Looking for a break from the strains and stresses of urban life, my boyfriend and I went searching for some weekend rest and relaxation in rural Wiltshire. The family-run Old House At Home seemed like the ideal solution. This pub has been a big draw for the locals for lunch and dinner for 30 years, and in 2009 owners David and Sally Warburton built an additional eight bedrooms in an attempt to fight back against the credit crunch. Today, it is run by the Warburton’s two ambitious, 20-something sons, Mark and Matthew. So, has it been a success?
Just a few miles from the M4 and nestled in the village of Burton, The Old House At Home is deceivingly quick to drive to: barely over two hours from central London on a Saturday morning. The main pub building is a picturesque country farmhouse with stone walls covered with red-green ivy. After this charming initial impression, the bedrooms come as a not unwelcome surprise: they’re a very modern addition in a separate building and each is named after a wine region (we stayed in ‘Lafite’). Rooms are spacious, modern, tastefully decorated – very different from your average pokey room above a pub. The flat-screen television makes for excellent pre-dinner Saturday-night viewing, and internet access is also available. The bathrooms, beautifully created in modern stone, are designed as wet rooms; though they don’t contain baths, they are a pleasure to use.
However, the real joy of The Old House At Home is to be found in the bar and restaurant area. With a roaring open fire and several comfy nooks in which to choose to sit, its candlelit atmosphere is heartwarming and cosy. Service, furthermore, is friendly and attentive. When we were there the crowd was absolutely local – no other Londoners up for the weekend – and plenty of people seemed to know each other and the landlord very well. We couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic and relaxing setting. Clearly the important things – friendly, efficient service; good drinks and good food – are done very well at The Old House At Home. With what seem to be excellent standards and consistency, this pub is full of soul, unpretentious and, above all, traditional.
The large menu has plenty of choice, from old classics like garlic mushrooms on ciabatta and moules marinières to an amazing selection of steaks (fillet, rib eye, etc.) with a selection of sauces. Curries, seemingly a specialty of the house, arrive with poppadoms and an array of chutneys. The naughty pudding selection includes sticky toffee pudding and my boyfriend’s choice, Mars Attack, comprising vanilla, toffee and chocolate ice cream, Mars Bar, marshmallows and clotted cream. Our choices revealed traditional pub food prepared, by the in-house chef of 25 years’ standing, to fine-dining standards and using the finest seasonal produce. (The fish is delivered daily from Cornwall, the beef from Scotland.) According to my boyfriend, the beer was good too – from traditional oak firkins, guests can enjoy Wadworths 6X and ever-changing guest ales.
What with all this hearty food, we were keen to explore the surrounding countryside in an attempt to walk it off. Nearby Castle Combe is a massive draw: picture-perfect, this idyllic village – its buildings, some dating as far back as the fourteenth century, are listed as ancient monuments – has been the set for many Hollywood movies including War Horse, Stardust and The Wolfman. Other highlights of the surrounding area include Lacock Abbey, the National Trust property that doubled for Hogwarts in some of the Harry Potter films; Badminton, home to the ever popular Badminton Horse Trials and the Georgian city of Bath.
Staying at The Old House At Home, we felt comfortably cocooned from the stresses of urban life. During my travels throughout the UK, I’ve seen pubs and boutique hotels spend a lot of money trying to re-create, not always successfully, this kind of ambience for weekenders from London, but The Old House At Home is the real deal, having both preceded and outlasted the gastropub revolution. Occupancy is high and often at maximum on weekends, which I’m sure has much to do with the excellent standards and reasonable prices. Although it still caters primarily for locals, I wouldn’t be surprised if word got out soon.