Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa: Review

Winter is a good time to spa. My skin is a shade of inexplicable grey, hair is dull and no amount of lavender tea lifts the mood. So it was with relish that on a cold, crisp day in January I packed a case and accepted an invitation to experience Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa; a four star resort set against the backdrop of the Oxfordshire countryside.

Bicester is now renowned for luxury outlet shopping thanks to the retail park which has made the once quiet town its home since 1995. This has also made Bicester effortlessly accessible. Trains from Marylebone, London to Bicester North run on the hour each day. By car, from London, it’s a journey time of around 90 minutes or less.


As the name Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa suggests there is both an 18-hole golf course and a magnificent spa on the resort. Other facilities include a health club with gym, tennis courts, water spa and a 20-metre heated indoor pool perfect for families with young children.

My Saturday morning however, was spent at the Forest of Wellbeing Spa which has six treatment rooms. There are a variety of holistic treatments including full body massage therapies. Beauty treatments and facials using Elemis products have been designed to compliment the wellness offering. The 60-minute Jessica Deluxe Pedicure (£47), I opted for, included a soak, scrub and massage; a relaxing experience which made my toes sparkle. If visiting on weekends I recommend reserving early. The treatment rooms were busy throughout the weekend.


There are 52 rooms and suites at the family-owned Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa. The vast double room I occupied was spacious with a queen-size bed and soft sheets worthy of five stars. The twee soft yellow and grey decor was relaxing and fitting given the surroundings. It balanced the sense of country living with a modern space. Of course the testament to any hotel room is how well you sleep in it. I’m happy to add that my night here was perfectly restful and the service impeccable.

Eating and Drinking

Grays is the in-house restaurant which has spectacular lakeside views through floor to ceiling windows. Incidentally, you do not need to be a patron of the resort to eat here. The à la carte menu, created by Executive Chef Alan Paton, is a celebration of local food. Fish is sourced from a single sustainable, traceable supplier and local farms supply meat and fresh produce. This low-impact dining however makes no compromises on taste.

Starter of purple broccoli, Oxford blue cheese and blood orange wild rice (£7.50) was exceptional. The same was true of the pan-fried salmon with orzo pasta, kale and wild mushroom broth (£18.75). The standout dish for me was dessert; bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream (£7).

Before my departure on Sunday I enjoyed brunch at the Portrait Lounge; a more casual dining space. The menu here is best enjoyed with friends in small dishes as you might order tapas. I shared a tremendous butternut squash soup with bread (£5) with a companion. The vegetable burger (£13) and sweet potato fries were a notable winning combination.

Things to do

If golfing and pampering is not all you demand from a hotel stay there’s still plenty more to do. Afternoon Tea (£18 and £22 with a glass of Prosecco) is served at Grays Restaurant between 12 to 5pm from Monday to Friday and starts a little later at 12.30pm at weekends. From savoury salmon, cucumber and ham sandwiches to wonderfully light scones and cakes this was an absolute treat.

Bicester Village retail outlet is certainly worth a visit if you wish to break up your stay. It’s only a five minute journey and taxis can be arranged at the reception. Hotel guests enjoy an additional 10% off at Bicester Village via a QR code added to your smart phone wallets. Alternatively you can also access a link from the hotel booking confirmation which offers the same discount.

Do you really need any more reasons to visit Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa? Well, here’s another: Use code BHSPA10 and receive 10% off Spa Breaks when you book direct.

Rooms at Bicester Village Golf and Spa cost £99 per night and include breakfast. Spa breaks start from £132 per person. To book visit  or call  01869 241204.

Five cool things to do in London this weekend

Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross

Let’s face it. London’s pretty great. We make and break our own rules but never ever stop being cool whilst doing either. This week, for example, I was invited to London’s latest cultural and innovative space in Kings Cross. Samsung KX is an impossibly cutting edge experience that’s opened in Coal Drops Yard. You needn’t be tech-savvy nor particularly rich to enjoy it as it’s open to all and completely free. I went along and was surprised by what I found.

Create your own graffiti

Did you ever harbour dreams of spending Saturday afternoons in Leake Street tunnel creating a mural that the world admires? Well, here’s your chance. You can embrace street art on the 10 metre wide wall inside Samsung KX. A range of digital London backdrops, such as Kings Cross train station, are projected to a wall you can spray your very own tag, mural or love heart on to. A digital paint can is provided and there’s no shortage of colours. Spend as little or as long as you wish on your masterpiece.

Become a DJ

House, Hip Hop, Rock or Pop. Whatever your musical preference you can create your own beat, mix your own sound and be the rockstar that you are. This was undoubtedly my favourite experience. The DJ Galaxy booth experience teaches you how to create and record your own track on a smartphone. Once you’re done you can even email yourself a one minute recording of the beat to impress friends with later.

Drive a fast car

Put on your virtual headset and get ready to race across the most beautifully imaginative scenery. Think Monaco, think AbuDhabi or think road trips in Portofino. This experience inside Samsung KX is for the wild at heart with a love for adventure. Drive your car through your imagination and be awed by the ride.

