Step back in time, a century or so ago, and this green and pleasant land of ours was blessed with inns and hostelries to welcome weary travellers. But 50 years ago the domestic market paled and could not compete with the lure of a foreign tan and exotic sights. Now, though, home-grown hospitality has come back into its glorious own.
London may be the coolest city on the planet but show me a village that doesn’t boast a chic gastropub with rooms, or a market town with a boutique hotel at its hub. The real gems are instantly recognisable, most likely family-run, with charming hosts. And you sense every detail is considered, whether it’s immaculate (expensive) bed linen, fresh posies artfully placed or a jar of handmade cookies in the room.
One such gem is the boutique hotel Tudor Farmhouse, on the high street of Clearwell in Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean, into which owners Colin Fell and wife Hari have poured heart and soul (plus buckets of money). There are plenty of others – and while these sweet weekend breaks are hardly bargains, they are tremendous value for money and we should celebrate the best of Great British hospitality.
The Old Coastguard
The pretty village of Mousehole in Cornwall is home to The Old Coastguard, a family-run hotel with mesmerising sea views
After a fire in June 2019, The Old Coastguard in the pretty village of Mousehole in Cornwall had to close for renovation. It was due to reopen in March this year. But this uber-friendly, family-run hotel doesn’t need a sob story to lure back its many loyal guests. Leave that to its wonderful situation and mesmerising sea views from all of its 14 super-comfy rooms, its excellent, sleep-inducing beds and consistently great local fare. Book early for fresh-out-of-the-water hake and scallops, and other top-quality Cornish produce. All this plus an award-winning wine list, fabulous cocktails, charming staff, easy-breezy service and a lovely, laid-back ambience. It’s not just the locals who can’t wait to get back here.
Dinner, B&B from £205, oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk.
Stoulgrove Country House
Sue Antrum is a natural hostess and welcomes guests with tea and a warmed Welsh cake to her Monmouthshire bed and breakfast. Luxurious without being grand, Stoulgrove is an impressive remodelled Georgian property tucked away beyond electric gates in Woodcroft village, near Chepstow. Three large rooms include a top-floor suite with separate lounge, all with swish Sanderson fabrics and Farrow & Ball paints. The gardens have great views, there are seats and terraces for when it’s hot outside, and a games room with table football, pool and darts board for when it’s not.
B&B from £115 per night, stoulgrovebandb.com.
Dining is at the heart of Ynyshir – but don’t be fooled by the traditional appearance of this Victorian manor house, hidden away in Powys in rural north Wales. Head chef and owner Gareth Ward is all about invention, bringing a Japanese twist and cutting-edge approach to his cuisine, which includes a staggering 20-course menu. With vinyl records playing, there is a definite rock ’n’ roll vibe in the dining room, but the bucolic location hasn’t been forgotten. Set in 11 glorious acres, the rooms – some of which are in the grounds amid towering eucalyptus trees – capture the essence of the setting with floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-burning stoves and slate features. With five AA Rosettes and one Michelin star under its belt, you could come here simply for the food, but it offers so much more.
Dinner B&B from £300, ynyshir.co.uk.
The Cookie Jar
The plushest room at The Cookie Jar in Alnwick features a walk-in shower beneath a circular stained-glass window
Hotelier Debbie Cook is the proud owner of The Cookie Jar, a welcoming, 11-room boutique hotel in a former convent nestled between Alnwick Castle and the Northumberland market town’s Bailiffgate Museum.
The Mother Superior category of plushest rooms includes the spacious former chapel, which has a free-standing metal bathtub and walk-in shower beneath its circular stained-glass window.
Popular with walkers and shooting parties, this dapper yet pleasantly down-to-earth hotel has a gun room and kennels. Dogs are welcome in the cosy guest rooms, which are stocked with ground coffee and a jar of moreish cookies.
Breakfast in the bistro overlooking the terraced garden features a tempting spread of granola, pastries and freshly baked bread, plus the option of hot food, such as locally sourced Craster kippers.
B&B from £165 a night, cookiejaralnwick.com.
