On a trip to England this fall, my husband and I rented a small car and very slowly drove on the left through hedgerows slightly wider than my kitchen island to a place in the Cotswolds so quintessentially English, so utterly charming, that our first night, I dreamt I was a flower girl in Kate Middleton's wedding. Not the famously grumpy flower girl. The other one.
The place that spurred my dream is called Thyme, a cookery school, farm, hotel, spa, restaurant, and retreat. The manorial estate comprises 150 acres, many of them given over to sheep. All the buildings -- converted barns, farmhouses, cottages, manor house, and lodge -- are built of oolitic limestone formed during the Jurassic period. The estate itself is listed in England's ancient survey, the Domesday Book, written in 1086.
As if we didn't already have a massive crush on the English countryside. These are the sorts of things that make Americans swoon and I was no exception. From the moment we crunched up the gravel drive, my husband took on a stronger British accent by the hour while I cursed myself for leaving the good camera and tripod back in Wisconsin. (Unless otherwise credited, all photos taken with my iPhone.)
On our way into the barn for breakfast our first day, we chanced upon an elegant woman with her dogs. She wore the most beautiful Indian paisley shawl but what I noticed were the paint splotches on her arms. This was Caryn Hibbert, the visionary behind Thyme, who had just finished painting a few lampshades for the new rooms above ours.
If you are a regular reader of The Bubble Joy, you know how I love getting the scoop on a woman of substance, and Caryn has it in spades. She is a former London physician who left her practice for an entrepreneurial experiment that has lasted fifteen years. With the help of her parents, she has turned a sleepy little English hamlet into a self-sustaining estate employing sixty locals year round.
She kindly spoke to me at length about her passion for the land and her plan for the future. She readily admits to "so so much naivete" when first starting out. "I can't tell you how hard we worked," she said.
Speaking with her staff, I learned that Caryn does nothing by half. She studied every single process no matter how complex -- farming, architectural restoration, plumbing and electric, cooking, hospitality, etc. and left nothing to chance. It goes without saying that the cost of such an investment must be considerable, but with financial backing from her parents and her husband, Caryn is making a go of it. Her bucolic gem might even be setting a new standard for responsible land use and sustainable economic development.
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