Could anything be prettier, or more quintessentially English, than golden Cotswold stone, glowing in the late afternoon light?
It’s easy to understand why Prince Harry and his wife Meghan fell in love with a charming four-bedroom farmhouse tucked away down a lane in an Oxfordshire hamlet on Britain’s glitziest country estate.
It is where the couple spent last summer retreating from their normal world.
The house, reported to be worth £2.5 million and renovated to include floor-to-ceiling windows and two kitchens, is set in four acres of land and has an annexe for guests.
Thatched cottages in the village of Great Tew (pictured above) where Harry and Meghan have a property
The village of Great Tew has a population of around 150 people
It is also near Soho Farmhouse, the country outpost of the private members’ club at Great Tew, which Meghan adores and has played a central part in her relationship with Harry.
Officially they live at Nottingham Cottage, a small property in the grounds of Kensington Palace in London, but it seems the country house is where they feel most at home.
Last June, they took a two-year lease on the homely place and spend most weekends here. They plan to hang on to this little slice of Cotswolds heaven as a holiday and weekend cottage even after they make the move to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
Millie Mackintosh (left) with Meghan Markle cycling in Oxfordshire
(Renovations are in full swing at Frogmore, with the perhaps optimistic aim that the couple will be in residence before their baby arrives in late March or early April.)
Aside from a few official engagements, such as a two-day trip to Ireland, a night at the theatre in London and the launch of the Grenfell Tower charity cookbook, they lived in the Cotswolds most of last summer.
Harry and Meghan (pictured above) are moving into Frogmore Cottage
It was the very happiest time for the Sussexes. Their much-wanted baby was conceived in mid-to-late July. Possibly the most-watched couple in the world at that point — just weeks after their Windsor wedding — they still managed to keep the pregnancy news, and their joy, perfectly private.
Towards the end of the summer, they adopted a second dog in addition to Meghan’s rather ancient rescue beagle, Guy.
The black Labrador puppy accompanied them on a visit to their friends George and Amal Clooney in Sonning, Berkshire, who are also dog-crazy and have two rescue dogs.
So what does this house say about the royal couple and their galaxy of celebrity friends? Principally, it says that their life revolves around these Hollywood and millionaire types.
For this is an area that teems with celebs.
The Beckham family have a barn conversion there and are regular weekenders at Soho Farmhouse. As is fashion designer Stella McCartney and her clan. (It was Stella that Meghan chose to make her dress for her evening wedding reception.)
No wonder the 37-year-old former actress feels right at home here.
So who else is to be found nearby?
Actor Johnny Depp has rented an Oxfordshire cottage while filming in the UK. Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart has a house thereabouts.
Model Kate Moss is not far away, either, and a host of young British stars such as Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, who was at Eton with Harry, are known to drop into Soho Farmhouse to party.
The property is in Great Tew in Oxfordshire, a small village with a population of about 150
Over the summer, Meghan brought members of her own American-Canadian crowd to hang out at the club, including the actress Priyanka Chopra and her husband, singer Nick Jonas, and Meghan’s great tennis player friend Serena Williams and her tech millionaire husband and their young daughter.
The duchess’s long-time friend, Canadian stylist Jessica Mulroney, also paid a visit. Apparently, they took the time to plan Meghan’s outfits for her visit to Australia and New Zealand.
Naturally, her mother Doria Ragland also spent time with the couple in Oxfordshire. Those rolling fields around the golden barn could hardly be more of a world away from the noisy streets of Los Angeles where Doria lives.
The village of Great Tew, Oxfordshire, with the pub, The Falkland Arms
Sources suggest that Meghan’s mum went a couple of times, in July and September, and had dinner with the duke and duchess in ‘The Shack’ — a single-storey wooden building in Soho Farmhouse which is lit by a multitude of flickering candles.
It has a kitchen area with a huge open fire and rotisserie, and a small, entirely private dining room attached which has been put at Harry and Meghan’s disposal.
Meghan is reported, too, to have attended a couple of fitness classes at the club — Pilates and spin cycling. She and Harry have also been seen in the first-floor child-free eating area.
A regular told me: ‘Meghan is very nice, polite and respectful to the staff — which is noticed because not all celebrities are!’
Of course, the royal couple have entertained ‘at home’ too. Their house has a vast kitchen/dining room and stunning views over the countryside.
So who is in the duke and duchess’s elevated social set? Central are the Beckhams. Victoria’s bond with Meghan has been very publicly stated with Meghan wearing Mrs B’s designs over recent months, including a calf-length navy dress costing £1,250, with matching £2,250 coat, £1,250 boots and £1,550 handbag.
For his part, Harry is close to David Beckham, who he has known for many years through charity work.
