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Broadway Manor Cottages, vacation rentals in the Cotswolds

by Valerie Schneider and Pauline Kenny, January 2010

For this month's profile we talked to Debbie Williamson, owner of Broadway Manor Cottages, four cottages and an apartment on an estate on the edge of Broadway, in the heart of the Cotswolds.

Last year I met Debbie on Twitter and she invited me to meet her in person on our summer trip to the Cotswolds. We spent a lovely afternoon with Debbie and Ross and liked their cottages so much that we changed our plans for the last part of the trip and spent a week in Willow Cottage before flying home. This is a great place to stay in a wonderful part of the Cotswolds.

Ross and Debbie Williamson, Broadway Manor Cottages

Ross and Debbie Williamson

Placidly grazing sheep and manicured gardens bordered by hedgerows form the idyllic setting for Broadway Manor Cottages, located in the Cotswolds, one of England's most beautiful areas. The cottages are on an estate at the edge of Broadway, a town known as "The Jewel of the Cotswolds" for its well-tended streets and picture perfect houses. The golden stone buildings are so attractive they're called "chocolate boxes".

The peaceful atmosphere and casual lifestyle lured Debbie and Ross Williamson from bustling London in 2006. They purchased the historic but ramshackle manor house along with other out buildings and moved with their two children, setting about to restore the structures. Debbie said they fell in love with the property - a historic house built of golden Cotswold stone with an abundance of wildlife - and nurtured the vision of a wonderful family home with great potential to set up a holiday cottage business as well.

Sheldon Shield, Broadway Manor Cottages

Sheldon Shield

"We love the pace of life, the people, the country lifestyle," Debbie told us. "We like the fresh air, walking trails, and wildlife. The area is easily accessible with a number of a major roads and a train line into London. There are airports not too far away, which was a factor as Ross travels a lot with his job. Birmingham International Airport is just an hour's drive away and London Heathrow can be reached in less than two hours."

Debbie left her career as a Compliance Officer with Chase Manhattan Bank to make the move, while Ross continues to work as a management consultant, in addition to tending the grounds and helping Debbie with the vacation rentals business.

The restructured manor house was originally built in 1539. It occupies land that belonged to the Abbots of Pershore. When Henry VIII dissolved the monastic orders, the land was sold to the Sheldon family, who constructed the manor house.

Their weathered family shield, showing the date of the coach house (1768) and three barely visible Sheldrake ducks, can still be seen in the gable end of the house outside the Rafters apartment.

An article about the history of the Sheldon family and Broadway Manor appeared Oxfordshire Life magazine in 2008.

Building a Business Based on Their Own Experiences

As the renovations took shape so did Debbie and Ross's plans for their vacation rental cottages. They drew on their own vacation experiences throughout Europe, the UK and Ireland, and America. "We have had a mix of experiences. The best was a Spanish villa high on a hillside with stunning views from the terrace down to the sea. The worst was a beautiful thatched-roof cottage in Ireland that, despite its charming appearance, lacked a chimney for its peat fire and poured smoke into the room. We ended up smoked like kippers!"

Their foibles and highlights in vacation rentals gave Debbie and Ross clear ideas on what to do – and not do – in their own cottages. "We realized a couple of truths. First, the vacation rental has to be everything the marketing materials promised it would be. Second, it has to be immaculately clean. Some of our best experiences are associated with properties that have been clean and welcoming on arrival, and this is something we strive for at all times for our guests. We have received an 'excellent' rating from Quality in Tourism during our annual inspections."

"Third, we also recognize that while everyone appreciates a warm welcome, they then like to be left alone to get on and do their own thing." Debbie and Ross are on hand to answer questions or assist guests if needed, but they don't hover or meddle.

While all the cottages have been carefully renovated and fully equipped, Debbie says that they are still a work in progress. "We refurbished the cottages to the highest standards we could, but plan to continuously upgrade them. They are currently 4-star, and The Stables is 4-star with a Gold Award. The cottages have won a Silver Award in the 2009 Heart of England Excellence in Tourism awards," said Debbie.

Cottages in the Beautiful English Countryside

Broadway Manor (cottages on left)

Broadway Manor (cottages on left)

The cottages are just part of a 16 acre estate that combines cultivated fields, grazing grounds for adorable pet Dorset sheep, and gorgeous gardens. There are outdoors spaces for relaxing, and a tennis court. There is plenty of wildlife to observe: badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits, along with abundant birds and butterflies. Surrounding the property are undulating hills and peaceful countryside.

