‘The vales are meadows, the declivities orchards, and the eminences sheep walks.’
- Edward Mogg, Paterson’s Roads; Being an Entirely Original and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales, with Part of the Roads of Scotland (1832), p. 80.
Bruton, a quaint collection of rambling buildings cast over the river Brue, is well established as ‘a hidden gem’ by the time I come to write this. In 2014 Damian Whitworth at The Times wrote an article titled ‘Bruton? It’s like Notting Hill in the early days’ that has spawned a series of copycat articles which point Westwards for calm, chic staycation inspiration.
Every year, I ‘surprise’ my boyfriend by taking him on a spontaneous overnight birthday trip. Given that 2019 was the start year of my journey into mindfulness, consuming less, and low impact living, I wanted to journey elsewhere in the UK and taking him back to the county in which I grew up seemed like a ‘two birds, one stone’ kind of deal.
Early on the 2nd of December we set out from Cambridge. GWR’s first class experience was pleasant enough. But surprisingly, given its consistently high rating amongst first class train experiences in England, was far from seamless. The staff were tired, reserved seats were clustered together in an empty carriage, and the lounge and carriage had a dowdy, dusty feel to them. My advice? Save your pennies and travel economy, where you can just as well wonder at the glorious scenery outside.
Upon arrival, it was a cool, bright day. We were grateful to be off of the train, to stretch our legs, and begin our adventure.
We began by jumping in a taxi to take us the ten-minute journey to Somerset’s most lauded latest addition, The Newt in Somerset. The luxury hotel features all the accoutrements of high end travel that a staycationer could want including an elegant spa and a fine dining restaurant, The Botanical Rooms, which promises ‘a menu sourced from the Estate and the very best specialities from the South West.’
This agricultural project come luxury break-away experience is truly visionary. Built by Koos and Karen Bekker, The Newt follows the framework of their South African luxury venture Babylonstoren. Crucial to understanding the value of these enterprises is an acknowledgement of their attention to the history of the properties and the inclusion of the wealth of the local, natural area into all aspects of the organisation. For The Newt, its sustainable profile is not merely an aspect of its marketing materials, it’s at the core of what the project is trying to achieve: symbiosis with the local area and its reserves.
We spent the day meandering through the gardens, grabbing a bite to eat at the café, and being toured around the cider factory. This last was a bit of a treat as we were the only visitors to sign up for the free tour. Our expert guide gave us a fantastic tour of the cider works as well as a wonderful history of Hadspen House and The Newt project. It was one of the most unforgettable tours we have ever had as a result of the comfortable professionalism of our tour leader. Afterwards we wandered around their deli, perusing the abundance of locally sourced (much of it from the estate itself) produce. And so, if you can’t make a weekend of your stay at The Newt, an afternoon will do. They’re currently working on expanding the offerings for day visitors and aim to open a museum about the property and the area in coming months.
We chose to stay in The Space at Caro where Natalie Jones, the founder of Caro Somerset, has created a honey hole of calm. The tasteful, elegant style with which she directs her lifestyle brand hums throughout this little nook. You can book through AirBnb, but you might as well go direct to Natalie through her website. She was the consummate hostess: friendly and helpful where needed, but also respectful of our privacy. When booking The Space, you receive breakfast vouchers to spend At the Chapel. The glorious light, filtering through the enormous church window was the perfect way to wake up and begin our little expedition around Somerset.
If you are looking for something roomier, book the six bedroom farmhouse Durslade Farmhouse, which is part of the Hauser & Worth Somerset group. The home features a kitchen but you can also have your stay catered for by the next-door Roth Bar & Grill, who will deliver food parcels direct to your table. The walls of the property are adorned with Hauser & Wirth gallery art and features two installations by artists Guillermo Kuitca and Pipilotti Rist whose works form an integral part of the over-brimming yet intentional interior design. Durslade Farmhouse can be booked as a whole for single nights and upwards.
Finally, though it is still Bambi-legged, Number 1 Bruton looks set to be a stonkingly good spot to put your feet up for a night or two, during which you will surely be lovingly treated at its new partner restaurant, Osip. The designs are lightly done, sensitively furnished and the atmosphere projected by Number 1’s website and social media presence is one of mature, inviting tranquillity.