Take a seat in a digital cockpit

Say, “hello” to Bixby; your virtual life assistant. The digital cockpit is a seamlessly connected driving experience inside Samsung KX which does anything from play the next song to answer your door bell at home. The smart home connectivity even allows you to take a look inside your fridge from the comfort of your car; especially handy for those times when you’re unsure if you’re out of milk as you head home.

Make your own selfie collage

Push the boundaries of self-expression and create yourself a selfie collage. It’s simple. Take a selfie and use an app to create arty effects around your image. Once complete you can print your selfie and take it home.

Samsung KX is a 20,000 square feet, experience-led brand showcase in Kings Cross. It’s open 10am – 10pm Monday to Saturday and 12pm – 6pm on Sundays. Admission is free.

For more information visit:

How Dewars Whisky created an award-winning day out in the Scottish Highlands


Whisky has a long association with masculinity. It’s reputation as the drink of choice in private gentleman’s clubs around the world is renowned. That is until you walk in to Dewar’s Aberfeldy; the domain of Stephanie Macleod. Stephanie is the Master Blender for John Dewar & Sons; keeper of secret Dewar recipes and one of the few female blenders in her category. Stephanie Macleod was also named Master Blender of the Year 2018 by Whisky Magazine.

With this in hand Dewar’s has created an altogether refined experience of its wonderful heritage. From the company’s Scottish home of Aberfeldy the distillery has gained attention for its visitor experience as much as for its whisky. It was voted the Best Visitor Attraction at the Scottish Thistle Awards 2018. Here’s everything you need to know about how Dewar’s Whisky created an award-winning day out in the Scottish Highlands.

The history

The company was founded in 1846 by John Dewar. At a time when your word was your honour it was a small wine and spirits merchant in Perthshire. On creating a single malt whisky it was proud of the company put its name on the bottles as a mark of quality.

Dewar & Sons flourished under the stewardship of John Dewars’ sons, Tommy and John Alexander, who fearlessly carried the company’s blended Scotch to international acclaim. John Alexander was the brain behind the vision whilst his younger brother, Tommy, was a marketing pioneer who travelled the world spreading the family’s legacy.

The location

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The village of Aberfeldy is an ethereal dream. It’s everything that anyone who’s visited the highlands waxes lyrical about; a staggeringly beautiful tranquil wilderness. Loch Tay is but five miles away and sits, surrounded by cottages and boats, against a backdrop of dewy mountains.

In 1898 John Alexander and Tommy the built the Aberfeldy distillery next to Pitilie Burn, a stream, just three miles from where their father was born. The distillery still relies on fresh water from the stream and is the only one in Scotland to use this water.

To eat


The Whisky Lounge and Cafe on site sources local food to showcase Aberfeldy’s seasonal produce. You will find paninis filled with Orkney Cheddar and ham from local supplier MacDonald’s Brothers. Afternoon tea will be served with scones from Dow’s of Aberfeldy and jam from Thyme at Errichel. With an open fireplace, cosy sofas and vintage memorabilia it’s a place to feel at home.

For a special celebration there is also a private dining experience which can be arranged in advance. On my visit I was treated to whisky cocktails and whisky pairing with a sumptuous seasonal menu. It included a starter of Ayrshire beetroot and goat’s cheese terrine followed by mains of roasted loin of Margmore venison shot on the estate. Dessert was a Scottish rum crème brûlée and summer fruits compote.

On a separate note, there’s a great deal to be said for food that doesn’t travel; not merely for the benefit of the environment. I’m an avid advocate of locally grown produce for heath and wellbeing over exotic superfoods. Our immune systems are strengthened not by eating exotic food but by eating food that grows in the environment we live in. This was a philosophy reflected at Dewars in its values and in their support of local producers; a pleasure to see and experience.

To drink

The Whisky Lounge is home to the Dewars Dramming Bar. Here you will be able to sample a dram of Aberfeldy 12, Aberfeldy 16 and Dewar’s 12 and Dewar’s 25 ranging from £2.50 to £7 per dram. The prices held deliberately low to allow as many visitors as possible to enjoy the best whisky the distillery offers.

If cocktails are more to your liking the Highball which consists of Dewar’s White Label, ginger ale and fresh lime juice was delightfully refreshing. The Golden Dram made of Aberfeldy 12 and orange bitters was wonderful with hints of vanilla and honey.

Things to Do

Distillery tour

I highly recommend starting any experience at Dewars with a visit to the state-of-the-art cinema. With red leather seats and gorgeous interiors a brief yet informative documentary introduces the history and heritage of Dewars and its beginnings in the Highlands. It sets a great mood for understanding the journey of the brand and the passion which has always driven it forward.

The interactive heritage exhibition sits just outside the cinema and is a must. Dewars has thrown open its archives to retell the captivating story of its founder’s pursuit of the perfect whisky. The exhibition also recounts the story of the Dewars family with artefacts and audiovisuals. You can also use iPads provided to use the Dewars multimedia app which recognises visual triggers throughout the museum. Both the cinema and museum experiences are included in the price of the distillery tour.

