The English Countryside: An Insider's Guide
By Miranda Plunkett
There is so much more to England than its capital and nearby tourist attractions. In roughly the same amount of time as it takes to reach Oxford or Windsor you can be in more rural countryside with a comparable list of historical and cultural sites. To the west of London on the Somerset border with Wiltshire lies Bruton, an attractive small market town, a two drive from London with a good view of Stonhenge en route. You will know when you are approaching the ancient site as traffic begins to slow down. And you see Druids.
On arrival in Bruton check in to At The Chapel. I first stopped here for a coffee and found much more. The restaurant is in the former chapel where the design would not be out of place in a Scandinavian city with its high ceilings and minimalist clean lines. The adjoining bakery feeds on all the senses and you will be hard-pressed not to pick up warm, seedy loaves and slices of bubbling pizza. The bedrooms are in keeping with the upstairs, Nordic and white.
Close by are two notable gallery and art centers. Messums, on the outskirts of Tisbury is a stunning space in a former medieval long barn where exhibits veer towards the eclectic and contemporary. The lighting and sheer length of the building make for awe-inspiring viewing. Its adjoining restaurant, The Mess serves excellent light meals or try The Beckford Arms for an up-scale lunch. It’s warren of rooms with roaring fires have a Dickensian feel and the menu defines the now common wave of gastro pubs. Heading back towards Bruton, the Hauser & Wirth project is the brainchild of an international family art business. A former farm converted into a series of galleries includes artists in residence. There is also an unusual modern landscaped garden designed by the Dutchman, Piet Oudolf.
For a more traditional outing visit the National Trust estate of Stourhead, a Palladian mansion and renowned gardens with Italian grotto and Greek temples reputedly one of the finest in the country and formerly owned by the Hoare family, founders of the only remaining private bank in England.
This is a perfect break for a couple of days. Warning: avoid leaving London in rush hour and traveling in weekend traffic. Train service is available from Waterloo station to Tisbury but cabs and Ubers are scarce in these parts. For those looking to extend their journey Bath is only 26 miles away.
Miranda runs a travel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com, and advises clients on all areas of travel, from whom to travel with to preparing outline itineraries.