A little while ago I wrote a post when I was very excited to hear about the new Midsomer Murders tours being offered by South Oxfordshire Tourist Board. Anyway, a little while later I was commissioned by The Express to write a piece about it so Alex and I spent a happy couple of days driving about “Midsomer” eating in fabulous pubs and generally revelling in the Englishness of it all. The publication of the article got delayed after Brian True-May decided to tell everyone why there are no black people in Midsomer. It went in a few weeks ago and isn’t online so I thought I’d include it here. It’s a lovely part of the country to visit.
Midsomer Murders, best known for its improbable, grisly murders in quintessentially English surroundings, is one of the UK’s most enduring TV series’. Over 80 episodes have been made since it was first screened in 1997, and it has since been sold to over 200 territories.
The local council in South Oxfordshire, where much of the series is filmed, has realised this could mean big business and recently set up a website www.visitmidsomer.com detailing locations used in the series, both for Midsomer fans who want to drink in the same pubs as Inspector Barnaby and visit grand houses where fictional murders have taken place as well as those who simply want to see some of the beautiful locations they may have seen on TV close up.
As well as a “Midsomer Map” highlighting various stately homes, churches, hotels, pubs and other locations used in the filming, the website also suggests two driving tours which allow you to take in many of the sites. My husband and I, closet Midsomer Murders fans, decide to take a look.
We start off at 17th century Mapledurham House, which was “Bingham House” in one of the most recent Midsomer episodes. Its mill, the only one still in use on the Thames, is also instantly recognisable from “The Eagle Has Landed” as well as, more incongruously, the cover of a Black Sabbath album. All the electricity cables in the Mapledurham Village were buried for “The Eagle is Landed” filming giving it a “land that time forgot” feeling and as it is a no-through road, it is as peaceful as the main house is majestic.
We spend the first night at the Beetle and Wedge in Moulsford, a riverside restaurant housed in an old boathouse with a great wine list – including fine wines bought at auction – and an imaginative menu, some of which is cooked over an open flame-grill within the restaurant. We stay in one of its three simple but comfortable rooms complete with a huge bathroom and roll-top bath.
The next morning after a fantastic riverside full English breakfast with a pretty fruit platter as a nod to healthy eating, we head to Wallingford, an historic small town/large village on the river which often features in Midsomer as Causton, Barnaby’s centre of operations. While Wallingford isn’t as chocolate-box pretty as some of the villages we visit, its other claim to fame is being home to Agatha Christie for much of her life and the Wallingford Museum is currently holding a “Christie to Causton” exhibition, showing off its fictional, crime-ridden history.
After a drive through Ewelme, a village so crammed with ancient cottages and general prettiness it looks more like a film set than a real place, we have lunch was at The Six Bells in Warborough. Outside the thatched, sixteenth century pub set on the village green which has made several Midsomer Murders appearances as at least four different pubs, a waggish regular has left a plastic, bloodied severed hand in the woodpile. The houses in the village are again mainly timbered or thatched cottages and in summer cricket is played on the green – it’s England at its most English. The Six Bells’ new manager Matt Cockman is keen to make the most of his Midsomer connection and the lunch menu features traditional pub “Murderous Classics. “ “There have been seven “murders” in around Warborough over the years,” he tells me, “I’m gutted that the previous landlord threw away the fake pub signs they used for filming. I could have done theme nights.”
We spend the evening in Thame, which has been host to Midsomer filming at least ten times posing both as Causton and various other locations. We stay at the Georgian Spread Eagle Hotel, which apparently appeared as The Morecroft Hotel in an episode where Barnaby gets hit after intervening in a fight in the hotel’s bar. Since then, the interior decor has changed and the bar and restaurant are now modern and opulent with lots of brown and gold (or “bordello chic” as described by a local who didn’t seem to approve of the new style.) Some rooms have similarly been modernised – ours had a huge bed with furry cushions and throw and a fabulous bathroom while others are more “cottagey” in style. The next morning we visit the town’s thriving market which dates from 1230, Thame Museum, a cute little volunteer-run museum detailing the town’s history and the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway – a preserved steam-railway (and scene of a Midsomer Murders suicide.)
From Thame we head to Greys Court just outside Henley-on-Thames, a fifteenth-century family home with incredible gardens now owned by the National Trust which appeared in a Midsomer episode as a monastery. It is very relaxed and informal for a stately home – visitors can roam around the house, sit on the sofas and touch almost anything they like – there are only four ropes in the house, house steward Laura Ganagdeen tells me, proudly. Volunteers bake bread and cakes in the house’s kitchen and instead of plaques on the wall, embroidered cushions on chairs and beds offer simple facts about the rooms they are placed in. The garden, complete with a flat maze, is designed so that there is almost always colour, whatever time of year and one of its most spectacular feature is the 1890 wisteria walk, which is also underplanted with flowers for a riot of colour in spring.
We have lunch at The Bull and Butcher in Turville – another quintessentially English pub with open fires, a large garden an old, very deep well which has scarily been glassed over to make a table. Midsomer Murders filming has taken place in Turville several times, but it is perhaps better known as the parish of The Vicar of Dibley and for the windmill in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which sits on the hill just above it.
Driving around this area with so much green space and so many gorgeous, sleepy villages it is hard to believe that you are only about an hour away from London. Whether or not you are a Midsomer Murders fan, a visit to “Midsomer” makes you feel like you have stepped back into an old-fashioned, gentler way of life – over 200 “murders” to its name notwithstanding.
A double room at The Beetle and Wedge starts at £90 www.beetleandwedge.co.uk A twin/double room at The Spread Eagle starts at £115 www.spreadeaglethame.co.uk For more information visit www.visitmidsomer.com