situation was less than ideal. the king mattress, though new, was serrriously hard (even for me and i like a firm mattress) and the pillows were so soft that they dissolved under my head. the worst combo! both jasmin and i struggled to get comfy in the giiiiant bed, and in the end we settled with using cushions from the sofa as pillows as we were getting nowhere with the downy ones.

breakfast in the morning was in the hotel's oxen bar and grill, and was your classic mix of hot and cold, fresh and cooked, sweet and savoury - something for everyone. all i really needed after such a fitful sleep was coffee, and that too was plentiful and hot. the very best kind!

eat at the oxen grill

the very best thing about the hotel though, was the restaurant. ohhhh boy, i was in love with every mouthful that i took in the two hours we sat in there, watching beautiful plates of food be delivered all around us, wanting more plates to be delivered to us - despite being utterly full through the two and a half courses we'd already eaten.

we started with a couple of sharers - fresh sourdough bread and salted cotswold butter, or course, and then a few seafood dishes. i went with the fresh mussels, and jas opted for a gin-cured salmon starter, with salmon scotch egg, ribbons of cucumber, and smoked salmon in creme fraiche. by all accounts, we were smugly happy with our first choices. but then: came the mains. i was torn between a steak and the local lamb, and when i asked the manager for his suggestion, he said the lamb was the best he'd ever had. with that going for it, i ordered it. it came served with giant cous cous, baba ganoush, labna, grilled tomato and dukkah. 

everything on the menu is british inspired, but i lovvved the fusion of middle eastern flavours with the local lamb. honestly, the manager was right: that was the best lamb i'd ever had. it fell apart in my mouth, and the flavours exploded in my mouth, making every bite exciting and bloody tasty. 100% would drive back there purely for the food in the restaurant, and i didn't even tell you about the sticky toffee pudding...

shop at bicester village

ok so the real reason we chose oxfordshire was that i wanted to go to bicester village. i'd never been, and i bloody love a bargain, so we headed there early. not that it mattered, as the first car park was full when we arrived 15 mins after it opened, and not long after, eleven coaches turned up and a group of 800 had poured into the village. sooo yeah, it's busy, but.. worth it. with like, 80 percent of the shops totally unbeknownst to me, the ones that were, were excellent fun to shop in. i picked up some great bits for the new flat - rituals candles, cath kidston mugs - and the very best thing i've ever bought: the most perfect canary yellow kate spade bag, that i fell in love with the moment my eyes landed on her. we were only in the village a few hours, but it was very successfull for both of us, and actually, it's really pretty too! you can easily spend half a day there if you don't mind crowds, as there are some great restaurants and places to drink there, and it's just.. well, pretty posh.

all in all, it was a lovely day/night/day pottering around oxfordshire, and actually, reminded me that it had been forever since i had been to that part of the country. it's only an hour-ish out of london, and there are regular trains and busses direct into oxford, so what's my excuse? now that i've reminded myself of that, i'll definitely be heading back again soon. especially back to bicester.. to pick up the rest of the kate spade bags i left behind.

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