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March 06, 2013

Anything but ruffled – that’s the Feathers Hotel.




David Ellis

BOOK into The Feathers hotel in the historic little English market town of Woodstock, and you'll find Reception's in a building that dates back to the 1600s, was a draper's shop for the first half of the 20th century, and then a butcher's.

And not any butcher: this chap made somewhat of a name for himself when he roasted a whole ox just up the road in the grounds of Blenheim Palace during celebrations there for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

And after unpacking in your room that's in an even older part of the hotel, take yourself to the quiet of the Study to read or nap – and discover you're sitting in what was a sanatorium 300 years ago for those struck down with tuberculosis.

And when it's time for dinner, it'll be in the equally fascinating dining room, created within part of several more centuries-old village cottages that were all slowly bought-up and cobbled together into today's colourful and eclectic Feathers Hotel. (And which explains why no two of the 16 bedrooms and 5 suites are the same.)

Finally, enjoy a nightcap in the Gin Bar that the Guinness Book of Records recognises as having the world's most different-label gins. And which explains why a sign says: "We provide assistance to your room if required."

The Feathers, one quickly comes to appreciate, is all about history – as is Woodstock it's very self, the Domesday Book recording that what is now the town was a Royal Forest for hunting and timber-gathering as early as 1086.

And it's also known that King Henry I later had a menagerie for his personal amusement within the forest, while his grandson Henry II courted his mistress Rosamund Clifford (the "Fair Rosamund") there in the 1160s – and in more serious mood, in 1179 conferred a Royal Charter on the now-emerging little Woodstock.

We first became acquainted with The Feathers some 20 years back when respected hotelier, Mr Gordon Campbell-Grey bought the property, then known as The Dorchester, and set about putting it on the map as a country retreat to stay and dine splendidly in equally splendid surroundings.

He spent a small fortune on restoring The Dorchester, and with his love of food and a hobby of collecting stuffed birds, re-named it The Feathers.

Just over 100km north of London's CBD on the outskirts of Oxford, The Feathers is an easy place to get to for a memorable lunch, but better still is to opt for a night or two there to enjoy the property and the dining, and to take-in the many local highlights: Oxford, Blenheim Palace where Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, Warwick Castle, and not least, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild's extraordinary Waddesdon Manor that took six years to build between 1877 and 1883 and which now attracts 300,000 visitors a year to its spectacular gardens, priceless art collections, aviary and woodland playground.

We called into The Feathers for a nostalgic lunch during a visit to Britain and Wales last October, opting to self-drive rather than take the train from London: after overnighting at a Heathrow Airport hotel we collected a Vauxhall Zafira from the airport agency, left Heathrow at 9.30am and after a stop at tiny Bladon to see the graves of Sir Winston Churchill and many of his family, were at The Feathers in time for a leisurely 2.5hr lunch.

The roomy Zafira booked here through DriveAway Holidays cost just $357 for 5-days, including insurances, unlimited kilometres and 24hr roadside service.

As it was those many years ago on our first visit, the anguish at lunch was decisions, decisions when presented with the British/Continental menu: five mouth-watering entrees, a half dozen mains and as many desserts… plus a choice of British and French cheeses, fruit bread, biscuits and chutneys to finish.

Then to the Gin Bar: here there are no fewer than 161 different labels from every gin-producing country in the world – and the opportunity to sip on the world's most expensive G&T: a Monkey 47 Gin from Holland with Q Tonic Water from the USA costing GBP22.75 (AU$35 at time of our visit.)

For more information about The Feathers: www.thefeathers.co.uk ; DriveAway Holidays www.driveaway.com.au or phone 1300 723 972.


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PHOTO CAPTIONS:
[] THE Feathers: parts date back to the 1600s. (Photo: The Feathers)
[] A COBBLED collection of shops and village houses means no two bedrooms are the
   same. (Photo: The Feathers)
[] CHEERS: Bar Manager, Nuno Oliveira offers the world's most expensive G&T from
   world-record most number of different-label gins. (Photo: David Ellis)
[] BLENHEIM Palace and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and just up the road from
   The Feathers. (Photo: Wikimedia)
[] WADDESDON Manor – another neighbour that took six years to build. (Photo: Wikimedia)



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