Tag Archives: Frome

A stay in SoCo

Somewhere in the northern wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset a hot new area is emerging, SoCo, or South of Cotswolds is, whisper it, beginning to outshine its chic northern neighbour…

The green arc around Bath’s eastern side, where the West Country ends and the Wolds begin has long been neglected by travellers who zip through heading south for Devon, north to the Cotswolds, or straight through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.

But not anymore. This lush green, properly rural corner of the country has had a noticeable influx of not-so-muddy boots hot-footing it out of the city and into this bucolic, arty no-mans-land.

The tiny towns of Bruton, Frome (which boasts swanky private members club and hotel Babington House on its doorstep) and Bradford on Avon, all have a historic grandness about them, while also remaining just the right side of quaint to be thriving, interesting towns to live in and not just visit.

A wave of galleries, hotels, foodie producers, restaurants and cultural outposts has been putting this hot spot on the map.

Hauser and Wirth Somerset


Most recent, and notable, is contemporary art space Hauser and Wirth (www.hauserwirthsomerset.com), on the edge of Bruton in Somerset, which is home to Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey. Drive out of the town and you’ll easily miss this farmhouse and its barns that have been converted into a world-class gallery. Outside, Subodh Gupta’s giant gleaming milking pail bucket, a Louise Bourgeois spider and the gently swaying Piet Oudolf-designed gardens (he of New York’s Highline fame) give away the fact that something altogether new is happening here.

Piet Oudolf meadow
Piet Oudolf meadow at Hauser and Wirth Somerset


It’s a cultural version of Daylesford in Gloucestershire, a daring and brave mix that includes a shop, four galleries, landscaped sculpture gardens for outdoor walks; and a truly fantastic restaurant and bar – the Roth Bar and Grill. The simple but brilliant, unpretentious food is a sort of Ottolenghi meets gastropub hybrid. The pulled pork and coleslaw ciabatta was lip-smackingly moreish; chicken with rosemary roast new potatoes kept the children happy; and the salad of butternut squash, kale and roasted tomato with spelt and goats cheese, that was meant to be the side dish, stole the show.

HW spider
A Louise Bourgeois spider looms over Hauser and Wirth in Bruton


The bar, meanwhile, is an oasis for cocktails, with a dizzying installation built out of local reclaimed materials by Dieter Roth’s son and grandson, Björn and Odder Roth. On Friday nights, locals take over – Reef drummer Dominic Greensmith and Goffey, now drummer for Babyshambles, are in charge of the music. Daisy Lowe has been known to DJ to a crowd that might include locals such as theatre director Cameron Mackintosh, fashion designers Pheobe Philo and Alice Temperley, film director Sam Taylor-Wood or property expert Kevin McCloud.


You can sleep here, too – Dursdale farmhouse, emblazoned with Martin Creed’s neon words “Everything is going to be alright” – can be rented by the week and sleeps 12.

At the Chapel in Bruton
At the Chapel in Bruton

Don’t miss Bruton itself either. This quiet town makes a big noise: stop for food, wine and a night at At The Chapel on the high street (www.atthechapel.co.uk). Owned by ex-Notting Hill restauranteur Catherine Butler, this bakery, wine bar, restaurant and micro hotel kick-started Bruton’s regeneration more than ten years ago. Stop for a morning cappuccino and you might spot Mariella Frostrup working on her laptop in a corner. Book in at Matt’s Kitchen, a supperclub in Matt’s house on the high street that operates three nights a week, or try Truffles French brasserie. There’s a natural, rustic florist, a rare-breed butcher, and organic grocers and a smattering of galleries and antiques shops – no wonder it’s been alikened to “Notting Hill back in the early days”.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

To the west of Bruton and south of Bristol, The Ethicurean perfectly sums up the mood of the area – it’s a very hip eatery housed in the ramshackle glasshouse of a walled garden, where almost all of the produce is grown. Here country meets cutting edge – they make their own vermouth to go in their Negronis (which come served with a rhubarb swizzle stick), and pickle vegetables to sustain the kitchen the lean winter months. Bohemian, cool, and yet very low-key, it captures the confidence of the region – there can be very few parts of the country where you could open such a venture and succeed financially, to such acclaim. Inside there’s a mixture of yummy mummies, Bristolian hipsters, older artistic types and a few welly-booted walkers. We polished off a sticky toffee apple pudding washed down by a pint of the local Gorge Best beer before heading on to Frome.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

Nearby Frome is a thriving indy town, packed with quirky boutiques, arty spaces and a bit of new age dream catcher thrown in for good measure (well we are a stone’s throw from Stonehenge and Glastonbury after all). The Archangel makes a great pit-stop, and if you want to swoon about in luxury, nowhere does it better than Babington House – the original country outpost of private members club Soho House and the brand’s first hotel.

