PUBLISHED: 12:02 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 February 2013
Living in the dream that is Tetbury
Geoff Dunford had a look round The Close Hotel in Tetbury last year, just before leaving for a cruise.
This 16th century building obviously made an impression. For at four o'clock in the morning, in the middle of the Mediterranean, he got out his laptop and put in a bid - and is now the proud owner. An owner with plenty of plans.
"What I intend to do is to return it to a 'destination' hotel and restaurant that will attract people from places such as Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Bath," he says. "It's a wonderful building in a great position. A lot of people don't realise it has its own chapel and a beautifully-peaceful enclosed garden."
This savvy businessman - a director of Bristol Rovers - has owned high-profile Bath hotels in the past, and still owns The Beeches, set in a Victorian mansion, on the borders of Bath and Bristol.
He's now putting into place a 'Close' refurbishment programme, which will see the 15 bedrooms individually designed in boutique style; and a choice of two restaurants (formal and bistro), serving English, European, Italian food, complemented by a cocktail bar.
"We want something that will fit in with what's already here, not to take away from existing businesses," he says. "Tetbury has always been one of my favourite places. What we are aiming to do is bring a little bit of buzz and zing: attract younger people without losing those who want to come for a cream tea."
He's spot on, of course. It's a place where the traditional can blend seamlessly with the new. The Highgrove Shop embodies the concept; and businesses such as Jesse Smith, the butcher, appeal as much to exacting older shoppers as to converts such as Holby City star Tina Hobley, who has long sung its praises.
The shop is about to find out how it's fared in the national Countryside Alliance awards for traditional businesses, after dazzling the judges in the Wessex regional finals: "These butchers are now in their bicentennial year, proof alone that despite the ease of supermarket shopping, their traditional business has stood the test of time, and is very much appreciated by the local community," the judges said.
Manager, John Newman, is delighted with the accolade. "As the awards are customer-nominated, we must be doing a good job! People always tell us they like the personal service and our product knowledge; they like the fact that we get our meat from local farms."
This butcher still offers apprentice in-house training, to make sure the staff know exactly how to cut meat properly. Ribs of beef, legs of lamb and other family cuts are favourites with the clientele. "But a lot of people are coming in for oxtail, for wild rabbits and gammon hocks, and even for offal: fresh English tripe, pig's and lamb's liver," John says.
They're a clientele who know what they like and who aren't afraid to ask for it. It's that sort of consumer confidence and loyalty that have ensured the success of the town's food festival - this year taking place on September 24-27. The music festival in October is also going from strength to strength. Therein the brains; for brawn, don't forget the annual Woolsack Races take place on May 25: another example of how the fun and the traditional conjoin.
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