It’s a fact: Sundays are for scoffing. And for not feeling one single ounce of remorse.
There’s surely no greater, quintessentially British ritual than the Sunday lunch. Add in a good dose of countryside air and an eccentric rustic pub and it’s the recipe for bucolic bliss.
Nothing says countryside-cloud-nine more than Oxfordshire. Reportedly the furthest county in England from the sea and with a higher population of pigs than people, country pursuits abound. South Leigh is a village that just about sums up the best of rural living. Famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, was ‘banished’ here in 1946, after living with an Oxford university professor who became increasingly suspicious that his wife rather fancied the young Mr Thomas, and it was during this banishment in South Leigh that Dylan found much of the inspiration for one of his most celebrated works, the radio drama Under Milk Wood…and it’s easy to see why. With a population of around 300 people, a 12th century church and rolling countryside in every direction, it’s idyllic Britain at its best.
Whoever said eating lunch then walking it off was a good idea? Working up an appetite before lunch is the only way to do it, on a Sunday anyway, paving the way for indulgence and blissful lethargy afterwards. Here’s a six mile walk that takes in the best of South Leigh and the surrounding area, ideal for doing just that.
From Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms, turn right and walk through the village along Station Road, then fork right along Stanton Harcourt Road and go past the Grade II listed Tar Wood House. Carry along the road past the entrance to Warren Farm for 150 metres, then take the footpath on the right. Follow the footpath past Tar Wood, ducking in and out of the woods along the footpath to add to the sense of adventure.
After around a mile, the path meets Cogges Lane. Turn right and walk along the road – which merges into Tar Road – until you reach Tar Lakes and Rushy Common, a stunning wide open space and haven for wildlife. Go past Cogges Bridge Cottage on Tar Road and just before it merges into Stanton Harcourt Road, take the footpath to the right. Go past Spring Hill Farm and keep going until the path meets the High Cogges Road. At the junction with South Leigh Road, turn right, follow it as the road becomes Chapel Road. Turn right onto Station Road and you’ll soon find yourself back at Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms.
The rest of your day is left to eat, drink and pat yourself on the back for your morning ramble. Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms –a 16th century farmhouse-turned-pub – gives a warm welcome and a Sunday lunch menu to match. This is not the place for just any old meat and three veg lunch. This is a spot where locally foraged produce and culinary mastery combine to bring distinctive foodie feasts.
Sunday starters include the likes of sweetcorn velouté soup, bbq sweetcorn and ale bread, or pickled and blowtorched mackerel with heritage beetroot, cucumber and horseradish. For the main event, diners can indulge in Sunday roast classics such as the 32 day dry aged rump of beef, with a Yorkshire pudding and duck fat roasted potatoes. Or go on a(nother) Sunday adventure and try the Cornish monkfish, served with cauliflower, bisque and sweetcorn. Finish off with outrageous desserts such as the lemon verbena doughnut, or plump for English cheeses and chutneys. Phew!
After all that activity and the subsequent digestion required, it would be rude not to idle away the rest of the afternoon amid the eccentric and traditional touches of Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms. Grab an English ale, kick back and make the most of your Sunday. There’s even a cosy fireplace to warm you up on cold days too. Ah how we wish Sundays would come with pause buttons.