Great Days Out: Bruton

Great Days Out: Bruton

The small Somerset town of Bruton has gained a reputation as one of the hippest places to escape to in Britain, and is bursting with creative wealth, heavenly food, quirky independent shops, a slew of sustainable restaurants and cool places to stay. Continuing our occasional series on lovely towns and cities to visit around Britain, here’s why this medieval town makes for an unforgettable day out or weekend break.
Photography: MAUREEN EVANS

Tucked between Yeovil and Frome on the banks of the River Brue, amid gently undulating hills, Bruton was listed in the Domesday Book as Briuuetone, meaning ‘vigorously flowing river’ and, to this day, there remain a number of impressive historical and architectural features, some dating back to the 7th century. In recent years, with a tiny population of around 3,000, Bruton has gained the moniker of the 'new Notting Hill' and has become a magnet for celebs, art lovers and media types. As local resident Victoria Hooberman told us: “It’s quite extraordinary what has happened of late – so many urban types have moved down here, but it remains a lovely place for a day out or a long weekend. When I moved to the area about 30 years ago, Bruton was a one-horse town, but I had a hunch there was something special about it.” 

Where to shop

Slick Scandi store Caro (18-20 High Street) sells a wide range of chic home objects sourced from around the globe, as well as clothing, accessories and its own brand of artisan chocolate. Owner Natalie Jones, a former trend forecaster and Londoner, has impeccable style which will have you wanting to take every piece home. Over two floors at The Hole & Corner Shop (50 High Street), you’ll find a wide range of handmade textiles, ceramics, tableware and furniture made by skilled crafts people from across the UK, as well as one-off pieces. For some true British eccentricity, Cabbages & Roses (3 West End) has a new flagship store where you’ll find their entire fashion and home collections, as well as their fabrics, limited edition Scottish knits, antiques, gifts and stationery. They also have what they call a “caberdashery” which sells a range of trims, vintage buttons and ribbons. Look out, too, for their programme of workshops and pop-ups, including by sustainable floral studio and growers Kitten Grayson Flowers. Housed in the old post office, Swan Vintage (35 High Street), which is owned by Zoe Ford, is a real Aladdin’s cave. Zoe’s passion for fashion can be seen in her fabulous range of hand-picked clothes and accessories. Recently opened épicerie The Old Pharmacy (3 High Street) sells seasonal produce grown by founder and Osip chef Merlin Labron-Johnson (see below) in his nearby vegetable garden, as well as produce from top Somerset suppliers. Look for Tamworth pork charcuterie, farmhouse cheeses, pickles and preserves, as well as locally milled flours and organic grain. Finally, don’t leave Bruton without a whole wheel of oak-smoked cheddar from the Godminster Shop (near St Mary’s Church on the Wincanton Road) and a bottle or two from The Cellarhand (Unit 6b, Old Mill Business Park, Station Road) which stocks a wide range of wines from small producers around the world. 

Cabbage & Roses
Cabbage & Roses

Where to eat

Osip (1 High Street; 01749 813322)
Young Michelin-starred, ex-London chef Merlin Labron-Johnson heads up this tiny farm-to-table restaurant, housed in a lovely stone house which used to be the village ironmongery. The décor of tiled walls, exposed brickwork, pale linens and blue banquettes make the most of this small space where you’re guaranteed sublime food inspired by whatever ingredients Merlin has grown or what is available from local suppliers. 

Matt’s Kitchen (51 High Street; 01749 812027) 
A decade ago, decorator Matt Watson decided to set up a small BYOB restaurant in the front room of his Georgian cottage. He had no professional chef training and is totally self-taught, but it’s been such a success that tables are booked weeks in advance – mainly because he is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. You’ll find unpretentious service, a cosy ambience and a single seasonal menu, which means nothing goes to waste. Check online for the week’s menu.

Roth Bar & Grill (Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane; 01749 814700)
Housed in the old cowshed of Durslade Farm, next to the Hauser & Wirth gallery, husband and wife team Steve and Jules Horrell serve a daily-changing menu making use of produce grown in the kitchen garden and on the farm. The beef is dry-aged in a purpose-built salt room, lined with over 500 hand-cut Himalayan salt bricks, allowing it to tenderise. Other favourites include homemade merguez sausages, colourful salads and steaks. Overlooking an open kitchen and wood-fired grill, the room has exposed stone walls dotted with food-themed artwork from the Wirths’ collection. 

At The Chapel (28 High Street; 01749 814070)
Situated in a Grade II-listed former chapel, the restaurant is open all day from 8am, and is the perfect spot for a long weekend brunch, a lazy lunch or dinner. The food, which is mainly sourced from the West Country, has a Mediterranean twist – the wood-fired sourdough pizzas are a firm favourite. The lovely double-height dining room has stained glass windows and various arty bits on loan from Hauser & Wirth. During the summer months, ask for a table on the jasmine-scented terrace.

The Hive (95 High Street; 01749 9374290)
A newcomer in the high street, owners Oliver and Rebecca Gibson appointed Matthew Briddon as head chef. Having worked in some of Britain’s best kitchens, including the River Café, he now grows, cures and rears his own produce and uses local foragers and suppliers to create delicious homemade dishes. The perfect spot for breakfast, brunch, lunch or afternoon tea.

