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Cross o’ th’ Hill Farm WARWICKSHIRE


You can see Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare lies buried, framed by an avenue of chestnut trees across the fields. (The Roundheads camped on these fields, when the Black Death occupied the town.) In just twelve minutes you can walk into town, over the river and to the theatre along gentle paths. There is an unhurried feel to Cross o’ th’ Hill. Theatre lovers stay here, both from this country and abroad – “they are surprised and delighted that they can do all the parking and pre-theatre stuff here, then take a stress-free stroll into town.” But there are many reasons to come; Shakespeare can’t take all the limelight. Decima’s art, for example, is on the walls. Her father was good at drawing and at the age of two she wanted to be a famous artist. She made it to the art college in Liverpool but then ‘events’ took over, as they often do. Cyril Connolly said there is no more sombre enemy of good art than a pram in the hall, so she has done well to keep painting after raising two sons. Half of art, apparently, is knowing when to stop, but drawing and painting is in her blood: “I’ve always got it going on in my head.” A deep fascination with, and enjoyment of, people is also her birthright. Her mother did B&B when the

family moved to Warwickshire long ago, and Decima would help look after guests. Actor Sam Wanamaker, who was the driving force behind the creation of the Globe Theatre in London, used to stay all summer, with daughter Zoe – now a star herself and the Quidditch in the Harry Potter films. She also comes from a long line of Welsh farmers who would do B&B to make loose ends meet; they’d look across the mountain for cyclists from Birmingham, then lure them in with the smell of bilberry jam. At the time they earned 1s 9d a night – and twice that amount for selling a sheep. Little has changed. Farmers still earn a pittance from their sheep. The house has 150 acres of pastureland and is approached via a splendid avenue of chestnut trees. The farm dates back to the 15th century but was rebuilt, solidly and with fine architectural detail, in 1860. The rear is older, and gets smaller the further one retreats to the back. Decima’s father bought the farm in 1959, moving from Wales (”unusual for a Welshman; he was ambitious!”). Decima and David moved into the stables first and took over when her parents retired. The farm would originally have been pretty self-sufficient, with greenhouses, soft fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and 195



hop meadows. Now they grow their own courgettes, rocket and tomatoes, apricots, peaches, raspberries, red gooseberries (the most delicious), apples, pears, plums, greengages, walnuts, cobnuts and mint – the mint they put in iced water instead of muchtravelled lemons. They source their other food locally: milk and bacon delivered by the Broadway farmer who rears it;

“In winter they hesitate buying flowers for the air miles that come with them and decorate with ivy or clematis” eggs from local houses in Chipping Campden; bread from a wonderful bakery. Visitors have praised their light English breakfasts and wonderful fruit smoothies: “leaving us feeling full and refreshed, not heavy or greasy.” In summer the house is filled with sweet peas and roses; in winter they hesitate buying flowers for the air miles that come with them and decorate with wreaths of ivy or clematis and small branches. David says, “we have always been quietly green.” Insulating the house has been the first priority and the place is now remarkably cosy. They recycle so effectively that there is spare space in their bins, even with guests. “We have been trying to make a small difference for a very long time and I do have to fight not to despair when I notice that the local Tesco doesn’t have a door even in winter.” Decima’s grandparents were stoic farmers in Wales, with a powerful sense of thrift and utility. She remembers one granny rubbing dirty spoons with grit to clean them, and another laying out flour bags to catch the frost; this would whiten the sacking and remove the lettering so she could then use them for making clothes. Both grandparents kept pigs to be slaughtered and eaten at home; Decima also remembers a grannie churning butter with one hand and holding the Bible with the other. “More astonishingly, she absorbed

what she was reading for she could quote huge swathes by heart.” The hill farms and lowlands of Wales seem to have been peopled by the family – whose names were, ineluctably, Lewis and Jones. Decima has grown up with a profound sense of the importance of good soil: “My father’s farm had deep, rich topsoil and there is deep soil here too. I don’t really like being around the edges, on clifftops or high mountains, where I know the soil isn’t deep – it sounds odd but I must just feel that it wouldn’t support animals or me.” David was new to farming, but he did contract vegetable growing after studying town planning and loves his immersion in the world of growing, and architecture. He was particularly struck by the food culture in the USA, where the norm is to have a vast plate of food and eat only half of it. The Economist once complained that it would take a shortage of packaging material to force us to eat fresh food. Perhaps we should long for the day. Here, just outside Stratford, you are among people who care about such things. (They also are trying hard to avoid flying off on holidays.) Bring your own ideas to add to the mix. The mood is easy, convivial, unselfconsciously stylish. Rooms, by the way, are big and minimalist – refreshingly so. There are long comfy sofas, Art Deco chandeliers and a grand dining room. The garden is visited by woodpeckers and pheasants; it a treat to step out through the large sash windows onto the croquet lawn, glass of wine in hand to sit on the veranda. Or take off for one of those theatres – there are three of them out there.

Decima & David Noble Cross o’ th’ Hill Farm, Broadway Road, Stratford upon Avon, CV37 8HP • 3 rooms. • £78-£80. Singles £59-£60. • 01789 204738 • • 197

Cross o' th' Hill Farm sample  

Cross o' th' Hill Farm in Warwickshire from Go Slow England (Alastair Sawday Publishing, March 2008)

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