It was a very cold day when I first arrived in the fine – looking Oxfordshire town of Witney. As a retired Geography teacher, I already knew that the town had long been known as a producer of woollen blankets and mops, assisted by the fresh, clean source of water from the river Windrush, which flows through the town.
The town has plenty of character buildings including the interesting Buttercross situated in the Market Square and the striking 18th century Town Hall as well as a wide range of independent and national retail outlets.
The Fleece is situated in a desirable location overlooking a large part of the beautiful church green and attractive house/cottage frontages on the opposite side.
The building was bought in 1811 by the Clinch family who owned the Eagle Brewery, one of three major breweries in Witney. Since it was bought by Peach Pubs over ten years ago it has twice been voted one of the top twenty pubs in the UK.
The pub is popular with business travellers who are looking for a more welcoming and hospitable place to stay rather than one of the larger chain groups. The pub is perfectly located for leisure breaks in Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, or for a weekend exploring the treasures of Witney. There’s plenty to do in this beautiful, historical market town. A tour of the Wychwood Brewery, famous for its Hobgoblin range of beers is just a short walk away from The Fleece.
The bar at the front of the pub is a comfortable area for locals to call in and grab a bite to eat or a drink. I noticed several people coming in just for a drink. It is obviously still `their local’ for many people in Witney. From the front bar, I could enjoy panoramic views over the Church Green, sit and read the papers, check my emails or simply sit and relax with a drink and a bite to eat.
I was told that in the summer months the pub makes full use of its location by placing seats/tables out on the grass verges so that visitors can sit and enjoy a meal or a drink outside. The Fleece is one of the few pubs in Witney where you can sit outside on sunny days, eating, drinking & watching the world go by. There is also an outside seating are through the arch at the side of the pub towards the small car park.
The car park is small, but I managed to secure the last space when I arrived on a busy Sunday afternoon. When full, there is plenty of space around Church Green to park. Guests driving out of the car park need to be warned to be very careful on exiting as the footpath cuts directly across and visibility of pedestrians walking across is very poor.
The pub was very crowded when I first arrived so the staff were very busy when I entered through the side door from the car park and it was not immediately clear where guests checking in should go! I was greeted by the assistant manager Kayleigh, who was very welcoming and helpful. She explained the late- night arrangements for entering the pub after it is closed and helped carry our luggage up to our room.
There are 10 newly refurbished, stylish, sleek and comfortable en suite bedrooms. Seven rooms are situated above the pub, with the other three across the small driveway, in what is a terrace cottage. My room, Number 7 was at the front of The Fleece main building and I had a good view overlooking the pleasant green. The room was large with a king – sized bed and plenty of plump pillows and cushions.
The two good sized bedside tables provided plenty of space for placing items such as books, glasses and other items. Our room had tea and coffee-making facilities and biscuits, which made me feel right at home. The mugs in the room were, I was told designed by Illustrator & Artist, Laura Stoddart, and were on sale at the reception desk, should guests wish to purchase their own!
Our room also had a high-spec digital television which doubled up as a radio, which was tuned to Classic FM, and there was a very reliable free Wi-Fi service throughout the pub, a must in these modern technological times. The large digital television was strangely placed partly over the large comfortable sofa beneath it! It meant I had to be careful when getting up or I may have banged my head!
The bathroom was very smart, with a bath, shower unit and wash basin. There was also a large hot towel rail for the large fluffy bath towels. There was a range of shower, body wash and conditioners available. I could not find the on/off switch for the two small lights above the vanity mirror in the bathroom. I looked everywhere but I simply failed to find a switch!
The Dining area was very deceptive, the wall mirrors did a really good job at making the dining areas look much bigger than they were. The dining room had an agreeable mix of black & white celebrity portraits on the stairwell down from the rooms including Brigitte Bardot and Pablo Picasso.
There was plenty of ephemera and sheep related objet d`art on various shelves and walls around the room giving the room some character. Both the dining room and the front bar were very pleasant places to sit and spend some time.
The assistant manager served my wife and I for much of the evening alongside another young female assistant. Both were very professional, helpful and friendly making pleasant conversation and taking an interest in both of us, but never over bearing or invasive.
The contemporary music playing in the background was at the correct volume, loud enough to listen to when I wanted to, but not too loud as to be in the way of our conversation. At one point I requested some more milk cartons for our room, which were discreetly delivered to my room for me during the evening, which I thought was admirable!
