I’ve slept in this bed before. Only 13 years ago I didn’t have to take a run and jump at it three times before successfully landing on top of it. The intervening years have done my agility no favours.
Once cosily under the duvet, however, it was worth the effort. A very high and very splendid carved Indian four-poster with a fan-shaped headboard and soaring, flaming torch-shaped pillars at each corner, it adds a touch of grandeur to an otherwise simple, uncluttered bedroom with pretty, shell pink walls, soft grey roman blinds and, in the morning, light streaming through windows on two sides. There are elegant wall lights, a couple of fringed velvet armchairs, an abstract painting above the bed that could easily pass for a Poliakoff, an antique long mirror and, in the gorgeous white-panelled bathroom with a free-standing tub, a marble-tiled floor and a vintage silver butler’s tray.
Apart from the bed, the room has changed beyond recognition since I last reviewed The Bath Arms in the winter of 2007. In those days, the bedroom teemed with exotic gold and silver wallpaper and inlaid mother-of-pearl furniture, also from India, while the bathroom was covered in handmade wallpaper depicting English eccentrics. It was quirky and fun and I loved it at the time, but that look has had its day.
My one beef in my review was that there was no bedside radio: admittedly a penchant of mine. It turned out that the wife of the Bath Arms’s owner at the time, Christoph Brooke, was Today programme presenter Sarah Montague, to whom I loved waking up in the morning. “Married to the Today programme and no radios in his hotel? It doesn’t seem right,” I moaned.
On reading my review, Christoph sent me a tiny portable radio with which to arm myself in hotels that similarly failed me. I often carry it with me, but I didn’t need it this time because the new owners, Charlie Luxton and Dan Brod, who also have The Beckford Arms at Fonthill, The Talbot Inn at Mells and The Lord Poulett Arms at Hinton St George, had thoughtfully provided them. Bizarrely, just as I was about to sleepily roll across the vast bed to switch it on in the morning, it sprang to life unbidden, tuned to Radio 4 and the Today programme, at precisely 7am. Charlie and Dan are friends of Christoph. “God, that radio woman is coming”, they must have said, “we’d better make sure she gets her fix.”
The Bath Arms, in the pretty village of Horningsham on the edge of Longleat, is leased from Lord Bath. Now freshly painted walls with modern art and vintage finds in the bedrooms and country furniture and hunting prints in the spacious, ground-floor dining rooms have replaced the Oriental artefacts, and the courtyard has been covered with an awning to provide extra physically distanced seating. The place has great character, enhanced by a gravelled square at the front that could be in Provence, shaded by rows of pollarded lime trees, known as the Twelve Apostles.
It makes a heavenly place to sit and have coffee before taking Capability Brown’s beautiful Pleasure Walk from the archway that leads into Longleat, with the great house directly ahead, a short stroll from the inn.
I was so happy to be there again. It’s just the sort of rather secretive place, in beautiful countryside, with just the sort of down to earth but scrumptious food that I dreamed of during lockdown. There’s nothing fancy about The Bath Arms, but it’s full of traditional honesty and integrity, and exudes a reassuring understanding of hospitality. In that sense, like its Twelve Apostles, it feels rather continental too.
Talk about hospitality; Charlie and Dan passionately believe in it. As well as, at the beginning of the pandemic, making a wildly successful scented hand sanitiser to add to the range of Bramley bath products created by Charlie’s wife, Chloe, they spent lockdown redesigning their websites, created an online room folder full of inside tips about the area, and producing a guide for their 150 staff, at inns as well as their Beckford Bottle Shops in Bath and Tisbury. Called A Waiter’s Handbook, it’s funny, insightful, informative and beautifully produced. Above all, it encourages staff to see their work as an art form and a valued profession, and it comes at a timely moment, when the hospitality industry has been put under a spotlight because of Covid. I hope that spotlight will help both customers and employees to see it as a worthy, important and interesting profession in which to work – one that is, since I’ve already mentioned the continent, far more prevalent there.
Doubles from £95 per night. Access possible for guests using wheelchairs.