I joined The Newt as general manager in March 2018 and quickly realised that it was an incredibly special project to be a part of. This year, we welcomed 140,000 visitors to the gardens, more than twice the number of visitors than the previous year. We’re so thankful we could keep the gardens open and it’s been great to see the locals regularly stopping by for a walks or visits to the farm shop.
In three words, our hotel aesthetic is refined, yet playful. The interiors were designed by owner Karen Roos, former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa and her attention to detail is incredible. It was important for Karen to respect what came before, but also bring something new and unexpected. She wanted to make the Georgian manor house and the outbuildings feel like a home again – opening up the spaces, making the most of the natural light, and restoring the elm floorboards and working fireplaces.
Some of our most popular rooms are the Garden View Rooms in the main house. But every guest has a different favourite, for example, some people love the Stable Yard Rooms which are totally unique and bursting with character. Set in the original horse yard, hay mangers and tie rings sit next to king-sized beds and wood-burning stoves, with beautiful copper roll top baths. Llamrei, named after King Arthur’s horse, is probably our most requested room.
One of the most popular things on the menu is our estate venison. The meat from our deer park is dry-aged in our butchery, cooked over fire with logs from our managed woodland, and served with foraged elderberries. We’ve recently partnered with a group of fishermen in Dorset to get the freshest oysters and day boat fish, too. We’re serving this at the moment with chard from the garden and plenty of local butter.
For room service, guests seem to love a plate of West Country cheese with our own pickles and crackers. It goes perfectly with the complimentary in-room cyders.
We get our eggs from happy hens at the nearby Slow Farming Company, as well as some of our own. We don’t go through as many eggs as your might think, but our boiled eggs and sourdough soldiers are a firm favourite.
It takes a team of 18 to keep the gardens and woodlands in check. They do an amazing job to keep the gardens productive and looking beautiful year-round.
We get through 150 duvet covers and 320 pillowcases every week. We also get through a lot of towels, as we have an on-site spa, but we’re trying to reduce this to be more eco-friendly. We encourage guests to help us save water by only changing bed linen if they’re staying more than three nights, and reusing towels where possible. Our guests are generally eco-conscious and get on board with this.
In our library, there are over 1,000 books. The collection was acquired from the Hobhouse family who owned the house for more than 200 years. It includes antique and leather-bound books on natural history, poetry, philosophy, and literary classics. The bookcases themselves were said to have been installed by Henry Hobhouse II at the end of the 18th century.
Visiting our cyder cellar is a must. We produce a delicious range of fine cyders using 100% apple juice and we teach the team all about the different flavour profiles. They host private orchard tours and daily tours of the Cyder Press & Cellar, where guest learn all about the craft and the history of Somerset cyder. The cellar is totally state-of-the-art and our cold storage conditions allow us to preserve and press apples throughout the year.
The best part of my job is working with my team. I’m so lucky to manage them, and have such good interactions with the guests. The energy I get from them is always great. Of course, the incredible location that I get to call ‘my office’ is a big plus, too – I actually look forward to the early morning starts, to see the sun coming up.
One of the worst parts of my job was having to close the hotel during lockdown. Unfortunately, I’ve become a bit of an expert in opening and closing a hotel! It was sad to see the empty rooms and restaurants so soon after our opening, but we turned the challenge into a positive – during the first lockdown, we refocussed the entire business to support local businesses.
Luckily, I haven’t had many strange experiences during my time as general manager, but our ‘Wassail ceremony’ is a little odd. It’s an ancient West Country cider festival which is meant to, as legend has it, promote the growth of the apples and ward of spirits. It goes off with a bang – you need to stay here to experience it!
One of the biggest surprises we’ve had was the discovery of the newts! The hotel is named after a colony of Great Crested newts that live here. They were discovered when restoration works began, delaying the project by a whole year. They’re a protected species, so we had to take great care to look after them and build special ponds. We grew to love them, and they soon became a symbol of our conservation efforts and connection to the land.
We once had a proposal in the Gardener’s Cottage. The team love to arrange bespoke experiences for guests who are after something really unique or personal, whether it’s a deer park walk or a picnic in the orchards. For us, every guest is a VIP.
We’ve seen a real increase in longer stays this year. Some have pitched themselves up in the Granary to write or finish a project, while others are booking in regular summer breaks. Each room is different, so no two stays are the same, and there’s so much to see and do here. Thankfully, no one has ever tried to leave without paying. We’ve been very lucky on that front…
When guests leave the hotel, we want them to feel inspired by our passion for Somerset and respect for the land. Perhaps they’ll have learnt something new, reconnected with nature or completely switched off. Above all, I hope they remember the warm service and that they were made to feel right at home.
Like every hospitality business, the hotel has been affected by the pandemic, but we’ve been able to keep our gardens and Farm Shop open to locals, for the most part. It’s been something of a lifeline to the local community – fresh air and open spaces have been more important than ever. As well as the Mobile Newt (our new online shop), we also launched a weekly Instagram series with our resident horticulturist and Head of Programmes, Arthur Cole, to inspire our guests and bring the gardens to them.
We were able to keep employing the team through lockdown with the launch of Mobile Newt. Plus, we adapted the business and turned our hands to larger scale farming. The chefs even joined forces with the gardeners, planting up acres of unused fields to grow our signature produce. We even had hosts, waiters and housekeeping help pack the boxes and drive the delivery vans. The bakery, butchery, creamery and cyder cellar also got involved – it’s been an amazing team effort!
There are lots of exciting things coming up, including a great line-up of festive experiences and menus over the Christmas period to get our guests in the festive spirit. We’ve got hearty stews, rich meats and handmade pies available across our restaurants, mulled cyder and apple juice at the Cyder Bar, and seasonal workshops such as herbarium masterclasses.
2021 is going to be another exciting year for us with the opening of The Farmyard – our new accommodation offering. We’re also opening The Apiary early next year, which will give visitors a chance to learn about the bees on the estate.