In the early 2000s, I came across the “Midsomer Murders” TV show on the A&E cable channel. It drew me in faster than a 50 percent off sale at Macy’s: The quaint charm of the imaginary English village of “Causton;” the sly humor of Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and his young, handsome sidekicks (Jason Hughes was a favorite); quirky supporting characters and convoluted mysteries set in oh-so-British pubs, churches, shops, even a soccer field where people walked and/or rode horses to get from Points A to B.
While A&E aired a limited number of episodes, thanks to online streaming, many if not most of its 22 seasons can be viewed on several services including Acorn TV, who originally produced it and BritBox. The storylines remain bizarrely intriguing, although Tom Barnaby “retired” and was replaced by his charming but equally estimable “cousin” DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), also accompanied by a succession of dashing sergeants.
And an entire tourism industry has grown up around “Midsomer Murders” and other popular British movies and TV series, including “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” the Inspectors Morse and Lewis and/or “Endeavor” and many more. There is even a website devoted to visiting Midsomer, which isn’t a single place but rather several different spots in and around South Oxfordshire, including the villages of Thame (pronounced “Tame”), Wallingford, Henley-on-Thames and others where the series is filmed.
During a recent visit to the UK, I had the good fortune of staying with a couple who lived in Dorchester-on-Thames, right in the heart of Midsomer country. My hostess, Jane, had grown up there and knew where all the bodies were buried, at least on film. She and I spent an amazing few days exploring the picturesque region, of which the pubs, hotels and restaurants play a huge part, both in everyday life and on the show itself.
Among the most well-trod is Wallingford, the original “Causton.” Viewers of the first several seasons will easily recognize street scenes and other settings such as the Playhouse, a former corn exchange that serves as a theatre for both the community and in the series; the Market Place/Town Hall city center, bustling and breathtakingly familiar when seen IRL (in real life); and the scenic bridge where the DCI Barnabys drove to and from crime scenes. Various watering/feedbag holes and episodes filmed in other nearby burgs include:
White Hart Hotel (Small Mercies) The mullet of the region’s several 16th century stagecoach inns, the White Hart is authentic Tudor in front. But the business end offers modern amenities, including upscale rooms with flatscreen TVs and a chi-chi restaurant serving gourmet food and an impressive list of libations, including wines.
Fleur de Lys (Master Class, Ballad of Midsomer County). Now a bed & breakfast, it was also constructed in the 1500s and is great for the budget-minded, featuring updated accommodations and a full English breakfast.
George Hotel (Maid in Splendour, House in the Woods, others) Built in 1495, it is one of the oldest coaching inns in the country. It is located across the street from the beautiful, historical Dorchester Abbey (Master Class) which has a history that dates back to 635 AD although the current structure was completed between the 12th and 14th centuries (things took a lot longer back then). With solid oak accents, patterned carpeting and curtains, cozy fireplace and prints of various village scenes, the George bar is straight out of Midsomer. If you happen to be there on the right night, you’ll rub elbows with regulars and the occasional actor or extra who’s willing to share an anecdote about filming.
Bull Inn (The Christmas Haunting) With a thatched roof and beamed ceilings, this smallish but mighty authentic circa 1684 pub takes none of its namesake when it comes to getting a quick bite or a brew. It also welcomes dogs and children.
Six Bells (Bad Tidings, Breaking the Chain, many others). One of the most popular spots for filming – the nearby Green is also the scene of many Midsomer festivals and sports contests. This quintessentially Midsomer pub is also authentically British, from its circa 1600s thatched roof to its authentic English menu, which also includes locally-sourced craft beers on tap.
Swan Hotel (Vixen’s Run) This Georgian-style B&B offers a funky but stylish bar with an extensive ale and wine list.
Black Horse (Death in the Slow Lane) The nooks and crannies of this smallish pub are ideal for plotting story twists. Along with reasonably-priced wine and brews and the classic G&T, the menu serves up French-accented fare.
Spread Eagle Hotel (Midsomer Life, others) The Spread Eagle has hosted notables such as King Charles II and writer Evelyn Waugh. The book-filled bar provides comfy armchairs so you can pretend to be reading while eavesdropping on suspects.
Dozens of other non-Midsomer related pubs in area are also worth a stop. For example, the Birdcage Inn, also in Thame dates to 1300 and boasts a beer garden, multitudinous happy hour drink/appetizer specials and steaks cooked tableside.
Jane also showed me a hidden, wooden dale by the river near her home that involved nighttime filming of fleeing suspects and the discovery of a body. But I’ll stick to stopping by the George for a pint and chat about the latest murder with John Barnaby’s newest, cute sidekick, DS Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix).
A bit further afield are the Brakspear pubs which also appeared in the series. Brakspear owns over 130 establishments in and around the UK. Choose from several options where the series is/was filmed. Other tours include walking/driving on your own or through numerous guided tour operators.