We took a break. Just a night away, out in the middle of nowhere.
A chance to settle ourselves before that dreaded Christmas season beds in with a vengeance.
TLC and I have been working our way through a small chain of hotels based in the Cotswolds, called (natch) Cotswold Inns. They're dotted in small towns and villages in Oxfordshire and Glocestershire: places like Burford, Moreton-In-The-Marsh and, on this occasion, the tiny village of Bibury.
It looks like a half-horse town, but Bibury punches above its weight. Home to a beautiful Saxon church, a row of cottages that are among the most photographed in the country (during our stay, we lost count of the Japanese coach parties that pulled in)–and, of course, the Swan Hotel.
Cotswold Inns make an effort with their grub, and we have made a habit of snagging a lunch or dinner deal along with the room. As always, we weren't disappointed.* We were especially pleased to see that the culinary ingredient that puts Bibury on the map for foodies was available for both breakfast and lunch. Trout, from the farm that's literally a stone's throw across the road.
Now, locavorism can be a bit of a pain in the ass. Sourcing your food from a 50-100 mile radius is fine and dandy if you can afford some of the more artisanal product on offer, or have access to a farm shop. If not, things get a bit more tricky. But it would be foolish indeed for The Swan not to offer Bibury trout. It's right there, ferchrissakes. Sweet and fresh, trout is a fish that has the characteristics of salmon and, to my mind, a little more class. Whole, baked en papillote or blasted under a grill for five minutes a side, it's a fragrant, easy supper.
As a smoked fillet, trout is a revelation. It somehow keeps its characteristic flavour, working with the smoke to present a more delicate yet entirely satisfying alternative to its bigger brother. As a starter with a caper-studded potato salad, smoked trout fillets are a knockout. As gravlax, the milder flavour works beautifully with a dill and sugar cure. As a fish cake, it's a delight, although I'd recommend a little care when making them: think chunky bits of fish, rather than a slurry folded through mash. With a thick, home-made tartare sauce on the side? Yes, please.
We took home a bag full, of course. Even driven back down the M4 to X&HTowers, Bibury trout has impeccable locavore credentials. 2014 has become the year when I found a new appreciation for the humble smoked fish. From the smokehouses of Northumberland to the pure, clean rivers of Gloucestershire, our fish packs a punch that can't be ignored.
*with one caveat. For a chain that pushes its Cotswold creds so hard, it was a shame not to see local ales at the bar. From Arbor to Wickwar, there are dozens of breweries within 20 miles of the Swan Inn. They could do better than Theakston and Deuchars, surely…