Winter in London can be depressing and gloomy and I find that the only way to keep one’s spirits up during the darker months is to get out to the countryside as often as possible to give some restorative purpose to being outside in the bitter cold. Having a birthday in February is a bit of a bore because of the weather but this year I was lucky enough to spend it with five girlfriends at The Pig hotel near Bath where we ate, drank, walked, talked, slept (on repeat) and had a very happy weekend away.
Despite my taking umbrage with their annoying no-dogs policy, I am a firm fan of The Pig group of hotels. In fact, we seemed to spend most of our summer holiday in Dorset decamped at The Pig in Brockenhurst despite not actually staying in the same county or in fact anywhere near it. The Pig hotels are owned by Robin Hutson who started the innovative Hotel du Vin group and they share the same relaxed anti-chain feel.
The Pig near Bath has adopted many of the trademarks of its porcine mothership in Brockenhurst but has just enough individuality to differentiate it. The hotel feels timeless, personal and pleasingly underdone. It’s decorated fairly traditionally with lots of small rooms stuffed with oversized chesterfields and mohair velvet sofas and walls covered with taxidermy and oil paintings. There are open fires in every public room and there is no feeling of having to dress up or sit nicely and it is the sort of place where one can lie out on a sofa in the bar and take a nap in the afternoon (I just about managed to avoid doing this.)
There are piggy references everywhere, just in case you forget where you are.
I absolutely loved the inside-out feeling of the place. Even in the cold winter there is a strange blurring of boundaries between the indoors and the outdoors and I found myself pottering around the grounds as frequently as I wandered between the fire-lit cosy rooms. The hotel has the entrance hall of my dreams with a long, wooden bench from which remove muddy boots. Sitting opposite is a long line of Hunters in every colour, almost quaking with the possibility of being taken out for a walk.
As with the Pig at Brockenhurst, the restaurant is in a conservatory and is decorated to be completely in tune with the hotel’s ethos of serving home-grown and locally sourced food. The restaurant is decorated with rustic garden furniture, wonky chairs and ancient oak tables decorated with terracotta pots filled with edible plants with lollypop sticks announcing their name. There are trays of seeds everywhere and one really has the delightful feeling of dining in a glamorous potting shed.
The Pig group is famed for their kitchen gardens which are more than just for show. They grow and farm a significant amount of their own food and the rest is sourced locally which gives a very seasonal feel to the menu. There is something about kitchen gardens that makes me very happy. It has much to do with man’s attempts to make vegetables line up in an orderly fashion like soldiers awaiting orders and the rhubarb cloches which always seem so chic. I love sniffing about in the old fashioned greenhouses which hold terracotta promises of things to come in the more clement months.
The gardens here are perfect for a pre-dinner wander and it’s almost like a visual representation of the menu – you can see the broccoli, kale and other vegetables that will be landing on your diner plate in the evening and there is something so natural and satisfying about that. It is a bit disconcerting however to be looking at the chickens, the pigs and especially the field of deer and wondering which one might end up in someone’s pie in the not too distant future. I had no such ethical twinges about eyeing up the vegetables growing the stone planters.
I became slightly obsessed with this big, fat, adorable pig who was oinking and snoring in his sleep.
Dinner was good, but breakfast was better. Tables straining with an abundance of homemade granolas, pastries, the best yoghurt I’ve ever tasted, Godminster cheddar, delicious homemade bread and an egg boiler. The amazing spread on offer meant that a cooked breakfast was entirely unnecessary which was good as I was slightly fearing for the future of my new piggy friend.
Whilst we were there we did a long walk from the hotel to blow off some cobwebs and, more importantly, clear some room for more food. We used the hotel’s atrociously bad map which, from what we could gather, has reached near iconic status with the locals who regularly have to direct disorientated residents back to the hotel. At one point we ended up walking along a dual carriageway and, bizarrely, through a paint balling course. It’s a bit disconcerting walking past a disused airplane on a country walk and I felt like an extra from a Vietnam war film.
With the long shadows and the sun shining over the Mendips it was glorious. I find it hard to understand how so many people cannot see the beauty in the English winter – it is all so understated and gentle that it rather makes summer look garish and vulgar. We we walked across undulating fields, along streams, through fords and down shady lanes and eventually found our way to our destination – the pub.
All the best country walks involve a pub lunch and really the pub needs to be at least two thirds of the way round as the walk back afterwards can sometimes be a trial, especially after cider. We had the obligatory ploughman’s, salt and vinegar crisps and a pint in The Compton Inn in Compton Dando and made our way back to the hotel just as it was getting dark, and just in time for tea and cake and another wander around the garden to see which of our new friends was being served up for dinner.
We stayed in a snug room which was £169 per night with a two-night minimum stay at the weekend.
The Pig near Bath | 01761 490490 | thepighotel.com