A little further north in Bradford on Avon there’s a great mixture of shops, galleries and places to run about. The kids will love the country park; we played pooh sticks on the footbridge over the river, and the wandered up to Fat Fowl – a great all-day bistro with jazz on a Sunday and an upstairs play area to occupy the kids.

Old Manor

Just outside the town is the Moonraker (doubles from £135 B&B, www.moonrakerhotel.com), a laidback manor house that feels more like a friend’s rambling house party than a hotel, with higgledy rooms and a restaurant that’s headed up by Matthew Briddon who champions a home-grown farmhouse approach to fine-dining. The pea guacamole with Bath cheese and pancetta served with parsnip crisps and home-made pork scratchings made from the hotel’s own pigs set the tone for a delicious evening followed by the best night’s sleep. Rooms are relaxed and homely and furnished with antique furniture, home-made flapjacks, and local scented candles from Bradford-on-Avon. “When we came here a couple of years ago it was a real gamble,” says owner Tudor Hopkins. “But in that time we’ve seen it change so much, things are just exploding and there’s a real buzz about the area – and we’re getting busier and busier.”

Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker's walled garden
Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker’s walled garden

For now, thanks to it’s unique location off the beaten tracks of the Cotswolds to the north and the West Country to the south and west, SoCo has managed to retain an authentic, cool vibe, unaffected by tourist coaches and corporate chains. And that’s just the way the locals – and the cognoscenti who do visit – like it.


This article appeared in METRO on 13 April 2015


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Local is the new Black

Forget Black Friday and panic internet shopping, instead find an unusual, creative gift from an independent boutique on a traditional high street

Contrary to popular belief, some small towns and local shops are thriving and are a joy to visit – so make a weekend of your festive shopping with a stay at one of these indie towns

Frome, Somerset

This small, Somerset town is home to a creative crowd – as reflected by the incredible collection of independent shops clustered around Catherine Hill and the area known as St Catherine’s, a cobbled hill or narrow lanes and quaint small stone buildings.

Shop at: Home bodies will love Elizabeth Lee Interiors for stylish new and vintage gifts; Owl is an arty mix of soft furnishings, prints, art and ceramics; and Sister’s Guild has gorgeous homeware, toys and clothes for children. Pilgrimage sells worldly lanterns, blankets and upcycled or Fairtrade gifts with an interiors-spin. Crafty types would appreciate anything from Marmalade Yarns or Millie Moon, a haberdashery and sewing school with lovely fabric, ribbons and buttons that’s a real trove to rummage through. You’ll find beauty products, handmade soaps and candles at Herbs on the Hill; while vintage and antiques fans are well served by Donna May, The Dandy Lion and The Life of Riley.

Re-fuel at: Once you’ve made it to the top of St Catherine’s, you’ll be rewarded by Paccamama, a small café with an Italian vibe, and Crockers, a coffee house-meets-art gallery; at the bottom of the hill Garden Café combines a deli (good for foodie gifts), with a café and wine bar. The Archangel pub is a cosy place for a longer lunch.

Stay at: The Talbot Inn (www.talbotinn.com) in nearby Mells is a cosy gastropub with rustic-yet-stylish rooms from £95 B&B. What’s more, they’re hosting their own Christmas market on Saturday 13 December.



Helmsley, North Yorkshire

This pretty market town in the heart of the North York Moors and a mecca for foodies and walkers alike, with an abundance of cafes and proper pubs – but the shops are a fantastic draw, too.

Shop at: Get into the country vibe at Carter’s Countrywear, which has everything from Dubarry wellies and Yorkshire tweeds to cheeky country animal cufflinks, leather hip flasks, and homeware too. Find walking and country books and gifts at Claridges. Duncombe Park shop sells pretty gardening accessories and objects alongside home gifts and jewellery.

