The Bull Hotel, Fairford – centrally placed for everything
The Bull Hotel, built of honey-coloured Cotswold stone, is situated right in the heart of the bustling and vibrant Market Place of Fairford – a small market town in the south east corner of the Cotswolds – and is perfect for locals, neighbouring residents, sightseers from around the country or tourists from afar.
I have known The Bull Hotel and what it has to offer for well over 40 years and, although there have been changes in management, décor and menus, it has continued to retain the character and quintessential charm of a Cotswold coaching inn!
At the end of the 1970s, I lived in Marston Meysey – a quaint village just a couple of miles from Fairford – and I used to come to Fairford to use the launderette (no washing machine in those days!) and then call into The Bull for a quick drink whilst waiting for the weekly wash to be ready! When my partner and I got married at Swindon Registry Office in 1980, we were living in Cricklade – about 8 miles away – but decided to have dinner with a few friends that evening at The Bull and then we stayed overnight. So the first night of our married life was spent at The Bull Hotel!
We moved away from the Cotswolds in 1990 and spent three years living in a market town on the Scottish borders. However, the pull of the beautiful Cotswolds was too strong and we decided to start house-hunting in the area around Fairford, which had our preferred schooling for our children and also had a retained fire service for my husband! Naturally, we booked into The Bull Hotel for four nights and loved staying there. It was interesting to hear the two distinct accents of the hotel guests in the bar. After having had three years of Scottish lilts, the dropped vowels of the Cumbrian dialect and the Geordie drawl, we loved listening to the “ooh-arr” of the Gloucestershire locals alongside the “ok yah” of the well-heeled, well-off landowners and second-homers.
We had the large timbered room in the oldest part of the building that used to be the George pub. At that time, the room had a huge four-poster bed with heavy brocade curtains and two put-you-ups for our children to sleep on. Now, it is completely transformed into a luxurious, spacious room with a king-sized bed, sofa bed, separate seating area and modern en-suite.
On our last night sleeping in that room, I was woken up in the middle of the night by hearing our young son at the edge of the four-poster saying my name and stroking my cheek. I put out my hand to touch him and guide him into bed with me, but couldn’t feel him! There was no one there and my son was still fast asleep in his own bed across the room! Next morning, some of the staff were keen to explain that there is a ghost in The Bull Hotel and some of the staff and guests have had several spooky stories to tell.
Two hostelries in one!
It really isn’t surprising that there is some ghostly gossip gliding through the corridors and passage-ways of the Grade II listed hotel, as it is one of the very best old inns in England with plenty of history and character. The Bull Hotel is actually made up of two neighbouring and attached hostelries. Dating back to the 15th century, the left part of the building is the former George pub, which was originally a Monk’s Chanting House. It is now called The Coffee Post and houses a lovely coffee shop and Post Office. The main central part of the building was probably originally a 16th century medieval wool guild hall and then, in the 17th century, an important coaching inn with stabling for 30 horses on the east to west turnpike road between Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and London. To add more credence to the spooky stories, during some recent refurbishment work in the hotel, a secret tunnel was found leading from The Bull to the medieval church of St Mary’s nearby – just a 100 yards up the High Street!
History of the Market Place and easy parking for The Bull Hotel
The Market Place has a history of its own with its mixture of Grade II listed architectural buildings including Georgian. There is free unlimited parking in the Market Place outside The Bull Hotel, except on Wednesdays, when the weekly market takes place. There has been a market in Fairford’s market place for over 800 years selling corn, produce and livestock.
Nowadays, the Market Place is the community hub of the Cotswold market town and has seen many events taking place such as the Fairford Carnival, which started in 1894, but is now known as Fairford Festival; the Christmas market takes place on the first Friday of December attracting hundreds of people to the stalls, food, drink and street entertainment.
There have also been VE Day celebrations and Royal jubilees. The Market Place and High Street are decorated for the Flag Festival every year from May to August with flags from the Commonwealth countries and, once a year, steam engines from yester-year park up in the Market Place to attract locals, visitors and steam enthusiasts.
I have lived in Fairford for 27 years and was Mayor of Fairford for two years! As mentioned previously, I stayed here on my wedding night and stayed here again when I was house-hunting to return to the area. As Mayor of Fairford, I have been invited to many events at The Bull. It is like a second home to me. In fact, I do use it as my second ‘office’ and have meetings with clients here and even ask people to leave mail here for me to pick up!! Over the years, The Bull Hotel has had a succession of managers and, each time a new incumbent has taken over the running of this incredibly lovely establishment, I have been invited to the opening.
What is there to do in and around Fairford?
