The Queen’s Arms: R&R on tap in Somerset


The Queen’s Arms: R&R on tap in Somerset

Our own Emilie Hall discovers that the good old British pub still has restorative powers even if you're on a boozeless babymoon

Emilie Hall

BY Emilie Hall3 March 2022

For the uninitiated, let me quickly explain the ‘babymoon’, a cringe-worthy name for quite a nice concept: it’s that last-hurrah holiday where parents-to-be savour the glamour of travelling light, sleeping in and dining after 8pm with other adults. Mr Smith and I kept meaning to plan one during my pregnancy but it slowly slipped down the list of priorities. So, with time and resources dwindling, we settled on a compromise between my idea (two weeks in the Seychelles) and his idea (not spending another bloody penny) and booked a last-minute weekend escape to the Queen’s Arms, a pub with rooms in the Country Life-cover worthy village of Corton Denham in Somerset.

I was elated at the promise of a weekend filled with lie-ins, long walks and crisp country air. Mr Smith was feeling a bit less buoyant, still grieving from a fatherly sacrifice he had made earlier in the week when he traded his beloved little black convertible for a sedate and sturdy four-door; this two-and-a-half-hour journey from London to Somerset was our maiden voyage in the Dadmobile. But, by the time we pull off the A303 and onto the tiny country lanes with Constable-esque views of fields, cows, sheep and cottages bathed in late autumn afternoon light, he’s looking visibly cheered. And, as we pass the 12th-century spire of the village church and park outside the sandy Georgian façade of the Queen’s Arms, I even catch a small smile.

Stepping inside, we’re enveloped in warmth. There are characterful old flagstone floors, glowing brass lanterns on the walls and seasonal wreaths hanging from the ceiling. The mismatched tables and chairs are sturdy, wooden and antique (exactly how they should be) and fragrant firewood is stacked by the hearth underneath an oversized oil portrait. It’s the kind of softly lit but brightly atmosphered haven where you can happily lose all sense of time, letting languid lunches roll into jolly suppers roll into closing-bell whiskies. Feeling instantly at home, we check in at the bar (smiling at the sign that reads ‘We love dogs and muddy boots’) and are shown to our room.

It’s pink. A super-king-size bed is adorned with patterned pink throw pillows, soft pink curtains frame views of the rolling Jurassic hills and, in the ensuite bathroom, there’s a series of framed botanical prints hanging above a double-ended bath tub that’s painted a pastel hue of… you guessed it. I was in heaven – I look to Mr Smith to see if any comments about the femininity of the decor might be forthcoming but he’s happily emptying the contents of the 100 Acres bath products into the tub and turning on the hot tap. I unpack, while making appreciative note of our room’s other assured touches: the enormous showerhead, surfeit of towels and hair straightener in the bathroom and, by the bed, a Roberts radio, TV remote with a Netflix button and a tea tray with bone china mugs.

With the scented soak having drained the remnants of Mr Smith’s stresses, we’re ready for a drink. It’s a beautiful October evening, so we take seats outside on the terrace in the dying light and feel our shoulders drop even further, the quiet of the countryside, the warmth of the service and the views of sheep silhouetted on rolling ridges all having their effect. As it grows dark, the smells of cooking and the flicker of candlelight coming from the open doors of the pub lure us inside.

We both choose pastas from the short and confident seasonal menu – a sage and squash tagliatelle for me and duck ragu with girolles mushrooms for him. Mine is hearty, buttery and with the kind of unctuous homemade pasta you’d be thrilled to find in a Roman trattoria let alone an English boozer (we find out later that chef Johnny previously worked at the River Café and that his Italian wife is his harshest critic – God bless her). To drink, Mr Smith has a glass of Babylonstoren Shiraz and finds it so delicious that he orders two more. Sated into a dozy silence, we slump into two club chairs in a corner and attempt to play Scrabble but the Babylonstoren has gone to his brain and the baby fatigue has gone to mine so we give up, the lure of the big fluffy bed right above us too much to resist.

In the morning, after a breakfast of flaky croissants, poached eggs wobbling atop thick slices of sourdough and sausages from a farm in the next door village, we set off for Stourhead, a National Trust property with famous landscaped gardens that’s just twenty minutes away. We’ve picked the perfect time of year to visit – the leaves of the Japanese maples are just starting to catch fire and the beeches are at their burnished yellow best. With each turn revealing a grotto, temple, folly or Palladian bridge, it’s a bit like strolling through one of those Italianate utopian landscape paintings except with fewer chiselled torsos in the foreground and more middle-aged couples in Merrells.

Next, we motor to the Newt, an enormous estate near Bruton that houses a haute hotel, acres of immaculate grounds and a formidable cyder (for that is how they spell it ‘round these parts) pressing operation. We balked a bit at the entrance fee – you need to pay for an annual membership to get in – but were rewarded with ornamental ponds, a fantastic farm shop and walled gardens growing gourds so obscenely proportioned that I had a fit of undignified giggles. I can also report that the cyder was delicious – no judgment please, the kindly man at the bar told me that children used to drink it for breakfast and a glass would ‘make the baby’s eyes sparkle’.

That night, tucked up in our pink boudoir after another standout supper (there hadn’t been a disappointing mouthful all weekend), we talk about bringing young Master Smith to Somerset to teach him about the important things in life: the healing power of a long walk, the restorative properties of farm-grown food and how to identify that rarest of gems, the proper country pub.

Fancy one more round? Sample all our stays in Somerset