Castle stores will cater for the knit-wit in your life with wools and needles, patterns and books; magpies will love something sparkly from Libby Butler Jeweller’s or from Nice Things and Sienna, which are both Aladdin’s caves or jewellery, candles, toys and gifts.

Gastronomes can be kept happy with a treat from Helmsley Wines, Hunters of Helmsley where more then 70% of the produce is sourced from Yorkshire, Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop (fab for stocking fillers), Auntie Anne’s Bakery – famous for its Yorkshire Curd Tart – or the town’s newest shop, Helmsley Brewing Company.

Lastly, creatives will love Look Gallery and Saltbox Gallery, which has gorgeous local prints, ceramics, jewellery and art that support’s the area’s artists.

Refuel at: Scott’s of Helmsley does really good, old-fashioned fish and chips at their stylish restaurant on Bridge Street; run by local farmers George and Ann Hawkins, The Beck Tearoom is a great place to warm up with a toasted tea cake or a steak and ale pie.

Stay at: The Black Swan hotel (doubles from £135 B&B, www.blackswan-helmsley.co.uk) in the heart of the town, has its own outdoor ice rink for Christmas this year, and roaring fires inside to warm you up.
www.visithelmsley.co.uk  www.visitryedale.co.uk


Lavenham, Suffolk

This stunning medieval village in Suffolk – all half-timbered buildings, crooked cottages and a gaggle of lanes centred around a market square – has an almost Dickensian feel about it, and is the perfect setting for a Christmas shopping trip.

Shop at: As a former wool town, it’s no surprise to discover the Wool Room, which sells knitted clothes and accessories, jewellery and vintage bags, but today you’ll find many more artists that wool merchants here. And it shows – there are a handful of great galleries selling paintings and prints, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery, that would all make unique gifts, from the Lionhouse and Wildlife galleries, to Lavenham Contemporary and Kate Denton Sculpture.

Merchants Row is a home to a collection of independent shops and studios including a gift and toyshop, specialising in Steiff bears, and a few antiques, interiors and furniture shops.

For more interior inspiration, try Flutterby’s, who upcycle and repaint furniture and home accessories, the Cuckoo Flower and Water Street Glass. Lastly the shop inside the Tourist information office stocks an array of locally crafted gifts including lovely prints by local artists and Christmassy hand-crafted cushions.

Refuel at: Combine your shopping, your hobby and your coffee at Café Knit or grab a tea at the National Trust-owned Guild Hall. For something more substantial, Lavenham has a clutch of great pubs including the newly re-opened Angel and the Greyhound, which opened last month. Ten Lavenham is a stylish restaurant and bar for evenings.

Stay at: A night at the romantic and historic Great House (doubles from £99, www.greathouse.co.uk) with its award-winning restaurant and just five boutique rooms.




West Kilbride, Ayrshire

Scotland’s only designated craft town, this handsome village on Scotland’s west coast, overlooking the Isle of Arran, is promoting artists and rural craft, with a series of open studios spread among the independent shops that line the high street.

Shop at: Once, more than half of this small town’s shops were boarded up. Now, thanks to a local creative enterprise, several shops have been converted into studios for artists and crafters, while a church has been turned into the Barony Centre, an exhibition space to showcase the regions skills and where you can try out your own at various workshops. Now every shop in West Kilbride is filled, from independent book shops, sweet shops and haberdasheries, to the arty spaces dotted around Main Street.

You’ll find contemporary silverware from award-winning Marion Kane, whose customers include Ewan McGregor, hand-dyed yarns at Old Aunt Maiden, bespoke knits from McHattie and painted glass by designer Debbie Halliday, who also works for major British brands

Pick up decorative accessories, gifts and cards from Chookiebirdie and bespoke cards and stationery from Michele Crouch of Tallulahbelle Cards. Further down Main Street, Berry Boxter has lots of homely gifts, too.

Refuel at: The Barony Bites café makes a cosy pitstop for a cake and coffee, while The Waterside, just outside of town and on the beach, is the hot destination for lunch. Nearby Braidwoods is worth a visit for a Michelin-starred supper.

Stay at: Seamill Hydro (doubles from £120 B&B, www.seamillhydro.co.uk) has beach views, a spa, and the restaurant is a local favourite.


xmas shops


This feature appeared in Metro newspaper on 8 December, to see the print version click here: http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2014/12/08/