‘Watch out for the cider.’ Such is the sage advice from our cabbie as we are arriving at a London train station bound for Somerset. ‘That scrumpy is lethal,’ he warns. ‘Randy farmers are also something to look out for…’ he continues, raising the stakes for this romantic weekend away. I gently elbow Mr Smith for looking sheepish at the mention of the virility of West Country gents.
As charming and diminutive as Wedmore is, the Swan, with its smartly painted white exterior, definitely claims status in the smarter part of this stoney village. This Somerset stay’s boutique-hotel makeover has attracted football teams, family gatherings and romantic couples – the well-heeled and the salt-of-the-earth. As perhaps you can tell, these weary travellers keen for a little weekend rest, have promptly, and very happily, been distracted by the inn’s buzzing bar. After a glug of anthropological observation, and a pint of Cheddar Ales’ Gorge Best Bitter, we grab our room keys and head up to the sanctuary of our suite.
‘Look, you can see halfway up the high street from here,’ Mr Smith informs me. No doubt if they knew, the good people of Wedmore would go about their business a little more easily knowing he is on lookout. I nose around, as though inspecting a new friend’s abode. Sweet treats, padded coathangers and full-size bottles of potions by Somerset apothecary Bramley… She’s the kind of lady who knows how live comfortably, yet with great panache. She’s literary, quirky, but damn she likes everything to be so, so comfortable. The spacious bathroom has me torn between a rain shower (inclement weather is of course a theme in Somerset) and a clawfoot bath (which I imagine in a Bramley bubble-bath state).
Luxury isn’t always defined by anything obvious or expensive – for us, as we hit the so, so comfortable sack, it’s just knowing that the kitchen stays open until almost noon the next morning. What sweeter thing can a holidaying hedonist hear? When we descend for breakfast, the coiffed Somerset ladies are already in for elevenses. The tempting confections atop the jade milk-glass cakestands challenge us to resist them. Having no fixed schedule, we make loose plans to return for them in the afternoon, where we’ll cosy up by the fire, calories in hand.
Strolling the streets and greeting the locals, we shamelessly plumb them for advice on essential activities. Proud Wedmorians speak of fierce skittles tournaments and cider. Husbands paint outrageous pictures of Wilkins ‘proper’ farmhouse cider, while wives look on, their grimacing faces not-so-subtly warning us against visits to its Mudgley source. However, keen for the full Somerset experience and the lure of it being ‘properly weird,’ we pay Roger Wilkins a visit and help ourselves. To reveal more details would be to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that it’s an iconic brewery frequented by rockstars of such renown their surnames are dispensed with.
Back at the Swan, where the decor is more geared at lounging and loitering than a brewery, I notice the upcoming pork and cider evenings to be held in the garden. With local butcher Jim Baker’s pigs just a few hundred yards away and Roger’s cider from the neighbouring town, you’d be lucky to hit four tractor miles in total for the meal. Local provenance is preferred, and amid promises of seasonal and organic ingredients, our virtue is assured as we tuck into delicious icy scoops of Mendip Moments’ Somerset Strawberries and Clotted Cream.
After hiking the quiet lanes lined with apple orchards, a hot bath is calling my name. Soaking in the bubbles by the window, it is my turn to command watch over the town’s main streets. Mr Smith innocently informs me he is decamping to the lobby to gather more local knowledge. Hang on, there is no lobby. Dramatic skies and leaky clouds come and go and eventually Mr Smith returns having emptied the Otter Bright Ale tap with the local Ferrari owners’ club.
Securing a table in the dining room requires a little forethought. Word sure must have leaked out about chef Tom Blake’s installment direct from the River Cottage Canteen: even on a wintry midweek the room is full. Dining in the bar is no sacrifice though, and more social. The kitchen mixes things up from time to time here and we’re here for curry night. A menu geared at carnivores, pescatarians and vegetarians, beckons us with mild, medium and hot-but-not-fiery concoctions. Charmed by talk of local otters from our first breakfast, we’ve become attached to a kitsch pair of the critters dispensing salt and pepper, and request that they grace our table for all meals.
Armed with all our intel the next day, we leave town for an afternoon in nearby Wells. England’s smallest city, notable for its impressive cathedral and bishop’s palace, it also hosts Vickers Close, a picturesque street that claims status as the oldest purely residential street in all of Europe. Glastonbury too is only 10 miles away too, so we fantasise about staying here for the next festival.
As fans of the camaraderie of country pubs, but suckers for the comfort of an intimate boutique hotel, it suited us just right to stay at the Swan to while away a few days in Somerset. Especially as it is even possible to journey here by train from London Paddington (and then take another train, and then a bus – but that’s another tale). And did we mention they do a great cider?