At The Chapel
At The Chapel

Where to stay

Number One (1 High Street, 01749 813030) 
An elegant Georgian townhouse, a medieval forge and a row of cottages have been converted into a 12-bedroom hotel set around a pretty courtyard. Restored original features lend character to all the bedrooms which are decorated in rich colours and vintage furnishings, and where you’ll find a truckle of cheddar cheese and crackers, local cider and fruit on arrival. The fresh farmhouse breakfast, which is served at Osip, is definitely worth getting up for – choose from creamy rice pudding, freshly-baked brioches, soft boiled eggs, ham, toast, slabs of cheddar, homemade jams, granola and yoghurt.

Caro B&B
A few minutes down the road from her shop (see above), Natalie Jones runs a charming one-bedroom B&B in her 18th century cottage. Expect Danish throws, a wire-frame bedside table lit by bare bulbs, Aesop bathroom goodies and breakfast in At The Chapel. A lovely budget-friendly place to sleep for the design conscious.

To book: email

At The Chapel (28 High Street; 01749 814070) 
This 17th-century, Grade II-listed church now houses a hotel, restaurant, wine store and bakery. The eight rooms have white-washed walls, original stained-glass windows, White Company linens and robes, Ren toiletries and enormous TVs with a great choice of movies. Breakfast allows you to be lazy, with home-baked croissants left outside your door (you’ll find the homemade jam in your fridge). Splurge on the fabulous Attic Suite, an enormous space which feels like an apartment.

Durslade Farmhouse (Dropping Lane; 01749 814700)
Dating back to the 18th century, this six-bedroom house is situated on Durslade Farm, adjacent to the Hauser & Wirth gallery, and is available to rent as a whole. Each of the rooms has its own character and charm, featuring antique furniture and vintage finds sourced from local flea markets and salvage yards. The walls are hung with original works by Hauser & Wirth artists, including a floor-to-ceiling mural by Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca in the dining room. Sleeping 12 guests, each bedroom is furnished with fine Egyptian cotton bedding and has a private bathroom, fitted with quirky 1970s fixtures or free-standing roll-top baths. Downstairs there is a large kitchen with a rustic farmhouse table, a dining room, lounge and study, as well as an outside private terrace. 

The Bower Treehouse
If you want to immerse yourself in nature, just five miles from Bruton, you can stay in luxury amongst the trees in your private patch of wilderness. The stunning treehouse is made up of two hexagons, which are joined in the middle by a kitchen. On one side, there's a cosy living room with a log burning stove and on the other is the bedroom and a bathroom with underfloor heating. 

To book: click here

The Newt (A359, Hadspen; 01963 577777)
For an uber luxe stay, you can’t beat The Newt, which has established itself as one of the most stylish hotels in the UK since it opened in 2019. It occupies beautiful Palladian-fronted Hadspen House, first built in 1687, and stands in a large working estate just a few miles from Bruton on the way to Castle Cary. The interiors by co-owner Karen Roos, once the editor of South Africa’s Elle Decoration, are dreamy with elements of traditional country house design and contemporary furniture. If you struggle to find a room in the main hotel, which has just 23 rooms, the hotel has recently expanded its accommodation with the opening of The Farmyard, a renovated former dairy farm, which has a further 17 bedrooms. Hidden in a secluded corner of the estate and accessed through cider orchards, The Farmyard has all the charm of the main hotel and definitely won’t disappoint. 

At The Chapel
At The Chapel
Durslade Farmhouse
Durslade Farmhouse

© Martin Creed. Photo: Aaron Schuman.

Where to visit

The opening of the world-renowned Hauser & Wirth gallery in 2014 put Bruton firmly on the cultural map. With outposts in London, New York, Los Angeles and Zurich, it is located on Durslade Farm on the edge of town in a group of Grade II-listed stone-clad farm buildings that were once threshing barns, workshops and a pigsty. Two new exhibitions open this month: Eduardo Chillida is one of the foremost Spanish sculptors of the 20th century, and artist and political activist Gustav Metzger developed the concept of Auto-Destructive Art and the Art Strike. They are also re-introducing their events programme, details of which can be found here. Factor in some time to browse the gallery shop, which has a selection of books on art, design and gardening, as well a stroll in the beautiful garden, created by Dutch landscaper Piet Oudolf. On site, too, you’ll find the Durslade Farm Shop which sells meat and vegetables from the farm as well as products from small local artisans and growers.

Three miles from Bruton towards Stourton, you’ll come to King Alfred’s Tower which was built between 1762-1779 as a folly by the Hoare banking family to celebrate a victory by the Saxon King Alfred over the Danes in 878. It is believed it is the site where the King raised his standard prior to the battle. It’s worth climbing the 205 steps to the top from where the 360-degree view are really breath-taking.

Where to walk 

There are a number of lovely walks in the surrounding Somerset countryside and the many rural villages, ranging in difficulty and length – details and maps of some the most popular can be found here. In Bruton itself, the short uphill climb to the Dovecote, a limestone tower that was built between the 15th and 17th century, is well worth it for the lovely views over the town’s church and narrow streets. Originally a watch tower, it was later converted to house hundreds of doves and the nesting boxes still remain today.

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