This could be Britain’s best value hotel room – here’s why
“Ooo, you’re going to be so pleased.” With 12 years of marriage and 11 of parenthood under my belt, I should have known the dangers of launching a conversation that way. “I’ve booked us a night in Wiltshire to break up the journey from Norfolk to the Welsh cottage.”
“How wonderful,” said the husband. “That’s a route roughly as direct as driving to Paris via Reykjavik.”
“WALES?!” said the kids (there is no TV in the aforementioned cottage, plus very eccentric Wi-Fi). Even the dog – currently my only reliable ally – looked downcast when told the stopover was not pet-friendly and would require him to be boarded elsewhere for the night.
Well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, as Abraham Lincoln said. I packed up the car with trepidation and set the satnav for Zeals, a small village just beyond the uber-trendy triumvirate of Bruton/Mells/Frome and off the A303, “which would make it a truly excellent stopover if we were going to Cornwall,” said the husband.
It is also home to the Bell and Crown – a country boozer that gained new owners and a new look during the pandemic, and has just opened six bedrooms. The owners, siblings Ethan and Jordan Davids, are in their early 20s but grew up in their parents’ Wiltshire pub, so knew their stuff before joining forces with school friend Tommy Tullis and starting Chickpea, a small collection of pubs with rooms in the South West. First impressions were positive.
The pub is on the main street, opposite a dilapidated garage. At the back, a tent hung with festoon lights covers a cosy outdoor dining area and faces a glorious sweep of field. The owners’ sourdough pizza truck is parked beside it.
The atmosphere in the wood panelled dining room is charmingCredit: Ed Schofield/Ed Schofield
Inside, garlands of dried flowers hang over a bar where local draught beers mollified the husband.
The floors are stone, candles drip wax onto barrel tables against walls the colour of cooking apples. Staff greeted the children with warm, gooey homemade cookies. A promising cocktail menu and plenty of warm, dark nooks in which to savour them began to warm my cockles too.
Rooms have their own separate entrance, so you can skirt the bar.
And they are lovely. Walls are painted in subtle, restful neutrals. Carpets are cool sisal.
Each room has an antique French nursing chair and a Berber rug (sourced by Ethan from Morocco). The curtains, window-seat covers and marbled paper lampshades have been handmade by local designers. And while bathrooms are small (none can fit tubs) they are stocked with my favourite Land&Water toiletries.
Best of all, rooms all start at GBP100 per night. You won’t find a more generously, elegantly designed room in Britain at this price. I’ll put money on it.
Room four is the largest and houses a proper single bed in addition to the king-sized one. But if your children are a little older, take rooms five and six together. While not interconnecting, they are the only rooms up on this top floor (granting extra privacy).
Our children would happily have spent 24 hours locked in room four, binge-eating biscuits and watching Netflix. Instead we dragged them out, because Zeals is not only perfect for breaking journeys (to Cornwall). It is also ideally situated for a weekend break in its own right. Two internationally renowned galleries – Hauser & Wirth and Messums Wiltshire – are a short drive away.
Both are free to explore, set within gorgeous grounds, and (crucially) have wonderful cafes, making them an ideal ‘my first modern art experience’ for families.
Back at the Bell we rewarded ourselves with that local beer and a fantastic negroni. In the panelled dining room, the menu craftily balances ambitious dishes (stone bass, nduja potatoes and fennel) against expertly executed crowdpleasers (they will do any dish, including cheeseburger and slaw, in smaller child-friendly portions).
The food is a mix of delicate, imaginative dishes and comforting pub grubCredit: Ed Schofield/Ed Schofield
The breakfast menu is just as creative – mini packs of cornflakes, shot glasses of fresh pomegranate, ginger and honey – while the short menu ranges from shakshuka to the full English. The staff are uniformly lovely, the atmosphere charming. Even the sustainability credentials are warming.
So take that Abraham Lincoln. You CAN please all of the people. Even the one who, the following morning, suffered an extra hour-and-a-half’s drive time to Wales.
A family of three can stay in Room 4 for GBP100 per night, including breakfast.
Bigger families can take two rooms, each available at that rate (bellandcrown.com)