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Afternoon tea in a traditional English tea room is a highlight of any day in the Cotswolds. Tea rooms are lively and friendly places, popular with locals and visitors alike. Open all day serving morning coffee and light breakfasts, lunches, and afternoon tea, they usually close at around 5pm. Cakes and other desserts will be on display, so you can walk up, have a good look and make your choice. A popular afternoon selection is a “Cream Tea”—one or two scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam on the side, served with tea or coffee. Indeed, the Cream Tea originated in Cornwall, before spreading to Devon and the rest of the south-west.
While scones are almost invariably available, tea rooms always offer a tempting variety of cakes. The Victoria Sponge is a standard: it consists of two layers of a light sponge cake separated by something yummy, usually jam and butter cream, but keep a look out for other interesting fillings. If your drink of choice is tea, don't expect a casual mug of tea; you'll receive a good quality tea brewed in a teapot. England used to have a reputation for bad coffee, but you can now get great capuccinos and espresso drinks: indeed, coffee is becoming so popular that some tea rooms now call themselves coffee shops, but still behave like traditional tea rooms. More casual than restaurants, it's usual to order at the counter of a tearoom, and when you are ready to leave, go to the counter to pay.
Below I detail just five of my favourite tea rooms. All independently owned and run by the owners, each is located in a historic building in the heart of a noteworthy Cotswold town, featuring big windows so you can look out to the town action. After all, that's what I want in a tea room: a good cup of tea, a homemade cake or scone, friendly service and a comfortable place to sit and watch the world go by.
Pauline’s top five tea rooms in the Cotswolds
Badgers Hall in Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden is the quintessential Cotswold “chocolate box” market town, replete with golden stone buildings and thatched roofs. Though popular with tourists, it's not overrun because the tour buses don't tend to stop here. The Market Hall, built in 1627, sits in the centre of town, while the 15th century St. James Church is one of the best “wool” churches in the Cotswolds. But Badgers Hall is my highlight, a traditional tea room on the High Street: just remember to watch your head as you duck down to enter! View their homemade cakes displayed on a table in the centre of the room, many of which are baked in an Aga, and it's safe to say you'll have a hard time deciding which to choose. If the day is sunny, why not sit outside in their garden?
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Market Pantry in Broadway
The long High Street in Broadway is lined with interesting shops, but just a short walk out of town will take you to the Norman church of St. Eadburgha's. If you want something more strenuous, follow the Cotswold Way up to the Broadway Tower on the top of the escarpment, an 18th century gothic folly which was once a country retreat for craftsman William Morris. From here, look out to Bredon Hill, the Malverns and into Wales, before making your way back to Market Pantry for afternoon tea. Set in the heart of Broadway, a long table at the side of the room displays the day’s cakes. Light, bright, and with a double bay window, you can sit and have your tea while watching the town activity. The scrubbed pine tables and white walls give it a “French Country” feel, but their cream tea is definitely British.
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Kelly’s Coffee House in Winchcombe
Winchcombe has an eclectic mix of building styles: its 15th-century parish church is covered with over 40 grotesques (similar to gargoyles) along the edge of the roof. Not far from the church is Sudley Castle, once the home of Henry VIII’s last wife Catherine Parr, and open, alongside its gardens, to visitors. Just north of Winchcombe is Hailes Abbey, the remains of a Cistercian Abbey situated in a peaceful valley, but it's Kelly’s Coffee House on the High Street that I want to talk about. Offering friendly service and a comfortable place for a coffee, tea or cake, Kelly’s offer a good cream tea as well as other morsels and hot buttered teacakes. The Cotswold Way and several other well-loved footpaths pass through the town of Winchcombe, so you'll usually find walkers tucking into treats at Kelly's.
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Patchwork Mouse in Painswick
Painswick, called “the Queen of the Cotswolds”, is not your typical golden Cotswold town; its High Street is lined with tall Georgian buildings, including an exceptional church, replete with 17th-century spire, table tombs and 99 historic clipped Yew trees. The beautiful Rococo Gardens are also on the edge of town. After a day of exploring, why not make a stop at the Patchwork Mouse? Opened in spring 2013, and immediately a hit with locals, walkers and visitors aiike, their speciality is coffee, but they also offer the more traditional tea, along with a variety of locally made cakes. The setting is small (there's only seating for 13) but this makes it intimate and fun, like having tea in a friend’s house. Their large front window gives a good view of the town activity.
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The Kitchen in Minchinhampton
Minchinhampton is a small town with a long name, sitting on the edge of Minchinhampton Common, 500 acres of open land shared by cows, golfers and walkers. Drive carefully when approaching, because the animals roam free and like to walk across the roads. Walk out across the common to the edge, however, and you can look down into the Golden Valley that runs to Stroud (those bumpy bits on the common near the edge of the town are Iron Age bulwarks!). In the centre of Minchinhampton, in a beautiful historic building, lies The Kitchen, an award-winning tea room. Their cakes and scones are made on the premises and are displayed at the counter. It is always busy and buzzing in here, mostly with locals stopping in for “a little something”. Their Cream Tea is one of the best in the area.
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