Winter Windmill Weekend

Night vision!

OK, so it wasn’t strictly a weekend but nothing wrong with a bit of poetic license! Below is where we should have been for the OH’s birthday celebrations, but Covid messed that one up, again!!

Photo: Elena Pellecchia, our Italian neighbour

To say I was excited for this mini-break, staycation getaway was an understatement. After another lockdown, a clean eating 28 day detox, and working from home, which is basically the same as sleeping at work, I was ready to get out. The ‘will we, won’t we’ trauma before we knew if we would be able to go wasn’t fun, but thank goodness it was Tier 2 all round and we got the green light a week before.

This trip was for the OH’s birthday, usually we manage a lovely weekend break in Europe, often based around where Chelsea are playing in the Champions League, and more often than not, it’s a surprise for him, and this year, due to the Covid pandemic, it really was a surprise for both of us, not knowing what the virus would allow us to do, if we could go, where we could go, but I hedged my bets and pre booked a surprise trip to somewhere a bit different just in case.  And how different it was…………a converted windmill!!

I found the Windmill at Blackthorn Hill through an online search, can’t remember which one, but I searched for unusual overnight stays and this came up.  I think they can be found on most online accommodation sites.

We set off on our adventure around lunchtime and started with a little detour through Richmond, one advantage of the lockdown was that we were able to get a table for lunch very easily at the well renowned Petersham Nurseries.  What a treat that was.  We parked in Ham Street car park and had a lovely 15 minute walk by the river to the cafe.  There is minimal parking at Petersham Nurseries so be warned.  It was fairly busy when we arrived.  Such beautiful surroundings, a number of connected greenhouses with virgin earth to complement the greenery all around, as well as the necessary overhead heaters, we really felt like we were eating in beautiful gardens, and as we arrived at 3pm, it wasn’t long before it got dark and all Christmassy with the lights in all the trees around us. 

BB – Big Boss, Birthday Boy, Branton Bamford!!!

We ate gorgeous food with an Italian twist, arancini, gnodi which was their take on gnocchi but without potatoes, made up of spinach, leeks and ricotta cheese instead, just delicious.  Dover sole for the main course and sadly we were too full for dessert. They also served one of our favourite Tuscan wines and we bought one of their olive oils to take away, so it was just a perfect start to celebrating 53 years of my one and only!  The walk back was far from romantic, pitch black, with the exception of some rather festive boat lights, I had some new bovva boots on, which had already given me excruciating blisters, so I walked back on my heels and tip toes most of the way!

At this point we decided to pop in to Bicester Village, as you do, which was 5 minutes from the windmill and closed at 8pm.  We got there for 7pm. OH isn’t one for a big shop so this was perfect for him.  I wanted to buy him a little birthday treat, so we slipped into a parking space right outside (I had heard that the traffic first thing that morning was back to the A41) we split up, he went his way, I went mine, and an hour later we met up, with a few purchases each, and made our way to the windmill.

Very easy to find, with great communication and instructions from the owners Alan & Cristina, it was set back from the road, and a perfect Covid safe destination for us to spend the next few days.  Contactless arrival, keys hidden, codes for the gates, we pulled up in front of the windmill adorned with its exterior lighting, always something we notice with BB (big boss or his initials depending on what mood I’m in) being a specialist, and I assume the colours were set for a Christmas theme, being mainly red and green. 

When we stepped inside we were faced with a Christmas wreath on the door straight ahead and lovely red bows and greenery twisted round the rope handrails up the stairs. I hate Christmas, bah humbug, but this was a lovely touch and an example of all the attention to detail that only enhanced the ambiance of the place.  And then there were stairs, and more stairs, and more stairs.  Each time you went up a flight, you thought you’d reached your room of choice, but no, there were more stairs.  Just as well dogs weren’t allowed as our 2 little French bulldogs would never have made it up to the top, which is where the main lounge was!  And they definitely wouldn’t have made it back down without injury!

The design and architecture of the interior was so well thought out.  On the first floor was the bedroom, a divine but small double room, with a small en-suite shower and toilet.  Despite there being limited space, within that limited space was a place for everything, hangers to hang, shelves to store, bedside tables and lights, nothing was missing.  I always pack in zip up packing cases now, so I didn’t need space anyway, as all my things stayed in one place.  An abundance of pillows and fresh towels. My only criticism of this room was that the bed legs needed to be cushioned, I’ve come away with 2 lovely new bruises from two of the 4 times I either stubbed my toe or banged my leg. The bath towels could be slightly bigger, barely covered BB’s naughty bits, and although there was a lovely hand soap by the sink, for those who don’t travel with shower gel, it would have been handy to have a small bottle of that too.

Next level up was the kitchen, again considering its size, it was very well stocked with everything you could possibly need and more. A small fridge, with a carton of milk, a freezer with ready made ice cubes, a dishwasher, all the utensils you never knew you needed. There was space to cook and eat if you so desired, we had had such a big lunch, that dinner wasn’t necessary, and we always travel with scooby snacks and refreshments anyway!!

Football was on that evening, so up we went to our favourite space in the windmill, the lounge, where we were quite happy to snuggle up, with 360 degrees of windows and an abundance of cushions, blankets and TV entertainment to make for a very happy evening.  It wasn’t at all cold, there’s a lovely little iPad which you can use to control the heating, and any issue we had, Alan was on hand at the other end of the phone to try to help us resolve it.   The main one being, we couldn’t find a beer bottle opener, but it was there! Even though it’s a stone building the rooms we spent time in were always warm.  The stairway was cool, but the windows needed to be slightly open to prevent damp I assume, and nobody spends time in the stairway, so that really didn’t affect our stay. 

For our full day here, we had plans to go for lovely long walks and maybe have a nice lunch somewhere outside, but the weather was rubbish and once BB had surfaced with a sore head, the prospect of staying put under the blankets watching old Elizabeth Taylor movies was a much better one. We had dinner plans that evening, and it was very hard to tear ourselves away, but I’m glad we did. A 15 minute drive away was a gorgeous pub, The Trigger Pond. We had made a reservation and were given a lovely little table in the corner of the bar, distanced from everyone and right by the fire. The food was much nicer than traditional pub fare, a lot of thought had gone into the menu, salmon and prawn terrine for me and sticky chicken wings for him, followed by bangers and mash and an oxtail pie, the landlord and lady ever present to check everything was ok with our meals. Then it was back to the windmill for another film and off down (that was weird going down to bed) to the cosy bedroom for a good night’s sleep.

My main criticism of this place is that they make you leave! I could have stayed another few days at least, a wonderful retreat from all the rubbish that’s going on right now. And as an added bonus, on returning home I realised just how much exercise we had done without actually leaving the windmill, my thighs felt like I’d done a marathon from going up and down those stairs so many times, yet another plus from such a spectacular and unique trip.

Read more about the UK:

A Norfolk Staycation

Cotswolds Covid Minibreak

The Scottish Highlands

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