Alastair Sawday is the founder of Sawday’s, a publishing house specialising in guides to characterful places to stay, from hotels to campsites. Here, he picks five favourites from his new book on the pubs of England and Wales. Many have long histories but all have been recently relaunched after extensive refurbishment.
The Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire
After a severe fire, the Beckford Arms rose phoenix-like and reopened last summer. The half-acre garden is ridiculously pretty (with hammocks in the trees and parasols on the terrace) but this Georgian house is sublime, an inn for all seasons. Inside there is a drawing room with facing sofas warmed by a roaring fire; a restaurant with a wall of glass that opens on to the terrace; a bar with parquet flooring for an excellent local pint. The eight bedrooms are small but perfectly formed: white walls, sisal matting, wonderful bathrooms and there are pretty new attic rooms that are perfect for a family. As for the food, there’s much to please, perhaps marrow fritters with lemon mayonnaise, local partridge with bread sauce, or chocolate bread-and-butter pudding. Doubles from £95 a night.
The Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market, Norfolk
Opened last October, the beautifully restored Gunton Arms overlooks 1,000 acres of lush historic parkland. Its owner, art dealer Ivor Braka, has lavished money on what was once a faded hotel and the results are impressive – who would not love the relaxed, country-house feel? Be seduced by warm red hues, wooden floors, a blazing log fire in the traditional bar (where dogs are welcome) and elegant lounges with pretty views of deer from every window. Chef Stuart Tattersall (formerly of Mark Hix’s London restaurants) champions locally sourced ingredients, so look forward to a mixed grill of estate fallow deer served with crab apple jelly or, in summer, Cromer crab. The charming eight bedrooms boast antiques, gorgeous fabrics, Persian rugs, classic wallcoverings, old prints and paintings, and marble-tiled bathrooms, some with deep tubs and walk-in showers. From £95.
The Fontmell, Fontmell Magna, Dorset
After a year-long refurbishment, the former Crown reopened as the Fontmell late last year, and has a stylish new feel. Colourful cushions and striped bar stools, striking red-and-blue walls, deep leather sofas and a table laden with magazines and games combine to create a cosy atmosphere. Quaff Keystone Brewery’s Mallyshag bitter and eat mussels and chips at scrubbed tables – or follow glass-enclosed corridors across babbling Collyer’s brook to the dining room. Old tables and a wall of shelves stacked with wine bottles and books create an easy mood, so settle down and enjoy chef Tom Shaw’s imaginative cooking. Treats include crab and armagnac soup, duck tagine and banana tarte tatin. Six fabulous bedrooms ooze comfort and warmth, with rich colours and fabrics, fine linen and goose down, swish bathrooms and quirky details. From £85.
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach, Gloucestershire
Northleach is a small former wool market town, tucked between pretty hills on a crossroads of the Roman Fosse Way. In the Wheatsheaf you are greeted by big smiles from a young staff and a pint of fresh local bitter will be in your hand before you know it. The worn flagstones in the well-stocked bar separate two well-proportioned dining areas, aglow with wooden floors, striking Asian rugs and armchairs in front of crackling fires. Expect a mix of traditional English fare of unpretentious goodness and impeccable provenance. Retire to rooms in contemporary-retro style, some newly refurbished and each one a treat, with huge beds, eclectic paintings, calm colours. There are swish bathrooms too, with roll-top baths or storm showers and dressing gowns to wrap up in. A brilliant little bolthole to return to after a day out exploring the High Wold countryside and villages. From £130.
The Bell at Ramsbury, Wiltshire
A 300-year-old former coaching inn, the Bell reopened after refurbishment and remodelling last year, offering beer from the Ramsbury estate brewery, local seasonal game, and fruit and vegetables from its own kitchen garden. Completing this pleasing picture are nine stunning bedrooms named after game birds and fish. Cosy lodgings for fishermen and for visitors exploring the Marlborough Downs, they come with soothing Farrow & Ball colours, rich fabrics, down duvets, big beds and vintage books. The bathrooms are delightful too, with heated slate floors, rain showers and lotions by White Company. Back downstairs, enjoy a pint in the smart, hop-adorned bar; bag the sofa in the library-style lounge or a table in the stylish restaurant. There’s also a wonderful little café at the back serving teas, coffee and cakes during the day. From £110.
For more on Sawday’s, see www.sawdays.co.uk