Fairford is the shy, retiring and smaller sister of Cirencester, Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water. No coach parties or tourists, just friendly welcoming locals, an incredibly beautiful church and superb walks. The Bull Hotel and Fairford offer an outstanding base to stay and explore the Cotswolds. It is quiet, yet within easy-striking distance of Cirencester, Tetbury (HRH Prince Charles and the Highgrove Shop) or Minchinhampton Common (HRH Princess Anne).
Local activities include: cycling, horse-riding, sailing, indoor climbing and tennis, all of which can be arranged directly with The Bull Hotel.
Family outings include: Cotswold Water Park or Cotswold Wildlife Park.
Places to visit: Blenheim Palace, Sudeley Castle, Cirencester, Cheltenham, Designer Outlet Village in Swindon, Cirencester Park (you must go and see the life-sized elephants in the Park), Bibury or Bourton-on-the-Water.
St Mary’s was built in the 15th century by the Tame family – wealthy wool merchants – and King Henry VIII along with his court of around 1,000 people visited Fairford and the church in 1520. During his visit, the King was feasted, went deer hunting, attended church and admired the beautiful stained glass windows that had been completed just three year before the King’s visit.
During WWII, the windows were removed from the church and were hidden locally to protect them from German bombing. In the 1980s and 1990s, all 28 windows were removed again to restore each one. It took over 25 years to complete the renovation. For those that love to learn the history of old churches, there is an audio tour of the church windows available with the talk done by a choice of famous voices e.g. Hayley Mills, Lindsay Duncan, Frances de la Tour, Bill Nighy, Jon Snow, Celia Imrie, Anne Robinson, Alan Rickman and more. An elderly gentleman friend of mine that was staying with us for a few days took the church tour and said “I didn’t ever think that I would get the chance to have Joanna Lumley whispering in my ear!”
The river walks
Fairford has many beautiful and easy walks and much of the countryside surrounding Fairford has remained unspoilt for over 400 years. There are several leaflets available (just ask at The Bull’s reception) describing the walks, what you might see and the duration of each walk.
You can spend a good half hour by The Mill and the River Coln (a tributary of the River Thames) looking at the weir, the ducks, swans and giant trout. Fairford’s name came from the Saxon ‘Fagrinfordia’ meaning fair (easy to cross) ford.
The historic Ox Pens are just a short stroll from the Mill Bridge. This is an ancient agricultural building with wooden stalls, which accommodated pairs of oxen used for ploughing. Now fully restored, it is a lovely place for a picnic. You can walk through the Ox Pens along the River Coln to the Cascades – a breath-taking weir with stunning views.
Or you can saunter to the bottom of the Market Place, cross the road and take the River Walk next to Colosseo restaurant for an easy 2 mile walk. Fairford is part of the Cotswold Water Park and there are many gorgeous lakes in the area where you can go boating, wind-surfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, walk alongside or swim in.
If all that sounds a bit adventurous, enjoy a lazy day beside the River Coln fishing on The Bull’s private 1.25 mile stretch of river that is excellent for grayling and trout.
Eating, drinking and relaxing
After a long day exploring the town and/or the area, it is a joy to get back to the comfort of The Bull Hotel to relax in the bar that serves local craft beers, spirits, great wines and an assortment of teas and coffees and is dominated by a massive horned bull’s head hanging over one of the several fireplaces. Or sink into one of the deep, comfy sofas in the lounge area opposite where the feature wall is adorned by a large flowery mural in the style of a still-life Dutch Master painting complete with – if you look carefully in the bottom left-hand corner – a creepy spider!
The old stables of the ancient coaching inn have now been converted into a chic dining area if you prefer to indulge in a more intimate eating space or you can always stay in the bar for a simple bar meal and do a bit of people-watching. You never know who may decide to walk in!
The 21 individually furnished en-suite bedrooms – a mixture of single, small double, double, deluxe double/twin, deluxe king or junior suite – are so sumptuous, super-smart and modern but integrating so well with the traditional and historic venue.
Jacqui and Adrian Bartels and their family are established and experienced hosts. Food is creative and original. Breakfast is excellent with high quality fresh juices, a choice of soaked dried fruits, compote and yogurts with granola, bircher muesli, cereals, charcuterie, fresh bread and pastries plus jam, served in bowls. Fresh butter and artisan tea and coffee are served to table. There are multiple cooked dishes prepared to order. The full English is beautifully presented with excellent flavours.
After 40 years of knowing about and frequenting The Bull Hotel in Fairford, my affection for it has not diminished and its reputation as a good place to stay just grows and grows.