The Duncombe Arms
This old pub in Ellastone, on the edge of the Peak District National Park in Staffordshire, has been luring visitors since 1850. But these days, with ten characterful bedrooms up for grabs, the quintessential English inn offers more than just a pint and a smile. While the pub is all flagstone floors, cosy nooks and leather banquettes, guest rooms are light, airy and full of charming details. Cheerful wallpaper from Colefax & Fowler is mix-matched with original art that you can buy, and the French-style bathrooms are stocked with luxurious Bamford products. Head chef Jake Boyce’s menu is bursting with crowd-pleasers – succulent Derbyshire lamb and a magnificent praline soufflé are just two highlights.
B&B from £160 for a king-size double, duncombearms.co.uk.
Tudor Farmhouse in Gloucestershire is an award-winning 20-room boutique hotel that draws a repeat crowd
Husband-and-wife team Colin and Hari Fell have run this award-winning 20-room boutique hotel on the high street of Clearwell in Gloucestershire for 17 years. Their cosy two-rosette restaurant draws a repeat crowd with a creative locally sourced menu from beef and brill to bean croquette.
The Loft, a separate outdoor cabin, is magazine-chic with Monsoon shower, roll-top bath and a hefty guest guide to devour.
As ever, it’s the details that make the place shine, such as a reception pleasingly adorned with maps and rugs piled up for guest picnics – do order a hamper for a riverside champagne lunch!
Dinner B&B from £159, tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk.
Time warp: Guests at Knockinaam Lodge in Dumfries and Galloway can stay in the Churchill Suite where the former PM fine-tuned the D-Day plans
On the remote road to Knockinaam Lodge in Dumfries and Galloway, you wonder who would open a hotel in such a place. But where the mainland stops abruptly at the Irish Sea, a wonderfully time-warped country house suddenly appears. It looks on to a private shingle beach and secluded cove for steel-yourself dips and sunset strolls.
Inside, the period lodge feels like Downton Abbey-on-Sea, while the loveliest of the ten rooms come with sleigh beds and roll-top baths. Alternatively, opt for the Churchill Suite, where the former PM fine-tuned the D-Day plans.
Dinner, B&B from £330 a night, knockinaamlodge.com.
The Fife Arms
Artful: The hotel bar at the Fife Arms in Braemar features an arching display of antlers and bottles of malt whiskies
This artfully designed hotel at Braemar in the Cairngorms National Park is owned by globally renowned art dealers and philanthropists Iwan and Manuela Wirth.
The recently restored Victorian property showcases thousands of artworks in its 46 bedrooms and public spaces. Among bespoke contemporary works, the collection includes a portrait by Lucian Freud and a Pablo Picasso musketeer.
Scottish game, such as Highland venison, is a speciality in the dining room, and while spa treatments are one way to unwind after walking, so too is taking a seat in The Highland Stag, the hotel bar in which taxidermy, an arching display of antlers and bottles of malt whiskies convey the skills of local artisans.
B&B £340 a night, thefifearms.com.
A foodie’s fantasy of a place a (complimentary) bike ride away from Stratford-on-Avon, Baraset Barn in Warwickshire has a setting every bit as impressive as its food. The barn restaurant comes with flagged floors, impossibly high vaulted beamed roof and exposed-brick walls, but has been done out with modern fittings, including statement ceiling lights and fabric chairs. The 16 rooms in a modern ‘barn’ just across a stylish courtyard aren’t bad either: spacious affairs with bursts of colour and floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to a meadow. Add to the mix incredibly attentive staff, a cool decked area for summer meals, plus truly amazing value, and you have the recipe for the perfect stay.
B&B from £120, barasetbarn.co.uk.
The Bushmill’s Inn in County Antrim dates from the 17th Century and has the higgledy-piggledy rooms, nooks and crannies to prove it
There’s character coupled with Irish charm at The Bushmill’s Inn in County Antrim, which dates from the 17th Century and has the higgledy-piggledy rooms, nooks and crannies to prove it (though with 41 bright, modern bedrooms). Refuel in a wooden booth beneath the timbered roof after exploring the Giant’s Causeway and other nearby attractions including Game Of Thrones filming locations and the Carrick- a-Red Rope Bridge. And one of the world’s oldest whiskey distilleries gives tours just down the road.
B&B from £120, bushmillsinn.com.
