Horse riding and pub visit in pretty Nether Westcote
PUBLISHED: 11:27 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:27 01 April 2020
Chocolate box houses? Tick. A world-class riding centre? Tick. One of the best pubs in the country? Tick. Nether Westcote is the tiny Oxfordshire village that isn’t as sleepy as it might first seem
When thinking of quintessential Cotswolds villages, Nether Westcote might not automatically spring to mind. It is nestled midway between the tourism giants of Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water, and on first impression it seems to consist of little more than a clustering of cottages. However, delve a little deeper and you’ll realise that Nether Westcote is also home to a riding school, Overdale Equestrian Centre, and a pub, The Feathered Nest Country Inn, which are both making international names for themselves as leaders in their respective fields – which is pretty impressive, for a village that most of us have probably never heard of. On a rainy day in February, I was invited to go along to visit them both to find out what all the fuss is about.
As a keen horse rider, the opportunity to have a lesson at Overdale Equestrian Centre is the stuff of dreams: it is well-known for its expertise in rider biomechanics, which sounds like a bit of a terrifying concept but the principles underpinning it are simple. It is all about the rider as an individual, with a focus on how they sit on the horse, their posture and how this influence’s the horse’s way of going. It was initially set up by Mary Wanless, who is an internationally renowned coach, and in the years since it has been frequented by some of the biggest names in the sport – including none other than the legend that is Lucinda Green MBE, the former Eventing World Champion. Karin Major teaches the majority of lessons here, who is a BHSAI instructor and an accredited Ride With Your Mind coach, and she also teaches ‘Feldenkrais’ sessions which are a gentle and non-invasive form of movement therapy (with no horsepower required). When I arrive, she greets me with a cheery smile and hands over the reins of Jed, my trusty steed for the afternoon.
For the first five minutes or so of my lesson, Karin watches how I ride and chats to me about my experience. She then asks Jed and I to stand in the centre of the arena, and spends a huge amount of time discussing my current position and how it can be improved. She confirms by suspicions that I sit in a very lop-sided fashion (one of the worst fears of any horse rider) and that my seat bones are pointing forwards rather than directly downwards at Jed’s feet as they technically should. Karin then shows me how to properly engage my core and stretch through my sternum, and when I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I’m delighted to see that I look marginally more professional than I did ten minutes earlier.
By the end of the lesson I’m convinced that I look like the renowned dressage rider Carl Hester (I don’t, but a girl can dream), and Jed feels like a completely different horse. Karin has worked wonders on me, and I quickly realise why she, and Overdale, have earned quite such a prestigious reputation. “We have riders that come to visit us from all over the world, either to work with Mary or to work with me because I run special four-day one-to-one courses,” Karin reflects. “Last year I had visitors coming from France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Finland, and people bring their horses from all over the UK too.”
Just down the road, an afternoon tea awaits at The Feathered Nest Country Inn. I’m seated at a table that looks out over the glorious Evenlode Valley, made even better by the fact that the sun has decided to make an appearance, and I’m served enough cakes, scones and tea to keep me going for a week. It is certainly a very special afternoon tea, with all the traditional delicacies like cucumber sandwiches alongside the most incredible lemon drizzle cake, carrot cake, chocolate brownie, marshmallow teacakes and raspberry and pistachio macarons – it was heavenly, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since...
As I’m sat indulging, I catch snippets of the conversations going on around me. Most people are murmuring about how amazing the food is (it’s a Sunday, and the roasts really do look incredible), but I hear others discussing the recent change of ownership. Adam Taylor took over the helm in the August of 2019, and he certainly seems to have made quite the impression. “I love the Cotswolds,” he beams. “I was looking for somewhere that was within a lovely building and in the right location, not on the High Street. So I looked around for about nine months, and for a while I would just come in here for a drink. Everyone must have been thinking ‘who is this guy?!’” The Feathered Nest already had a well-established reputation for its food, with awards such as Gastropub of the Year and 3 AA red rosettes to its name, but Adam was quick to spot its potential as a destination that could cater as much for the locals, with a relaxed and flexible feel, as for glamorous clientele coming from further afield. “I wanted to make this a place where you can come in off a horse or from walking the dog and still feel welcome to have a bit of food and a pint, but equally to make it somewhere you could go for an anniversary or a special occasion,” he explains.
This mission is reflected in the recent changes to the menus: under the highly skilled eye of head chef Matt Weedon, the Feathered Nest now offers a full a la carte menu which runs over lunch and dinner, as well as dishes that have been cooked using the Josper grill. They have also introduced a new tasting menu with four courses available for £65, and a more relaxed bar menu featuring all the usual pub classics. Sustainable and seasonal produce is paramount, with much of the menu being sourced from the neighbouring farms and estates. “That’s very much Matt’s thing. He’s local to the area so he knows a lot of suppliers,” Adam says. The drinks offering follows a similar theme, with an impressive selection of wines that cater for all tastes and all budgets, as well as a range of local ales.
Adam clearly has big plans in the pipeline for the pub - including the transformation of the gardens into a space that can be used for events, launches and boutique weddings – but keeping the locals involved, and keeping the pub at the heart of the village, seems to be of central importance too. “When I first got here I was surprised because there weren’t that many locals in the pub, so on Sunday evenings for the first few months, we did live music and bar food,” he explains. “Next Wednesday we’re doing a supper club where we invite people from the two villages and offer a special menu – I think we’ve got 32 coming, and we’re doing fish and chips and crumble!”
For a small village, Nether Westcote has a lot to offer. It’s a haven for horse riders and a hotspot for foodies, making it the prime example of exactly what the lesser-known parts of the Cotswolds have to offer. If it isn’t already on your radar, it certainly needs to be.