After enjoying a pre – dinner drink, at our table we ordered from the `Sunday Best` Menu
Pan-seared Native Scallops, Cauliflower Purée, Bacon Lardons, Apple & Lamb’s Lettuce Salad
Roasted Cauliflower Soup, Crispy Lamb & Blue Cheese
Aubrey’s Dry-aged Rump of Beef served with Roast Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, Roasted Carrots, Yorkshire Pudding & Jugs of Gravy
Slow-cooked Lamb Kleftico, Creamy Mash & Mint Jus
Mini – Sticky Toffee Pudding, Toffee Sauce & Vanilla Ice Cream & a choice of Coffee or Tea
Crumble of the Day – Apple & Berries served with a small jug of Hot Custard
Merlot, Ladera Verde, Valle Central, Chile. A very quaffable everyday Merlot – typically smooth & gentle
Full English Breakfast – Jimmy Butler’s Sausage & Bacon, Mushroom, Black Pudding, Beans, Tomatoes & Eggs
Scrambled Eggs on Toasted Sour Dough Bread with two rashers of Bacon
For starters I tried the cauliflower & lamb soup with stilton cheese from the `Specials Board`. It was creamy and there were pieces of tasty lamb within the soup! A tour de force! With a small piece of warm bread, which I was kindly offered, it was a perfect way to start a pleasant evenings meal.
My wife chose the scallops which were complimented nicely by the bacon lardons sitting on a bed of watercress & lettuce salad. My wide said they were delicious!
For my main meal, I chose the Lamb Kleftico which was superb! Alongside the creamy mash, very green and tasty kale and jug of mint gravy, I was in heaven. A superbly presented and cooked dish.
My wife opted for the Sunday Roast of Beef, Roast Potatoes, green seasonal vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and not forgetting a piping hot jug of gravy. I must admit to trying some of her meal too and they were both beautifully cooked and presented to the table.
The mini -sticky toffee pudding came with a coffee which I thought was a great idea! Sometimes after two courses you may find the idea of a large dessert too much but a mini dessert with a coffee or tea option, fits the bill perfectly.
I chose an Apple & Blackberry pudding just like my mother used to make with a small jug of hot custard. It was a perfect end to the evening.
Despite my room being at the front of the pub facing the road and directly over the main bar, the noise level was minimum and we both slept easily throughout the night. The bed was comfortable and there were no disturbances from below or other guests accessing or exiting their rooms.
Breakfast was a collection of grazing buffet fruits, juices, cereals and a hot menu. I went for the Full English without the fried bread and my wife went for Scrambled Eggs on Toasted Sour Dough Bread with two rashers of Bacon, at her request! Toast was a help yourself from a toaster placed on the bar! Newspapers were placed for guests to read and there appeared to be `business breakfast meetings` taking place as well as hotel guests enjoying breakfast.
There is also a private dining room just across the driveway, separate from the rest of the pub which has recently been refurbished and offers luxurious dining in a relaxed environment.
It is the ideal room in which to host a dinner party, family get together, birthday celebration or private business or club meeting for a group of between 8-24.
British seasonal food is served all day from 8am-10pm Monday-Saturday and Sundays 8am-9pm.
The overall Fleece experience was comfortable and satisfying. The staff were exemplary and the food excellent. All of the staff at The Fleece, on reception and in the kitchen presented a smart, professional and efficient service. The Fleece offered very good overnight accommodation and a superb restaurant meal and service.
I would fully recommend The Fleece for an overnight stay, a special evening meal with a group of friends and family or a quiet drink in the bar, sampling their fine collection of ales, craft beers, wines, ciders, spirits or soft drinks.
I shall look forward to visiting again in the spring or summer so that I can sit outside the front of the pub overlooking the green and enjoy a beer or two in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.
Address: Fleece Hotel, 11 Church Green, Witney OX28 4AZ
Reservations: fleecewitney.co.uk or opentable.co.uk
Phone: 01993 892270
Did you know?
Witney is twinned with Le Touquet in France and Unterhaching in Germany.
Former leader of the Conservatives & Prime Minister, David Cameron was MP for Witney (2001 – 2016)
At one time every ship in the Royal Navy had Witney mops on board.
Disclosure: My stay was courtesy of The Fleece & Peach Pubs. The views and comments expressed are as usual my own.