A good pub is one of the great joys of life; a good pub with rooms – where you can tuck into both the menu and the wine list, safe in the knowledge that your bed is just a few steps away – is the ultimate weekend treat. The views from the two-acre garden at the Griffin Inn in Fletching, East Sussex, are spectacular. Owned by the Pullan family for more than 40 years, there are 13 elegant bedrooms housed in the pub and two adjoining buildings, all in pretty, pastel hues, some with four-posters. In summer, feast on wood-roasted paellas and pizzas from the outdoor oven, and truly mouth-watering puds.
B&B from £100, thegriffininn.co.uk.
Eclectic: Pictured is one of the panelled bedrooms at The Bell in East Sussex, a quirky inn with 700 years of success
Hungry travellers have been visiting this quirky venue in Ticehurst, East Sussex, since 1296, and the wooden floor, exposed brick and heavy beams in the bar are pleasingly free of any Farrow & Ball-style makeover. There’s nothing old-fashioned about the food, however, with a locally sourced menu encompassing everything from pub classics to Asian dishes. The seven bedrooms feature an eclectic mix of books, antiques and rich linens, or book a garden lodge with a private firepit.
B&B from £95 a night, thebellinticehurst.com.
The Ceilidh Place
The Highlands doesn’t usually stir up images of blockbuster ocean views and imagination-haunting beaches. But Ullapool’s The Ceilidh Place has all that and more on its doorstep.
The family-run hotel, with sparkling views across Loch Broom and the heather-strewn hills of Ross and Cromarty, has an art-filled lounge and a community-run bookshop. Rustic and retro rooms all come with hand-picked libraries with no TVs to distract you.
Foodies will be in their element too. The restaurant makes the best of the fishing fleet anchored out front, with a menu crammed with langoustines, mussels and crab. The hotel also has a soundtrack with the clue in its name: grab a pint, then dance your socks off to a local folk band.
B&B from £150, theceilidhplace.com.
Strand House is located near stunning Portstewart Strand beach in the Northern Irish coastal town of Portstewart
The Northern Irish coastal town of Portstewart is famous for its Atlantic-blasted golf courses and stunning Portstewart Strand beach, but it is also famous for its breakfasts.
The stylish boutique B&B featuring five beach-chic rooms is run by Tom and Ernestine McKeever, who deserve their armful of awards for those breakfasts alone: thick slices of salty bacon and smoked salmon balanced on butter-smothered bread freshly baked by Ernestine herself.
B&B from £130 per night, strandguesthouse.com.
East End Arms
The delightful East End Arms, tucked away in a hamlet just outside Lymington, Hampshire, is owned by John Isley – former bassist of rock band Dire Straits – who has wisely maintained the rustic bar while creating two cosy dining rooms. Food is spectacular and includes Lymington crab and saddle of venison. The Inn’s five rooms are chic in shades of cream and grey, with sumptuous beds.
B&B from £125, sawdays.co.uk.
Wash House Studio
Cute: Wash House Studio in Orford offers a self-contained studio for two and is a great base for exploring
In the Suffolk village of Orford, breakfast at the Wash House Studio is a hamper stuffed with home-made jams, local apple juice and fresh bread and pastries from the nearby award-winning Pump Street Bakery.
The self-contained studio for two is a converted 19th Century coastguard’s wash house, and so pretty you’ll instantly wish you were an artist practising your watercolours in the wildflower meadow opposite.
From the studio you can take a stroll to Orford Castle ruins and then explore Orford Ness nature reserve.
Two nights £235, orfordwashhouse.co.uk.
The Oyster Smack Inn
Down the coast in Essex, Burnham on Crouch is one of the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of. Unless you’re a yachtie, in which case you’ll know all about the tiny waterfront town’s 100-plus listed Georgian buildings, thriving sailing scene and RSPB-owned Wallasea Island wetlands.
At its heart is the Oyster Smack Inn, a historic 19th Century pub with rooms. The owner, chef Trevor Howell, serves local seafood and seasonal farm produce in the packed-with-locals restaurant, which is run like clockwork by friendly, super-organised manager Dasha Dydko.