Meghan’s best friend, Markus Anderson, who works for the Soho House group, is a key member of the new royal’s support team and he has been around, too. Originally, he invited her to join Soho House when she was still a TV soap actress in Toronto, and it was Markus who facilitated all of Harry and Meghan’s early dates in London and Oxfordshire.
Meghan Markle had her hen party at Soho Farmhouse (pictured above)
He also arranged her low-key hen weekend celebrations — at Soho Farmhouse, of course, and encouraged her to attend the launch of a new Soho House last year in Amsterdam. Markus is very good friends with New York-based fashion designer Misha Nonoo, who is said to have introduced Meghan and Harry to each other.
Both Markus and Misha spent time with the royal newlyweds at their country barn last summer, staying for extended stretches.
Others who have stayed or visited include Princess Eugenie and the Clooneys. That followed Harry and Meghan taking a mini-break at the Clooneys’ house on Lake Como in Italy in May.
Priyanka Chopra and her husband, singer Nick Jonas (pictured) have also hung out with Meghan Markle
The similarities between the couples are striking. Two previously long-time bachelors, both significantly less well-educated than their career-minded and very successful wives, who they married after whirlwind romances.
Both wives have expensive tastes in fashion (Meghan favours Givenchy, Amal loves Prada) and both have ambitions to establish themselves as humanitarians on the global stage.
Barrister Amal, who grew up in Buckinghamshire, fostered the friendship after being introduced to Meghan by mutual friends at . . . Soho House. She then recommended to Meghan a starry list of contacts — from hair stylists to interior designers and key staff members.
The Clooneys wanted to host Barack Obama’s wife Michelle — a mutual pal — with Meghan and Harry for a dinner party in December, but it was cancelled because of the funeral of former U.S. President George Bush.
This Cotswolds — Soho House by Royal Appointment — crowd are a tight-knit group who socialise with each other and mirror each other’s tastes and interests.
Indeed, many of them have used the same interior designer, Vicky Charles, to copy the battered but deluxe Soho House chic in their own country homes.
It was Vicky who oversaw all the club’s interior design for 20 years before setting up a private client business. She has interior designed for the Clooneys (in three of their houses), the Beckhams and chef Gordon Ramsay.
Meghan’s best friend, Markus Anderson (left) works for the Soho House group
It is said that her firm, Charles & Co — partly run by comedian James Corden’s wife Julia — has lent a hand with refurbishing Harry and Meghan’s barn.
It would be no surprise if the suggestion is true, since the duchess relishes Soho House’s trendy ethos, and instinctively chimes with its modern, very luxurious way of doing things.
As a lifestyle blogger before marrying Harry, Meghan was relentlessly enthusiastic about finding the best crystal glasses, the best chilli sauce, and the most perfectly mixed cocktails.
Soho Farmhouse, Great Tew, Oxford. An exclusive members club
Of course, none of this is the traditional way of Cotswolds life, which locals say normally means draughty rooms, muddy animals, broken tractors and cornflakes from Tupperware boxes for breakfast.
Meghan is certainly rather Californian about food, favouring fashionable rather than traditional dishes such as Gloucestershire Old Spot pork roasts.
Harry has reportedly been encouraged to cut back on his drinking by his pregnant, health-conscious wife and is said to have been teetotal for three months.
The Beckham’s (pictured above) will be neighbours of Harry and Meghan
It’s quite an achievement for a man who was notoriously lairy in his youth!
She is also said to have encouraged him to cut back on his meat consumption. Before they met, Meghan was in the habit of eating mostly vegetarian in the week.
Above all, their Cotswolds house has been a safe haven for Harry and Meghan, and also somewhere to start anew, with new friends and new priorities.
In Kensington, Harry’s long-time neighbours were his brother William and wife Kate.
Regardless of talk of a rift between the two women, it seems Harry was keen to get away from the shadow of his older brother and his wife.
The Cambridges’ country home in Norfolk, near Sandringham, is, by comparison, a safe choice which respects tradition.
For their part, Harry and Meghan have felt freer to mix with wealthy, fun-loving, en vogue, globally famous do-gooders.
This new circle have staff, and charity projects, but also have a different way of doing things. Privacy and luxury are watchwords, rather than a tradition of polite and dutiful self-sacrifice.
But however much they want the Cotswolds as a bolt-hole to escape the halogen gaze that’s directed at the Queen’s family, there is always a reminder — for those who seek it — of royalty’s chequered history.
For it wasn’t too far from Harry and Meghan’s barn conversion that, during the Civil War in 1646, a Royalist army marched through the area desperately seeking to join up with Charles I in Oxford and was forced into a battle so fierce that ducks were said to be ‘able to bathe in the pools of blood that formed on the street’.
Back then, the Royalists were defeated. Today, the royal newlyweds are in the ascendancy.