I’ll be honest, the only time I ever think about Stamford is on Burghley Horse Trials week. I absolutely adore the beautiful Georgian market town, but regrettably I’m ashamed to say I only tend to see it once a year as I’m driving through to Burghley house, or heading into the town for a couple of drinks following cross-country day (although this happens far less now I’m old, sensible and have kittens to get home to!). So when I was kindly invited to stay at The Bull & Swan for one of their famous summer cinema evenings in the market garden, I did have to think to my self – why have I never done this before?
Like most places in Stamford, The Bull & Swan is a real hidden gem. Ok, it’s not really hidden because it’s right on the high street, but if you were walking past you’d have absolutely no idea of the delights that await…so it’s still a hidden gem in my eyes. From the front, the Bull & Swan looks like any other traditional country pub (which by the way is right up my street anyway) but step inside and it’s so much more.
It really is like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and into some magical garden where pizza is served from a potting shed, prosecco is abundant and you sit in deck chairs under a canopy of fairy lights entwined with wisteria and clematis, surrounded by gorgeous smelling lavender (complete with resting butterflies and bees – and we all know how important it is to encourage anything that encourages our bee population to thrive!), watching old school movies. Sound idyllic? That’s what every Thursday evening throughout the summer is like at the Bull & Swan, although the weather is not guaranteed and we were very lucky to experience the outdoor cinema in the glorious heatwave we seem to be enjoying (or fed up of, depending on your opinion!) at the moment, although I still think it would be fun regardless of a few spots of rain.
The cinema evenings are a real local highlight and what’s more, it’s totally free to enter which is brilliant. I’ve looked for so many outdoor cinemas this summer and not one I’ve shortlisted is free to enter, so this is a real plus point for the Bull & Swan. However, it does mean you have to be quick – cinema screenings start at 7.30pm, but I’d advise getting there much earlier to get a good seat as they are limited. You may have to share your seats with others, but this only adds to the atmosphere especially when everyone joins in singing along to the classic movie songs. I should probably clarify that we were watching Grease, so the singing was justified! Although I shared my seat with Rumble the Dog (and yes, he does have his own Instagram account and is a real local star) and he didn’t enjoy the singing half as much as the pizza…
Which brings me to my next highlight of the evening – the potting shed where a real wood-fired pizza oven takes pride of place. Pizza is my thing, it’s definitely my guilty pleasure and my go-to takeaway treat when I allow myself something naughty (which at the moment is pretty much every Friday, I’ll be honest with you). So I think it’s fair to say that I’ve experienced quite a few wood-fired pizzas in my time and could consider myself somewhat an expert.. I can honestly say the Bull & Swan pizza was the best wood-fired oven pizza I’ve had (to date!). I opted for the vegetarian pizza packed with goats cheese and vegetables (made with some of the market garden ingredients I believe), but James went for the meat option and had the same view as I did – so it was a definite win all round. I will 100% be returning to the Bull & Swan even if it’s just for the pizza!!
Staying at The Bull & Swan
Intimate, cosy and country chic. There are only 9 rooms available at the Bull & Swan (so if you want to stay you need to be quick!!), which only adds to the intimacy of the venue. It’s almost as though you’re heading to a friends place to stay for the evening. If that friend has luxury rooms with THE most comfortable, grand yet cosy beds and forest rainfall showers equipped with The White Company bathroom treats. This luxurious yet quirky hotel makes you feel at home and yet so far away at the same time, wrapped in a cocoon of opulence that makes you never want to leave. I will 100% be trying to get a room at The Bull & Swan for Burghley this year so that I can enjoy the Bull & Swan’s delights instead of sitting in traffic for hours trying to escape Stamford!
As if our stay wasn’t already perfect, we had the privilege of spending the afternoon at the Bull & Swan’s big sister – The William Cecil. You can definitely tell the two are related – same fantastic service, same delicious food and quirky luxury – the kind that makes you feel comfortable rather than the stuffy kind of luxury that questions whether you belong there. Although there are lots of similarities there is a distinct difference between the two and The William Cecil definitely feels like the bigger more grown up sister to the Bull & Swan. With 27 individually designed rooms, it’s bigger in size and with the potential to host weddings and events it’s bigger in capacity. Now I can’t give you a review of the rooms but if they’re anything like the ones at the Bull & Swan, I’d say you were in for a treat!
What I can give you a review of though is the afternoon tea. I could write so much about this, but I think one word sums it up perfectly – delicious. All of the food created at The William Cecil is carefully thought through and locally sourced (with herbs from the kitchen garden at the Bull & Swan!). So the afternoon tea was always going to be tasty, but throw in a carefully considered Gin & Tonic menu to compliment the gin-spired cakes and pastry delights and you’re on to a winner. Whilst we were enjoying the William Cecil’s treats, a number of people joined us in the courtyard for afternoon tea including a hen party – so you get the idea that it’s a pretty special place! I would say even if you are passing through Stamford for a couple of hours (or even if you’re not, make a diversion!), you HAVE to visit for afternoon tea!
I can’t recommend Stamford enough, cobbled streets, gorgeous boutiques and lots of beautiful eateries all encased in unspoilt Georgian architecture and surrounded by the water meadows (now known as Stamford Meadows), there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Now the secret’s out about the Bull & Swan’s garden cinema, I’m already off to reserve my seat for next week’s Thursday film!