Jessica Hope heads to Bath’s countryside, frequents an old mining watering hole before tucking into award-winning dishes on tour company Around and About Bath’s historic dining excursion
At the height of the Cold War, under threat of a nuclear attack, senior national figures would not have been moved to a reinforced bunker in London. Perhaps surprisingly, they would have been transported swiftly to the depths of the English countryside in picturesque, quiet Corsham. One hundred feet beneath the village’s chocolate-box cottages is Burlington Bunker, a top-secret underground city, built in the 1950s in the miles of tunnels that were once the beating centre of the quarry industry. Decommissioned in 1991, the site has long been a local secret – and is just one of the remarkable discoveries you will come across on Around and About Bath’s Historic Pubs, Mining and Dining tour.
Providing you with a different experience of the quintessential English pubs and drinks at local inns found in the countryside around Bath, tour company Around and About Bath gives guests a new perspective of the history of the local area. Plus, you will find yourself tucking into award-winning food and sampling some of the best regional tipples along the way.
I recently joined tour guide Jules on this excursion to the country. As with most of Jules’ tours, they are organised to surprise and delight guests along to the way, so you won’t necessarily know where you will be visiting on the next section of the tour. So to allow you to discover it for yourself, I won’t be naming any of the pubs we called upon on during our evening tour.
After being picked up from Bath city centre, we headed straight to Box Hill, which Jules tells us was once the largest working quarry in the UK. As we drove up Quarry Hill, you could imagine how this steep road would have been full of horses pulling carts of freshly hewn Bath stone. You can also see how this small village would have, in the late 19th century, been bustling as the home and work base for thousands of people.
The first inn on the tour had unusual beer labels covering the ceilings and quarry tools adorning the walls. This would have been the go-to watering hole for the hard-working quarrymen after a long day’s labour in the dark, sweltering tunnels under idyllic landscape surrounding the pub. While tasting some of the locals’ favourite brews, Jules tells us about how this small village played a significant part in the development of the railways around the world in the 19th century with Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s creation of Box Tunnel. This area later changed, however, when the quarry industry deteriorated in the 20th century and the demand for concrete, glass and steel took precedence over stone.
With our heads full of fascinating stories of the area, we headed to Corsham for dinner. As with all of Jules’ tours everything is covered in the price, so there’s no need to worry about additional costs. And forget any negative experiences with food you may have had on previous guided tours. There are no soggy sandwiches here, that’s for sure. We ventured to a historic two AA rosette inn which has made a name for itself on the food scene. We tucked into dishes such as a delicate cod curry with spiced lentils, pickled sultanas, masala sauce and a crispy onion bhaji; cauliflower arancini with cheese crisps and romanesco broccoli; and carrot cake enclosed by a sweet white chocolate dome, burnt caramel sauce and silky ice cream. And while we admired the high ceilings and majestic coat of arms above the grand fireplace, Jules revealed how this inn was once an impressive country house in the 15th century, before it was taken over by a prominent local family in the 18th century and was converted into an inn.
After taking in the sights of Corsham, we grabbed a nightcap at one final pub. With vintage trinkets and faded photographs hanging on the walls, well-loved leather chairs and even a small shrine to the characters of BBC One’s Poldark (which was partly filmed in Corsham), you can see why this cosy pub was buzzing with friends catching up, former Bath Rugby players, and many locals on a weekday evening.
We may not have access to the secret bunker below Bath’s neighbouring countryside, but there are plenty of surprises to discover about the villages on this tour, courtesy of Jules’ engaging storytelling. Small they may be, but a lively history and excellent food and drink are things these villages can surely can boast about.
The Historic Pubs, Mining and Dining tour is from £175. Around and About Bath is offering readers a special discount code for this tour. Simply enter ‘BathMag’ in the promotion code box when booking to reveal the offer; aroundandaboutbath.com