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Cheese-free Valentine’s Day

Not the romantic type? Here's Muddy's top picks for 14 Feb fun that won't make you cringe.

A Day Out in Stratford-upon-Avon

Enjoy a romantic stroll along the river Avon, and Hall’s Croft magical walled garden, where you can add your Valentine’s message to the tree of love in the parlour. At Shakespeare’s Birthplace, why not watch a live performances from in house acting troupe Shakespeare Aloud! as they perform Romeo and Juliet. Follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps in nearby Shottery at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage as he went wooing his bride to be. Treat yourself to afternoon tea at the exquisite Hallmark Hotel, The Welcombe (there’s a fab spa too!), see Twelfth Night with Adrian Edmondson at the RSC before it ends on Feb 24 and enjoy a cocktail in the Rooftop Restaurant. National Trust properties across Warks are now open, including Charlcote Park, tea-room and Ragley Hall, Alcester, is running Snowdrop Walks on Feb 17 & 18, 10am – 3pm.

Tudor hotel sharing the love this Valentine’s Day 

Sixteenth century manor house, Billesley Manor, is running its #WithLoveFromBillesley Valentine’s Day competition, gifting 14 loved-up winners a free B&B stay in the heart of Shakespearean England. Just 3m from Stratford-upon-Avon, the historic hotel is inviting 14 couples to celebrate the day of love there. The competition runs until Tue, Feb 13. See here to entry.

A hip overnighter

Managed to get an overnight pass? Yippee! But if a grand country house hotel feels a bit too “Bridget Jones on a dirty weekend” obvious, may we suggest a slick, modern hip hotel instead. Artist Residence is a Brighton boho institution and now there’s one in Oxon too, South Leigh to be precise. This 16th century five-bedroom coaching inn‘s walls are lined with cool modern artworks. Meanwhile, Soho Farmhouse in Great Tew, Chipping Norton may be a swanky private members club but anyone can book a cabin, bell tent or room – just don’t forget the obligatory ‘outdoor bathtub’ Instagram shot. We also love the new Hotel du Vin in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Fuzzy Duck in Armscote and The George Townhouse in Shipton-on-Stour.

A gorgeous country walk, far from the madding crowds

The beauty of Rousham House & Garden near Bicester on the Oxon border – apart from the fact it’s, er, beautiful – is that not many other people know about it. Tourists tend to head for nearby Blenheim Palace, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten track for a romantic stroll, this 17th century privately-owned country house is a great bet. It has a walled garden, kitchen gardens, fruits trees, ponds, maze, woodla nd paths and river views, there’s no gift shop or tea room so it’s very low-key and uncommercial (take your own snacks) – and it doesn’t admit children under the age of 15, guaranteeing some peace. Garden entry is a bargainous £6, with house tours available on request for groups only.

Get arty in London

Free day à deux? Jump on the train and catch up on some of the capital’s best exhibitions. You’re obviously spoilt for choice but here’s four to whet your whistle: Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy at Proud Central; Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A; Modigliani (rudey nudies alert!) at the Tate Modern or under-the-radar neon art Lauren Baker‘s Covent Garden gallery. Follow with dinner in zingy new Muddy favourite Ceviche Soho – because, let’s face it, there ain’t many hipster Peruvian joints out here in the sticks.

Go to the movies

Firstly, you don’t have to actually talk to each other (who said romance was dead?). Secondly, you get to eat pick’n’mix without anyone judging. Thirdly and most importantly, it’s a brilliant time of year for movie buffs, as all the year’s big-hitting films jostle for attention ahead of the Oscars on 4 March. Our picks: The Darkest Hour (Churchill biopic starring an unrecognizable fat-suited Gary Oldman) , The Post (Spielberg’s ’70s set political/media drama, in which Meryl Streep plays a badass newspaper publisher), Phantom Thread (Daniel Day-Lewis gets his sewing machine out to play a ’50s couturier), Greta Gerwig’s mum-and-daughter drama Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother who takes drastic action). No snogging on the back row, please!

Forget Valentine’s Day, do Galentine’s Day

Partner away, absent or non-existent? Or maybe you just, er, don’t like him/her?! What you need is  Galentine’s Day instead. The concept was coined in an episode of US sitcom Parks and Recreation and is gathering steam – basically, rather than going out with your other half on 14 Feb for a couply dinner, you hit the town with your gaggle of gal-pals on 13 Feb. We likey! And we know a buzzy bar/restaurant or two, funnily enough. Head for The Kitchen, Farnborough, The Townhouse, Stratford, The Kenilworth Cocktail Lounge and  The Drawing Board, Leamington. Gal power!

Oxford day trip

If your jaunts into Oxford tend to revolve around kids’ cinema or Natural History Museum trips, take the time to do something a little more grown-up with your significant other this Valentine’s day. The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1669, is open to the public, when it’s not being used by Oxford University for ceremonies and events. For just £3.50 entry fee (£8 for the guided tour), you can gaze up in wonder at the jaw-dropping ceiling, painted by Robert Streater, or take in the 360 degree views of the city’s dreaming spires from the Cupola. Combine with a spot of retail therapy at the Westgate (hello & Other Stories, my other true love), dine at Muddy favourites Oli’s Thai (hipster vibes off Iffley Road) and The Perch at Binsey (riverside romance), Cinnamon Kitchen (new ultra-glam Indian at the Westgate, Muddy review coming soon) and you’ve got a thoroughly civilized, relaxed day out.

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