Our evenings at the Fleece Inn are always a highlight of our Cotswolds Experience week in the English countryside. A beautiful and interesting place, excellent food and drink, interactions with fun local people… and this year, MORRIS DANCING!
After three years away, we were delighted to welcome four groups to the Cotswolds in July. Each Monday evening we traveled 15 minutes from our home base in Chipping Campden to the lovely Vale of Evesham, a large agricultural area in Worcestershire, just below the Cotswolds escarpment. Our destination was The Fleece Inn, a historic, award-winning pub in the small village of Bretforton. We’ve been taking our groups to the Fleece since our first Cotswolds trips in 2010, and it’s always a highlight of our week.
We arrive for our evening at the Fleece Inn in the main square by the church, admiring several thatched houses nearby. Colorful hollyhocks decorate the entrance to the white-washed, timber-framed pub, which is surrounded by a large lawn and apple orchard dotted with tables.
Our groups might dine in one of the interior rooms of the pub, in the thatched Tudor barn, or under an awning on the lawn. Every visit is a little different!
The oldest section of the inn was built as a farmhouse around 1425 and was expanded several times over the years. In 1848 it became a pub. The property was owned by members of the same family until 1977. The last of the family, Miss Lola Taplin, lived there her whole life and ran the pub on her own for the last 30 years. She bequeathed it to the National Trust when she died in 1977. The architecture of the building has been largely unchanged since the mid 17th century, and the interior is much as it was during Lola’s time. Inside there are many historic artifacts, including a large collection of pewter.
Today the Fleece is the center of village life in Bretforton, featuring an outstanding restaurant and celebrating English traditions. The Vale of Evesham is a very fertile area known for fruits and vegetables (especially asparagus), and the Fleece sources most of their produce and meat from the local area. They host musical events, an asparagus festival, an apple and ale festival, classic car gatherings, charity events… and special evenings for our Cotswolds groups! The clientele is a mix of local regulars, families, and visitors. Many people bring their dogs.
Our Fleece Inn Experience
After ordering drinks (such as local ales and ciders or gin and tonics), our evening at the Fleece Inn usually begins with an interesting and entertaining talk by the bearded landlord, Nigel Smith.
Nigel came to the Fleece in 2002 and rents it from the National Trust. He also lives in the inn. He sees his role as both a “pubican” (pub manager) and a curator of the inn’s history and treasure; he also recognizes his responsibilities to the village of Bretforton. Nigel is perfect in his role, always welcoming to his “regulars” and to visitors like us. He’s passionate and funny as he shares the history of the Fleece, tells us about some of the important artifacts, and introduces us to some of the characters in its long history. He talks about some of the unique features, including the “witches circles” in two of the rooms… supposedly painted to keep evil spirits out. We learn a lot about Lola… whose spirit is possibly still there in the pub, perhaps represented by the owl on top of the barn. (Her old shoes are hidden in a cupboard… you can look but don’t take the shoes out!)
And then our meal! We’ve pre-ordered from a list of choices– a starter, a main, and a dessert. Last month the award-winning pies were especially popular with our groups, served with “mash,” vegetables, and a brown gravy. Fish and chips is another favorite choice. The Fleece also offers vegetarian/vegan dishes. For dessert, many in our groups opt for the luscious local strawberries, often served in a famous British dessert called “Eton Mess.”
This summer we had a special surprise for our groups during our evening at the Fleece Inn. We had arranged for a performance each week by a local “side” of Morris dancers, the Pebworth Morris Men, who are “tied” to the Fleece Inn.
Morris dancing is a type of English folk dance, dating back to the 15th century. It involves choreographed, rhythmic stepping to music, performed by groups of dancers. A 2017 study reported that there were 780 “sides” (groups) in the United Kingdom, mostly focused in rural areas. There are several different styles of Morris dancing related to different areas of the country.
The Pebworth group was formed in 1979 and now includes about 18 members; there were seven or eight who participated each of our evenings. The dancers are accompanied by several musicians who play traditional instruments. They practice at the Fleece and perform at various festivals and events in the warmer months.
The Pebworth dancers wear white collarless shirts and black breeches with white knee length socks and black shoes. They also wear blue, red and gold sashes, arm bands, and bell pads on their legs. Their dances involve white handkerchiefs and big sticks. The dancing with the sticks is always a crowd-pleaser.
The dancers are mostly middle-aged, and their energy is extremely impressive. They banter and joke and have a fun time together. As Randi from Illinois said after enjoying their dancing in in our last July group, “the Pebworth Morris Men are so joyful it’s contagious!”
The Morris Men always stay on to relax over a pint together. We enjoy chatting with them and learning more about the tradition of Morris dancing and their experiences with the group.
The dancers usually perform in a large open area between the pub and the barn, and other pub guests join us to enjoy the performance. One of our evenings at the Fleece Inn last month was during a two-day heat wave in England, when daytime highs reached the mid 90’s. We expected that the Morris Dancing would likely be cancelled, but they wanted to perform. The Fleece served a cold meal and the dancers performed inside the somewhat-cooler barn (below), as energetically as usual. We especially appreciated them that evening!
The following week, below, it was cool and we wore jackets!
Thanks so much to Nigel, the great team at the Fleece, and the Pebworth Morris Men for our memorable evenings at the Fleece Inn. We’re already looking forward to being back in 2023!
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We’ll be back for our evenings at the Fleece Inn with three Cotswolds Experience groups in 2023: The Cotswolds Experience Women’s Week, June 24 – July 1; The Cotswolds Experience (a mixed group), July 1 – 8; and the Cotswolds Walking Week, July 8 – 15. Contact us to learn more… we’d love to have you join us in this beautiful and interesting area of England! Learn much more about The Cotswolds Experience in our YouTube video, Getting to Know The Cotswolds Experience.
And learn more about other Experiences in the Cotswolds in these blog posts:
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006 European Experiences, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. They have personally hosted 124 Experience groups. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host two longer tours with Kathy: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days).
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30 years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.