The distillery tour is a journey to the heart of Dewar’s Scotch. It includes a visit to the  warehouse and provides great insight in to the process of creating a highly acclaimed whisky. Expect to share the experience with visitors from as far as Japan and Australia who arrive in Aberfeldy for the single purpose of visiting the Dewars Distillery.

Whisky and chocolate tasting tour


For lovers of chocolate and whisky there is the tour that has it all. It includes pairings of three single origin dark chocolates, chosen by Stephanie Macleod, with three crafted whiskies. The chocolates are, of course, handmade by local chocolatier Charlotte Flower.

For me this was a particularly intriguing experience. The chocolate and whiskies made excellent partners and made for a wonderfully new concept. I found it fresh and informative.

Whisky blender’s tour

It is also possible to opt for a tutored blending session as I did. This was a lively experience. On learning the distinctive flavours found in the regions of Scotland we used our knowledge to create personalised blends of Scotch using single malt and grain whisky.

It was a chance to learn balancing flavours at the end of which you name your blend in a sentimental way. It was also an unmissable opportunity to don a white lab coat. A great experience enjoyed by all but most of all by me; my blend was chosen the winner at the end of the experience. Such happy days!

If you’re fortunate enough you may even have the opportunity to visit the notoriously secretive Scotch Egg Club hidden behind a secret door of the distillery. The club is named in honour of Tommy Dewar’s love of chickens (he raised prize-winning chickens). That however, is another story altogether.







Which Jane Austen?

But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. Jane Austen

(Extract from letter written to Rev. James Stanier  Clarke, 1st April 1816, in response to his advice on a plot for the next novel).

2017 marks the bicentennial of one of  the  greatest literary heroes of the English language – Jane Austen. Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford is commemorating it with an exhibition titled Which Jane Austen? It’s aimed to challenge the narrative we have been led to believe of her life.

A Life Unlaced

Upon Austen’s death, on 18 July 1817, concerned that an outsider may publish a biography, her family set about creating the image of a quiet spinster who wrote in her spare time. Anxious that they might fall in to the wrong hands, her sister and confidante Cassandra destroyed thousands of private letters. All but 161 survived. This largely shaped her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh’s publication A Memoir of Jane Austen (1869). At a time when public interest in Austen was stirring, the book was used to construct an image of a middle class country woman not motivated by “…the hope of fame nor profit…”. Thus manufacturing a contrived heroine.

“War, Empire and Business”

200 years on and the University of Oxford presents an exhibition challenging this notion of Austen. Curator of the exhibition, Kathryn Sutherland, presents a wartime writer whose world stretched from India to China, an ambitious woman who possessed an uncompromising vision and an unparalleled understanding of her craft.

Through a collection of books, letters and personal effects the exhibition unlocks an identity influenced by war, gossip, scandal and the political climate of her time. It provokes an author who spent most of her life in the shadow of war from the American Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars. Moreover, we discover a woman who savoured her professional career. She made regular visits to the capital when her books were in the process of publication. She nurtured and built a successful relationship with her publisher John Murray II. When her business day was over she enjoyed an active social life at the theatre, arts and culture in London. All of which are supported by Bodleian Library’s rich Austen material.

This is a remarkable exhibition which examines everything that influenced the author from childhood into her last days.


Which Jane Austen?

So we come to the ultimate question – Which Jane Austen? I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice at the age of 15. When I turned the first page into her life I could have never known that decades later I would be browsing through personal letters, admiring her silk plisse dress and be mere inches a away from the desk where she penned what is arguably her most famous novel.

As a young reader I found her subjects uninspiring. I imagined (without evidence) her life to have been simple, her circles small and her relationships uninteresting. As I grew and my own world became bigger, wider and more exciting I abandoned Ms. Austen in favour of Marquez, Allende, du Maurier, Atwood.

The invitation to Which Jane Austen? therefore, was a chance meeting. Akin to bumping in to a jilted lover on a platform waiting to board the same train. Flight or fight? As I could no longer plead youth, I decided I would fight. So I set off to to the University of Oxford to see her once more. I was met with first editions of her major works, greeted by her hand copied music books and awed by a selection of hilarious short stories written in her childhood. As I moved around the room in silence she wooed me. I was enmeshed in her world – the one she really occupied. A world full of wonder, fun, excitement, wit, social consciousness, charm and elegance. It was difficult to imagine such an effervescent personality being contained in a small English country village resigned to her fate of dying a spinster.

Which Jane Austen? corroborates that she lived fully, authentically, uncompromisingly. Without a doubt she left an imprint on all those she encountered. Rev. James Stanier Clarke (Librarian to George, Prince of Wales) was so struck by her at their meeting that he painted an image of her from memory in his “Liber Amicorum” (Book of Friends).

Austen was a story teller of the best kind; one that could tell a story about a story. Her genius lay in weaving an under current of emotion and intrigue in to familiar routines, people and situations. What might otherwise be a mundane event transformed itself in to a gigantic wave under her penmanship. So, which Jane Austen you ask me? I choose the woman who’s life is displayed in the Bodleian. She will forever be etched in my memory.

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Which Jane Austen? runs until October 2017 at the Weston Library. Admission is free. For more information visit: