Why not make an excursion out of Bath with the family this weekend? Melissa Blease suggests you lure them out with the promise of a visit to a nice country pub – and then suggest a bracing walk to work up an appetite…
THE CASTLE INN: CASTLE COMBE
If Castle Combe isn’t the prettiest village in England, I’ll eat my whole collection of Beatrix Potter books. It’s so picture postcard perfect that you expect Mrs Tiggywinkle herself to come scuttling out of one of the dinky little rose-covered cottages and offer you a cup of tea. Indeed, the majority of tourists wander around the village murmuring “it’s like being on a film set” over and over again, because nobody can believe that real life England really can be this beautiful without the aid of arc lights, Hugh Grant and a Richard Curtis script.
While the Manor House Hotel may dominate the destination dining attention around here, the Castle Inn Hotel is most definitely no mere consolation prize. Within walls that date back to the 12th century, expect seductively plush furnishings, log fires, hearty but elegant grub and a very warm welcome to greet you after a spell waltzing around the village re-enacting scenes from the original Doctor Dolittle, Stardust, Poirot or War Horse (all of which were partly filmed here), depending on your personal inspirations and age.
The Castle Inn Hotel, Castle Combe,
Wiltshire SN14 7HN
Tel: 01249 783030
The Tollgate Inn, Holt
It’s a real shame that the Courts gardens – a glorious example of classic early 20th century water garden, arboretum and orchard (now impeccably maintained by the National Trust) at the heart of Holt – isn’t open during the winter. You could at least stroll around the walls, though, in an effort to earn reward for your, erm, efforts at the Tollgate Inn, a freehouse with origins that date back to the 16th century. This handsome hostelry features a stone-flagged bar and dining area, log fires, squidgy leather chairs, and a characterful first floor restaurant.
Owners Mark and Laura are passionate about local, sustainable sourcing, and such an ethos is writ large on menus that couldn’t fail to entice even the pickiest eaters. Little wonder, then, that the pub has earned an AA Dinner Award and a commendation from the Bath Good Food Awards and regularly garners acclaim from locals and regulars who bolt for Holt at every opportunity.
The Tollgate Inn, Ham Green, Holt,
Wiltshire BA14 6PX
Tel: 01225 782326
The Fox and Badger, Wellow
The village of Wellow lies just three miles south of Bath and just about nudges itself onto the southern edge of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But really, the utterly picturesque village and plush, rolling countryside that surrounds it doesn’t need an official title to justify itself as a perfect get-away-from-it-all oasis when cabin fever threatens to shatter domestic bliss.
At the heart of the village, the Fox and Badger is the kind of properly friendly country pub that serves to remind us all that real food, real ale and real prices haven’t been erased in the name of destination dining, resulting in winning the Best Country Pub award in past Bath Good Food Awards. While you’re perusing a menu of hearty, homecooked main courses that fluctuate around the £10 mark bookended by starters/puds for a fiver, rest assured you’re in very good hands: the F&B is a sister venture for the White Hart in Widcombe. The pub prides itself on being dog friendly too.
The Fox and Badger, Railway Lane,
Wellow, Bath BA2 8QG
Tel: 01225 832293
The Catherine Wheel at Marshfield
This Goucesterhsire village perched on a ridge on the edge of the Cotswolds boasts a history that dates back to the 11th century and features a very long high street, of cute cottages, townhouses and general stores that refuse to give way to the McColls invasion.
There are a couple of ancient pubs in the high street, where the Catherine Wheel can be found. So old is the village that what’s referred to by the locals as the ‘new’ bar at the back was built around 1634. Meanwhile, most of the eating and drinking takes place towards the front of the pub (a cosy bar and nicely proportioned dining room)which is largely 18th century in origin and refreshingly fuss-free.
The Catherine Wheel, 39 High Street, Marshfield,
Wiltshire SN14 8LR
Tel: 01225 892220
The Castle Inn at Bradford-on-Avon
The Castle Inn (a Flatcappers Freehouse) offers amazing views across Bradford-on-Avon’s rooftops and all the way over to the Westbury White Horse from the gardens and proper, locally-sourced pub grub from the kitchen. Take a stroll around the town by burning up some calories on those hills, taking in the sights, including the ancient Tithe Barn down by the canal and the simple Saxon chapel, then clamber back up the hill and reward yourself at the Castle.
Cosy up by the fire and chow down from menus that offer a quirky take on the traditional country pub vibe, from timeless, trendy-but-trad Brit classics all the way through to rollickingly good puds. By cleverly retaining the charm and character of a proper, traditional pub, the overall atmosphere of much-loved local hostelry hasn’t been sacrificed in the names of either tourism or the ‘gastro’ idiom.
The Castle Inn, 10 Mount Pleasant,
Bradford on Avon BA15 1SJ
Tel: 01225 865657
The Fox at Broughton Gifford
Is The Fox a restaurant in the country, or is it a country pub offering restaurant-standard food? Visitors are welcome to drop by for a drink at the bar or scoff a snack while lounging on one of the massive sofas, which technically does make it a pub. But were you to visit and not make the very most of the full-on foodie menus (and they most definitely are full-on foodie), you’d kinda miss the point.
So, make your own mind up about what The Fox is by debating the point while taking a stroll around the common before having a pint at the bar and settling down at a beautifully-dressed table where an array of upper-crust dishes made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients (including produce from the pub garden and piggery) will be presented for your delectation. The Michelin, Harden’s and Sawday’s inspectors have all undertaken the same research in the name of good taste, and bestowed The Fox with their illustrious sanctions.
The Fox, Broughton Gifford,
Nr. Melksham SN12 8PN
Tel: 01225 782949