The Rafters apartment occupies space that was once part of a stone coach house. Built in the mid-18th century, it retains the original oak beams and vaulted ceilings. The Stables was built in the Victorian era to serve as a barn for the manor house. It is placed along a lane and opens onto a courtyard. The old-fashioned stable door remains as the cottage's main entrance.

The three attached cottages - Willow, Corner and Sheldon - were built in 1989 but recently renovated. The construction carefully integrated Tudor tradition with modern conveniences, while using local Cotswold stone to maintain the estate's esthetics.

The cottages are comfortably furnished with everything needed, including toiletries. All week-long stays are welcomed with a basket of goodies that includes home-baked bread, free-range eggs, milk, butter, cereals, and jams along with tea, coffee and biscuits. Free wireless internet is available in all the cottages, except the Stables.

Cottages at Broadway Manor prices range from £320 – £635 per week, but shorter 3-night stays are available from October through April.

Green Countryside and Green Living

Walking trail going to Broadway

Walking trail going to Broadway

Awards keep racking up for them, as Debbie told us they recently garnered a Silver Award by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, reflecting their dedication to sustainability and green tourism.

"We are committed to the practice of reduce, reuse, and recycle. We purchase items without packaging or with toxic-free packaging whenever possible, shop on foot or bicycle or have it delivered as part of a delivery round, grow our own vegetables, and catch rainwater to nurture the garden."

They also have energy efficient appliances, solar panels to heat some of the water with the remainder heated by energy efficient boilers, and recycle and compost everything possible. Jute bags are provided for guests to use during their stay, and they promote "Have a Car-Free Day" encouraging guests to walk into Broadway and visit the village's sights and eateries.

The Cotswold Way National Trail passes through one of their fields. Footpaths lead into the village of Broadway, and up to the Gothic spire-like Broadway Tower.

The Charming Village of Broadway

Broadway Tower

Broadway Tower

Broadway boasts charming shops, restaurants and tearooms. The famous Broadway Tower, sits on a hill above Broadway. It was once home to William Morris.

A little further on is the pretty hillside town of Snowshill, where there are lovely lavender fields. Snowshill played a role in the film, Bridget Jones' Diary. The entire area is filled with beautiful, pastoral landscapes and quaint honey-hued towns.

To make the most of a visit to Broadway, just talk to Debbie as she volunteers at the local tourist office and is one of its biggest boosters. She has brochures at the ready, leaves an information packet in each cottage with suggestions of places to eat and shop, and has placed a notice board in the shared laundry room to highlight local attractions and things to do on foot. "I enjoy working in the local tourist information office and welcoming visitors to Broadway and the Cotswolds. I work on average four hours each week. I got involved a couple of months after we moved here. It was a great opportunity to meet residents as they bring their visitors in from all over the world. As a result I have become very involved in village life!"

Their involvement includes working with the Broadway Traders' Association to promote the commercial interests of Broadway and the surrounding area, as well as volunteering at the Broadway Horse Trials, a biannual event. Debbie has also been instrumental in establishing the Broadway Arts Festival, which will debut in June, 2010. Ross coaches junior rugby at the local rugby club. "Ross the boys and I absolutely love living here in Broadway!"

Favorite Cotswolds Places

Since we had a resident expert to consult, we asked Debbie for her recommendations on the best places to shop and dine. She directed us to The Crown and Trumpet as the closest pub, just a few minutes' walk across a field, but admitted her favorite is a bit further away. "The Snowshill Arms in the village of Snowshill is a family-friendly, typical English pub which can be busy in summer but is a quiet retreat for locals out of season." Snowshill can be reached on foot in under an hour or by car in five minutes.

Their favorite restaurant is close by in Broadway, "Russell's, where the food is excellent and there is always great atmosphere." Russell's is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and features beautifully-presented meals made with locally grown produce.

As for shopping, Debbie has that covered, too. "Food shopping is well catered for at Warner's Budgens with its in-store delicatessen and bakery, it meets most needs. Broadway Deli on the main street offers local produce and specialty items. I love to wander around Lapstone at Broad Campden outside Chipping Campden with its wonderful range of accessories and unusual household items, and enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of their delicious cake. Further afield, great shopping can be enjoyed in Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon, and the large metropolis of Birmingham is only an hour's drive away."

Thank you Debbie for taking the time to tell us about Broadway Manor Cottages!

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