Should we stay or should we go? That was our delicious dilemma with a rare free weekend at our disposal. While a last-minute city break to Europe sounded exciting and oh-so-cultured, the thought of tackling check-in queues snaking out of the door and taking out a second mortgage to pay for airport parking wasn’t so appealing. So the husband and I settled on a staycation of sorts – to a country cottage just 10 miles down the road – and roped in two of our besties to join us for a weekend of beers, bolly, Bohnanza (an addictive card game… more of that later) and the best of the British countryside.
I have to say, packing for a staycation is the best. No two-pin plugs, passports or travel pillows to fret over. And if you’ve forgotten an essential? No drama. You can just jump in the car and nip home in a jiffy. Brilliant.
Our weekend des res was The Old Dairy, one of four charming holiday homes owned by Fuller’s Hill Cottages, located in a working farm and airfield at Little Gransden. Owners, the Jefferies family, enlisted the help of architects and eco-planners to transform their largely redundant historic farm buildings, some dating back to 1840, into desirable residences. Thanks to a combination of modern technology and traditional building techniques, each abode has retained its original character, with idiosyncratic touches added to reflect past lives.
The Hayloft, used by the children growing up on the farm as a play area and to store farm tools is now a luxurious pad sleeping four; The Tack Room, which primarily housed harnesses, now boasts its own private hot tub for four; The Stables, where the farm’s beloved shire horses – Bonnie, Major and Corrie – resided in the early 60s, is now a romantic hideaway for two. Fascinated by its aviation theme, we chose The Old Dairy, stepping over the very same threshold though which cows were herded ready to be milked until as late as the 50s. With views of the airfield (a base for vintage and classic aircraft), and magnificent memorabilia, including a huge polished propeller mounted in the lounge wall and a spectacular coffee table made from an aeroplane engine, I couldn’t help feeling that Amy Johnson would have been in her element here!
In the holiday spirit, especially after being shown the snazzy controls to the hi-tech six0man (or woman) hot tub in the garden, we cracked open some bubbly and took a tour. The kitchen had a lovely country feel, with its farmhouse-style Belfast sink, cream cupboards and chunky wooden work surfaces, while the giant glass-top table was going to prove perfect for our game-playing plans.
Our hosts had kindly left us a welcome breakfast basket brimming with fresh fruit, cereals, home-made honey, baked beans, you name it, while all the vital fry-up ingredients were awaiting us in the fridge, along with smoked salmon. A nice touch, we thought, especially for frazzled families who may not have had the time to pick up groceries en route.
Upstairs the two bedrooms – one with twin beds and the other boasting a luxurious kingsize – were light and airy with rustic wooden furniture and cozy touches, including sheep-motif cushions, thick woolen bed throws and fluffy robes, while the bathroom was the picture of modernity with charcoal tiles, a huge skylight and a tropical double shower.
Unpacked, it was time of our Bohnanza extravaganza. For the uninitiated, the German card game involves players becoming bean farmers (kind of apt considering our setting, though the Jefferies farm wheat, barley and rape, not black-eyed, coffee and chili beans). It may sound dull, but believe me, with all the tense trading, wine-fuelled negotiating, wheeling and dealing, it’s utterly addictive. Hence we didn’t turn in until gone 1am. Yawn.
Next day, after breakfasting like kings and exhausting the Nespresso coffee machine, we decided it was time to blow away the cobwebs (i.e. hangovers), hit the great outdoors and reconnect with nature. Fuller’s Hill is actually a real haven for wildlife, home to colonies of bats, badgers, crested newts, buzzards, and in Spring, March hares, whose display of boxing on the airfield runway is, by all accounts, an amazing sight to behold.
Helpfully, we’d found laminated maps in the cottage for a host of countryside jaunts. Tramping across the airfield, the warm breeze bolstering our spirits, we set off on a five-mile ramble, heading towards Waresley and Gransden Woods, which were resplendent with bluebells, oxlips and violets, stretching as a far as the eye could see.
Arriving in Waresley, all chocolate box thatched cottages, we decided a pit stop was in order as the lovely shrub-sheltered beer garden of The Duncombe Arms. A couple of heated rounds of Bohnanza later, some liquid refreshment, and a stroll around the nearby garden center, and we were homeward bound, wandering past lush meadows filled with adorable gamboling lambs.
Back at the ranch, decked out in fluffy robes, we pootled over to the hot tub, located in a secluded garden. Joining a trio of guests from another holiday cottage celebrating a 30th birthday, we cracked open some more bubbly (well, we were on holiday) and relaxed in the illuminated, bubbly spa waters for far longer than the recommended time. Padding back to The Old Diary, as wrinkly as prunes dinner inevitably led on to more competitive card playing into the wee small hours.
The worst things about weekends away is the dead of the long drive home on the Sunday. But clearly this was no concern on our last morning at our countryside retreat. So we made the most of the day and enjoyed a sensational roast at the nearby Coach House in Potton, and raised (another) glass to ‘the staycation’. You really can’t beat it.”