B&B from £70, theoystersmackinn.co.uk
A smart, red-brick Georgian building in a commanding position in Penzance – mere steps from the seafront – Chapel House has palm trees, ‘Cornish exotics’ in the garden and a lovely sea-facing terrace. Inside, the six-bedroom hotel blends style with elegant simplicity. Large, airy rooms take full advantage of the stunning light the area is famous for, while the trad-meets-mid-century furniture is utterly chic. Sumptuous guest rooms have sea views, oak beds, vast baths and/or waterfall showers.
Across the courtyard, two Scandi-esque ‘super-suites’ have kitchenettes and state-of-the-art wetrooms. Owner Susan Stuart has poured her passion into this place and serves scrumptious meals of local produce at communal tables. Later, graze on cake after a dip in the hot tub overlooking the harbour and shimmering Mount’s Bay.
B&B from £150, chapelhousepz.co.uk.
Sheer indulgence: Dunstane Houses, located outside Edinburgh city centre, has 15 rooms with walk-in showers and copper baths
Here, morning porridge comes laden with heather honey and cream, or served the traditional Scottish way, with water and salt. This Victorian mansion outside Edinburgh city centre is a five-star showcase for Scottishness. There are 70 different malt whiskies behind the wood-panelled bar as well as Scottish gins and craft beers.
The food is resolutely Scottish too, with haggis bon bons, shellfish and cheese, but it’s served in a relaxed, all-day setting. Sofas may be covered in Orkney tweed but there’s nothing stuffy about this hotel; it’s a passion project, pure, simple and fun.
Orkney-born owners Shirley and Derek Mowat have even managed to source whisky-scented toiletries. In the 15 brilliantly comfortable rooms, from doubles to vast suites, tartan has its place but so does sheer indulgence, with walk-in showers and copper baths. All beds have Vispring mattresses on the basis that if they’re good enough for the Queen, they’re good enough for the Dunstane’s guests.
In 2018, the Mowats bought the equally grand house opposite, so now there are 35 rooms. Two weeks before the lockdown, Dunstane won the Best Hotel Experience in VisitScotland’s Thistle awards.
B&B from £157, thedunstane.com.
On the most beautiful and serene corner of Windermere, the Lakeside would be a winner from its setting alone. Once a 19th Century coaching inn with a wraparound conservatory, wide grass lawns lead straight to the water.
It doesn’t sell itself cheap, nor is it extortionate. Always privately owned, the Lakeside is comfortable with tradition but it has moved with the times by incorporating a spa and indoor swimming pool. There are bike racks and a rowing boat for guests; paddle boarders and wild swimmers have also joined the Lakeside regulars in recent years. Staff are just as loyal – many have notched up more than 30 years’ service.
Above all, it’s a welcoming place for couples and multi-generational families, as well as locals who use the hotel’s moorings to pop over by boat for Sunday lunch. The main restaurant is one of the area’s best, with tasting menus and chateaubriand, but there’s also another more casual restaurant and in summer, tables spill out on to the lawn, especially for afternoon tea.
The Lakeside & Haverthwaite steam railway is just outside the hotel, as is the pier for the Bowness steam ferry.
Of the 75 rooms and suites, ground-floor rooms have their own terraces with tables and chairs; there are family suites too. Some rooms have been adapted for people with mobility impairment and like everything at the Lakeside, it’s been subtly done to look effortless.
B&B from £245, lakesidehotel.co.uk.
The Bridge House
Vintage style: The Bridge House in Ross-on-Wye is a stylish getaway that feels like a private club. Pictured is the charming dining room
Guests can enjoy outstanding views over the sparkling River Wye from the B&B (stock image)
This B&B in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, feels more like a private club. The eight rooms are stylish, and some come with four-poster beds and free-standing baths. Owners Kathryn and Kevin Whyte are great hosts, too, with fuss-free, friendly service – they will organise anything from fishing to balloon rides for guests.
Help yourself to an aperitif from the honesty bar or enjoy the lovely gardens with outstanding views over the sparkling River Wye.
B&B from £105 a night, bridgehouserossonwye.co.uk.
- All prices per room, per night, unless otherwise stated.
Contributors: Angelina Villa-Clarke, Sarah Turner, Jane Knight, Wendy Gomersall, Jennifer Cox, Vicki Reeve, Stuart Forster, Annabelle Thorpe and Mike MacEacheran.