the South West town of Bruton has undergone something of a revolution of late. For decades, a relatively quiet stop on the road
from Frome to Yeovil on Somerset’s eastern fringe, Bruton was best known for its rolling countryside, fine selection of antiques shops, and no less than three prestigious boarding schools. Those attributes are all still in place – but they’re no longer the headline stories. Bruton is now a thriving hub for contemporary design, food and culture, blessed with restaurants, shops, galleries and hotels that have drawn visitors extensively from around the UK and beyond.
Spearheaded by the 2008 launch of the upmarket hotel, restaurant and bakery At the Chapel, and cemented with the arrival of the prestigious global art dealership Hauser & Wirth six years later, Bruton has joined its neighbour, Frome, as a destination with plenty to offer lovers of the arts and a weekend’s rural indulgence in some of the most picturesque countryside England has to offer.
Here are our suggestions for two days well spent in this West Country gem…
10:00 Feed your mind…
Why not start your Bruton adventure at, arguably, its best-known resident? International art gallery Hauser & Wirth launched its Bruton gallery in 2014, to accompany sibling galleries in London, New York and Zürich. The Bruton offshoot is of great architectural merit (a renovation of a once-derelict farmhouse, it won a 2015 RIBA South West Award). It’s also a supremely relaxing place to take in some art and culture, sitting as it does in 100 acres of fields and woodland, including a perennial meadow designed by renowned landscape gardener Piet Oudolf. Focused on conservation, education and sustainability, Hauser & Wirth Somerset programmes exhibitions, talks, seminars, workshops and screenings, and even boasts its own bookshop. And, while we’re on matters cultural, why not plan your visit for May to coincide with the annual Bruton Festival of Arts, featuring talks, performances, music, stalls and even battle re-enactments?
13:00 … and your body
Happily, you don’t have to move far from this rural cultural hotspot to get a great lunch. Under its vaulted wooden beams, Hauser & Wirth’s on-site restaurant Roth Bar & Grill serves seasonal, locally sourced produce, and is filled with works of art. There’s also a bar created by Björn and Oddur Roth, the son and grandson of Swiss artist Dieter Roth (1930-98). Visit when the weather’s fine and you may catch one of the restaurant’s outdoor feasts, with meat and fish cooked over roaring fires.
15:00 Hit the shops
For a town of around 3,000 souls, Bruton’s shopping offer is distinctly impressive. Foodies should look in at the HQ of cheddar purveyors Godminster; others can get their fix of all things botanical – plants, blooms, botany-themed cards and more – at Lunaria (find it on Instagram @lunaria_somerset).
If you’ve got the car, it’s well worth the short trip to the Westcombe Dairy Shop at nearby Evercreech, where you can stock up on (more) cheese, plus products from The Somerset Cider Brandy Company make sure you try the 25-year-old vintage and local ales by neighbours The Wild Beer Company.
19:00 Make yourself at (Matt’s) home
Book a table at Matt’s Kitchen (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings only), where self-taught chef Matt Watson prepares delicious locally sourced meals in his own home. Each day features a single main dish of the day, inspired by whatever great fresh produce has come Matt’s way. Look out for his signature wild mushrooms with truffle oil and homemade ginger, or the distinctly moreish vanilla and cardamom ice cream.
21:00 See out the evening
Round off a busy and stimulating day with a pint of local ale at The Bull Inn, or head to At the Chapel, a Grade II-listed former chapel, which morphs into an atmospheric candlelit venue after dark.
09:00 Shake yourself awake…
…with a bracing walk to Bruton Dovecote, a limestone tower built between the 15th and 17th centuries. Once used as a dovecote (as the 200 pigeon holes bear witness), it may have been a watchtower before that. A Grade II*-listed building managed by the National Trust, this monument commands fine views over the town.
10:00 History lessons
Immerse yourself in the town’s past and present at the excellent Bruton Museum, which tells the story of the town and its region through the display of artefacts from the Jurassic, Roman, Saxon and medieval times. Highlights include a statue carved by Ernst Blensdorf, a German sculptor whose passion for world peace put him out of favour with the Nazis. Blensdorf fled first to Norway and, eventually, to Somerset, settling in Bruton in 1941. The museum features his statue, Lily, made to entertain his children on the last boat out of Norway as the Nazis approached. Elsewhere you’ll find the writing desk used by the acclaimed American novelist John Steinbeck, who lived in Bruton for six months in 1959.
Just before lunch, take a turn around Sexey’s Hospital, built around 1630 as almshouses, the brainchild of a local landowner, who rose to prominence under James I. Constructed around a central courtyard, it is now a community of private independent residences – but visitors are welcome into the courtyard, chapel and anteroom.
13:00 Bruton’s newest arrival
Call in for lunch at Osip, the tiny farm-to-table restaurant attached to brand new boutique hotel Number One Bruton. Michelin- starred chef Merlin Labron-Johnson uses ingredients grown on eight acres of land near Bruton and on an allotment five minutes’ walk from the restaurant, with a focus on organic and biodynamic vegetables over red meat.
15:00 Shops, gardens – and cake
Round off a memorable couple of days with a visit to Kilver Court, a designer outlet, cafe/restaurant and gardens around a former brewery in nearby Shepton Mallet. The gardens were laid out in the early 1900s by industrialist Ernest Jardine for his lace workers, and the current design – by owner Roger Saul – includes a parterre and herbaceous borders. Ready to hit the shops? The designer outlet houses a raft of high-end brands, while the cakes and sandwiches at the Harlequin Cafe are made with spelt flour from sister company Sharpham Park.
Where to stay
Three choice places to rest and play in luxurious surroundings, all situated close to the action in Bruton
Number One Bruton
Owners Claudia and Aled have transformed a derelict medieval property into an eight-room hotel inspired by local traditions. Photographer Don McCullin, leather designer Bill Amberg and mosaic designer Candace Bahouth have contributed art and objects, while the courtyard garden is the brainchild of the great Penelope Hobhouse.
From £130 per night – numberonebruton.com.
The Newt in Somerset
For a special stay with a difference, plump for a night in one of 13 sumptuously designed rooms at The Newt, or tuck yourself away in a sweetly converted stable. Relax in Georgian splendour, and revive your spirits in the spa before dining on local delicacies, (including fruit and veggies from the hotel’s very own Kitchen Garden).
From £255 per night – thenewtinsomerset.com.
Where to shop
Three key pit stops for the best antiques and unique handmade crafts
Quillon House Antiques – 16 High Street
Housed on the High Street, this long-established emporium specialises in contemporary and modern pictures, arms and armour, period oak and other furnishings. Open Tues to Sat. 01749 812269
Caro – 18-20 High Street
Don’t miss this lifestyle store, with its meticulously curated homewares, clothing and stationery. You can even take advantage of Caro’s interiors service, which will help you to dress your home with practical living in mind. Owner Natalie also runs The Space, a tiny B&B tucked away in an 18th-century cottage. carosomerset.com
Alchemy – West End
Taking up residence in a former garage at the western end of the High Street, Alchemy stocks an impressive array of English and European 18th, 19th and 20th-century pieces, alongside covetable Fermoie lampshades. The outside space is given over to garden furniture, West Country stone troughs, terracotta jars and planters. Open Mon to Sat. alchemybruton.com