The Bay Tree is an old coaching inn of appreciable vintage that presents an enchanting frontage out on to Sheep Street. The outward appearance suggests charming, quaint lodgings above a smoky bar full of shepherds and grain merchants in town for the market. The hotel, however, has sold its soul to a regional chain specialising in quality hotel accommodation targeted at the well-heeled. Intoxicated by the heady expectation surrounding all newlyweds, we placed ourselves firmly in the "well-heeled" category and checked in. We were even presumptuous enough to check out one of the larger suites, but remained unconvinced of the added value of a couple of tartan armchairs and a heavy four-poster.
I mock somewhat – the Bay Tree is a very good hotel. It places itself in the traditional/modernised country hotel category with the obligatory set of armour/heavy oak/tapestry décor and its appropriately austere common areas. The terraced gardens say Pimms, strawberries, and summer days, while the interior is much better suited to cold winter nights and gatherings around roasting chestnuts.
Our room was comfortable and sizeable; decorated and accessorised with country-house furnishings and a bathroom somewhat larger than the Blonde’s last bed-sit in Brighton. Everything a hotel bedroom to be – short on quirks but solid and fulfilling.
The staff were obliging. We are not a particularly demanding couple (very much in the English style – smile and say thank you for pretty much any old crap), but they quite happily refrigerated our picnic leftovers and champagne, serving it up to us as requested. The lonely night manager was also more than happy to provide us with drinks when we stumbled in from our night on the tiles in downtown Burford. I can also vouch for the quality of the breakfast, although it was clearly a long walk from the kitchen to our room, judging by the temperature of the bacon.
There are cheaper places in Burford where I suspect you can enjoy similar benefits. I haven’t stayed at places like this before except after wedding receptions, and I always thought that I’d appreciate them a little more if I’d had a little less. With my seedy, morning-after guilt, I always felt that I deserved the snooty, disapproving looks of the staff, but it seems that it really is part of the English country-hotel experience.
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
October 21, 2003
From journal A brief flirtation with the Cotswolds