We walked from The Newt to Bruton via Pitcombe. It was a stunning, rambling walk that down country lanes. The Newt gardeners who tailgated us out of the property to ask if we were lost were right: it was a very messy, muddy walk. But oh, how wonderful it was! Just over an hour, it includes a short walk up a hill on the other side of Pitcombe. But he undulating Somerset scenery was worth every sharp, deep breath of that slope!
There are countless country walks to be enjoyed in and around Bruton, many of which are listed in At the Chapel’s handy local guide here.
Another reason for our trip to Bruton was that it boasts an unwieldy selection of stylish eateries dedicated to sustainable working practices. Roth Bar and Grill was recommended to us by our taxi driver and has the added bonus of being a part of the Hauser & Wirth project. Their website promises a ‘focus on sustainability’ that sees them source locally, seasonally, and inventively.
Small is the mantra of the newly opened Osip, which is already providing the people of Bruton with an infinitely zen insta feed and has garnered a string of top ratings in its early reviews. By all accounts, the small seating area provides the dining experience of this farm-to-table with an intimate feel, getting you even ‘closer’ to the produce of a ‘small but perfectly formed group of local farmers, growers, hunters and gatherers.’ Osip follows a familiar format for sustainable restauranting but promises great things in its attention to detail and enthusiastic attitude.
Matt’s Kitchen is a funny sounding, funny looking place. But the premise: you eat in Matt’s front room from a limited menu, is fabulous. It’s as if your favourite Ma and Pa restaurant meets a friend of a friend’s supper club with the reliability of regular opening times. We were very sorry to miss this and will be back to test it out!
If you aren’t staying at The Newt’s fabulous hotel, take the time to take a day trip to the gardens where you can enjoy a spot of lunch at the The Garden Café. We ate a board of local cheeses and cured meats, which were finished off with pickled scraps of vegetable waste. Don’t be fooled by my frankness – the curiously lopsided courgettes were to die for and the preserves an absolute treat! We haven’t eaten something so delectable in many a moon.
If you’re on a budget, you will be hard pressed to find a better restaurant than At the Chapel. Because we were staying on a Monday evening this was the only option available to us for dinner, which was fortunate because we might otherwise have opted for something fancier and missed a truly delightful evening spent laughing over great wine and good food. Their mission to source locally gave them the sustainable credentials we were looking for, but the excellent, gently commanding service nailed the brief for us.
What kind of an art historian would I be if art didn’t perform a major role in my holiday-planning decision making? The sophisticated Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth has, since 2014, been at home in Bruton under the auspices of its side-venture Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Durslade Farm has been transformed into a highly functions arts space, around which the Piet Oudolf landscape gardens graduate and transform this quiet, cold corner of England into something spectacular.
Rumour has it that a new arts venture is set to open at the farm opposite The Newt. Bruton has already established itself as home to luxury living and fine art, could the performing arts follow? Might this cosy corner of Somerset be the future of fringe art?
Brainwave is the local charity shop, in which you will likely find some 90s gems and a handful of boxy blazers. For the honey hole of Somerset, head to Swan Vintage, where you can avail yourself of Zoe Ford’s phenomenal selection of preloved, secondhand, and true vintage finds. Bursting at the seams, you can be confident in finding just the thing you are looking for here.
For objects of use, peruse the ramshackle collection of Phillips & Skinner. Find inspiration for conscious, minimalist living at Caro and Fifty High Street. And if you are furnishing a home, Alchemy offers a literal warehouse of delicious antiques to lavish upon your design vision.
Though the ‘hidden’ credentials of Bruton are questionable at best, there is no doubt that it retains an otherworldly atmosphere of calm. Bruton is more than a stopover for tourists on their way to deepest Cornwall. It shimmers, an almost surreal oasis for beauty and the finer things in life, in the heart of England’s south. And here, there is only talk of things to come. Ebullient artsy people crowd the train platform, birds sing. The sun shines on this quiet corner of Somerset.