Why you should take a trip to Oxfordshire's fertile hunting grounds (its shops)
Tight-fisted? I couldn’t possibly comment, but I’m not one for spending money unnecessarily and I’m a serial frequenter of charity shops whenever I go away.
A pre-Christmas break to Oxfordshire proved to be a fertile hunting ground. On the way to our final destination in Kingham, which is a village not far from Stowe-on-the-Wold, we stopped off in the pretty little market town of Moreton-in-Marsh for afternoon tea.
The weather might have been a bit on the chilly side but Moreton, with its myriad of independent shops, helped us pass the afternoon quite pleasantly.
After a trawl of the five or six charity shops I came away with an unworn pair of Oak and Hyde boots for £30, a couple of designer jumpers at a bargain price and even a mini Christmas tree - ideal for the front porch.
Moreton-in-Marsh is on the Roman Fosse Way and has been a travellers’ town for centuries, gaining its market’s charter in 1227. As with many market towns, it has a wide main street and every Tuesday upwards of 200 market stalls selling everything imaginable, are set up.
One of the town’s claims to fame is its connection to the author J R R Tolkien. Research by the J R R Tolkien Society has revealed that the Bell Inn was most likely the inspiration behind the Prancing Pony in Bree, the famous pub from the Lord of the Rings where the hobbits take shelter.
Around two miles from the town is a 16th-century nine-foot-high Cotswold stone pillar which marks the centuries-old meeting place of the four county shires Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
After local government reorganisation in 1974 Worcestershire’s boundary moved and it now only marks the intersection of the other three.
There’s another Lord of the Rings connection here. Tolkien fans claim this pillar was the inspiration for the Three-Farthing stone in the Shire.
After our sojourn in Moreton we pressed on to Kingham and the Kingham Plough, where we were staying for the night.
A few weeks earlier the Kingham Plough had been awarded a prestigious Good Food Award for Gastro Pubs 2020 which means it is up there with the best in the county for overall dining excellence, best practice and individual entrepreneurship.
The fact that the new owners only took over a few months before that makes this award even more remarkable. Matt and Kate Beamish who have worked with such luminaries as Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver and Fergus Henderson have already worked their magic on the bar and dining areas and are embarking on a programme of bedroom refurbishment which was well on the way to being completed during our visit.
Head chef Jonny Pons has created an ever-changing menu with modern British dishes with Mediterranean influences as well as classic pub food. Everything, we were assured, is made in -house except for the bread which comes from a local artisan bakery. It’s all beautifully prepared and we were served by a couple of delightful and very friendly New Zealanders who were very knowledgeable about the menu and the provenance of the ingredients.
On this raw winter’s day, the Kingham Plough exudes warmth and bonhomie. Locals and guests are gathered together around the blazing fire laughing and joking or tucked away in one of the intimate nooks.
There are six en-suite rooms, individually decorated and furnished with mismatched pieces of furniture and with interesting prints and photographs on the wall.
Our twin room was small but pleasant enough and included some nice touches: locally sourced tea and coffee, homemade biscuits and even a packet of Kingham Plough thyme seeds to sowin the spring.
However, our room was obviously still on the refurbishment list as the beds were past their best and needed replacing and some of the decor looked a bit tired.
After a leisurely breakfast, we headed off to find one of the Park and Ride services which would take us directly into the centre of Oxford. On the way, we spotted an antique shop with an interesting name. We spent a pleasant hour browsing among the furniture, antiques and collectables at The Quiet Woman at Chipping Norton but didn’t find anything we fancied taking home with us.
We landed in Oxford in the middle of the hectic Christmas market. Stalls filled with handicrafts, seasonal decorations and food and drink. A Santa Run had just ended and there were red-clad Santas everywhere we looked.
Away from the crowded market the streets were relatively quiet - or as quiet as Oxford streets ever are. We wandered around taking photographs of the famous landmarks such as Oxford castle, The Bridge of Sighs and the Bodleian Library, all recognised the world over.
We called into the Eagle and Child pub for a spot of refreshment. This is where the literary group the Inklings used to meet in the 1930s and 1940s. Members of the group included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.
The nearby Lamb and Flag also has literary connections and is said to be the place where Thomas Hardy came to write Jude the Obscure and was also frequented by Lewis and his group.
Sightseeing over and Christmas shopping done we headed for home with a promise to return in the summer.
Oxford has plenty to entice the visitor and even at the height of the tourist season it is a pleasant place to spend a few days.
Julie Marshall stayed at: The Kingham Plough, The Green, Kingham, Oxfordshire OX7 6YD. Tel 01608 658 327. www.thekinghamplough.co.uk
Doubles from £145 per night for two people year-round on a B&B basis. Single occupancy rates start at £110 a night on a B&B basis.