Helen Browning's Royal Oak

nr Swindon, Wiltshire, United Kingdom Book from Book from £83 per night

A pioneering organic farm which has sprouted wonderful offshoots: a deliciously eccentric pub, a 12-room inn, wildlife safaris and more
In the pretty hamlet of Bishopstone, tucked at the foot of the Wiltshire Downs, Helen Browning (Soil Association CEO and organic farming pioneer) has created a little haven of good food, sound sleep and healthy outdoor living, with help from her partner Tim Finney and a wonderfully enthusiastic young team.

This is far more than a pub. A second building houses 12 quirky bedrooms with farmy artworks, blissful mattresses, clawfoot tubs and the odd designer piece; plus a 'Wallow' room for table football, old vinyls to spin, and a wide-ranging honesty bar. There are shady gardens and sheltered outdoor dining spots to relax with a book, or a pint of golden Arkells, or a plate of succulent home-grown pork belly with salsa verde and fresh picked salad. A small shop sells organic produce (mostly their own), while down the lane lies a private campsite by a secluded brook, and grassy picnic spots where you can graze on one of their lovingly crafted hampers. Around you are 1500 hectares of mixed working farm to explore, ideally as part of a guided farm safari. Spot rare corn buntings, trilling skylarks, wheeling kites; visit rewilded hedgerows and experimental fruit orchards; watch piglets snuffle at your feet. Or head off along the ancient Ridgeway trail to the White Horse and Iron Age fort of Uffington. This is a wonderful opportunity to disconnect from devices and reconnect with nature.

Information provided by Helen Browning's Royal Oak on 15/06/2021.

Cleaning and hygiene
Sanitiser stations available throughout.

Common areas
One way system in place in the pub.

Policies
Guests are asked to register on the Test and Trace app.

Highs

  • We love the friendly, low-key vibe which Tim and his team have created: a warm, sincere welcome, including dogs and muddy boots
  • Our farm safari was an unexpected highlight: James' passion ranges from yellowhammers to riverine ecosystems
  • Dinners and breakfasts are simply delicious: you can't beat the meat for freshness!
  • The location is ideal for a weekend break from London, Bristol, or the Midlands: all within 1-2 hours' drive
  • Superb value too, with rooms starting from £100 or less

Lows

  • In terms of services, this is more pub than hotel (no reception desk, for example); but there's always someone around to help
  • Apart from Uffington's White Horse and hillfort, there are no stellar 'attractions' here: just miles of beautiful rural countryside

Best time to go

Any time - it's open all year, and each season has its draws. Summer is perfect for al fresco dinners, gentle walks, wild orchids, maybe a dip in the brook. Autumn is ripe for woodland colours and starling murmurations. Spring offers wild flowers, foraging workshops, bluebell woods. Don't rule out winter: woodburning stoves, cosy bedrooms and still plenty of farm activity.

Our top tips

If you're remotely interested in animals, birds or soil, the guided farm safari is well worth 2 hours of your life: James helped us spot corn buntings, yellowhammers, golden plovers, lapwings and skylarks, introduced the livestock (including a snout-to-snout with inquisitive saddleback piglets), explained the farming and rewilding processes, and showed us the exotic fruit orchard (planted to test feasibility) - all with passion and precision.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • Pub & farm with rooms
  • 12 rooms
  • Restaurant & bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Football field
  • Table football
Room:

Rooms

The 12 bedrooms are housed in the village's second pub and its annex, which the team took over in 2017. While they may be a later addition, they bear all the Browning hallmarks: a rustic vibe, a dash of fun, and lots of personal touches. You'll find headboards recycled from old timbers or corrugated iron pig arks; vivid wallpapers of foliage or floral stencils; pretty prints of pigs and pastures; industrial-chic touches (metal lamps, clothes rails from old piping); and quirky mismatched furniture.

Beds - either (super) kingsize double or twins - are extremely comfy, with piles of pillows and tartan blankets. We found the wool duvets a tad warm for our summer stay, but it's typical of Tim and Jo that they immediately started researching lighter ones.

Ensuite bathrooms are practical, with fluffy towels and spoiling toiletries. Smaller rooms come with red-tiled shower cubicles, larger ones with deep tubs and/or double washbasins.

Two rooms are dog-friendly; one (Barn Field) is also wheelchair accessible, with smooth level floors and wide doors. We particularly liked Kate's Folly (spacious, with in-room tub and double sofabed), Eastbrook Valley (tall eaves, twinnable beds, single sofabed) and Cuckoo Pen (double 'aspect' shower and separate tub). On the other end of the scale, Silsdown, Botswicky and Lower Whitehill are compact doubles - still with kingsize beds - but not a huge amount of space around them. Some rooms can be paired together for family stays.

Features include:

  • Coffee / tea making
  • Hairdryer
  • Toiletries
  • TV
  • WiFi

Eating

Food miles don't come lower - or more delicious - than here. The daily changing menu features plenty of meat from the farm - perhaps pork belly, lamb cutlets, rib-eye or rump steaks - prepared every way from classic burger to spicy piri-piri sauce. Our pork was super succulent, especially with a dollop of homemade salsa verde, and accompanied by a crisp garden salad and buttery jacket potato (all home produced). Don't miss the smackingly rich ice cream from their own Fresian herd.

There are also veggie and vegan dishes - maybe a nut burger or super-salad (Helen's own recipe) - as well as sizzling sourdough pizzas straight from the outdoor oven. We loved sitting outside in the leafy garden as the sky darkened, amidst trilling birds and chattering locals, enjoying the excellent Arkell ales, craft beers and organic wines.

Breakfast is no less satisfying, be it the full farmhouse (featuring those same sausages you see in Waitrose, minus the miles), or a bacon- and mushroom-packed omelette, or just a crunchy bowl of granola from the buffet topped with local yoghurt and zinging blackcurrant jam. Almost all of it is organic, of course.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Wander the farm and hills spotting wildlife, with or without guide (and a hide): besides the birds mentioned above, all 5 types of owl are present, plus hares, kingfishers, otter, all 3 deer, pyramid orchids in June-July - there's even a great bustard which sometimes wanders over from Marlborough
  • Follow marked hiking trails from 1 to 7 miles, most of them looping up to the ancient hilltop Ridgeway Trail and back again
  • Don't miss the Iron Age hillfort of Uffington and the adjacent White Horse etched into the grassy scarp; or meditate at the tranquil longbarrow of Waylands Smithy nearby
  • Walk, cycle or ride a horse over the Downs to Ashdown House (National Trust, sporadically open) - built for Charles I's sister and now tenanted by, among others, Pete Townshend
  • It's 15 mins' drive to Avebury Stone Circle, 20 to Burford and the Cotswolds, 25 to the lakes and sailing club of South Cerney; but don't plan too much - this is a place to soak up nature's slow rhythms

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Football
  • Hiking
  • Horse riding
  • Mountain biking
  • Photography tuition
  • Safaris
  • Wildlife

Kids

Perfect for an outdoorsy family: welcoming, not-too-smart, with pigs and cattle to meet, and affordable bedrooms.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

There are 2 family-friendly rooms - Kate's Folly and Downs Barn - both of which have a double sofabed in addition to the main double bed. Five other rooms can accommodate 1 child in a single sofabed or rollaway bed.

Children's meals:

  • Child-friendly dishes available

Kids Activities on site:

  • Farm visits
  • Digital Scalextric track
  • Table football
  • Football field

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Coate Water Park, Swindon
  • Steam Museum, Swindon
  • Lydiard Park - kids' play area

Families Should Know:

There are electric fences on the farm. The semi-wild campsite has a small stream flowing through one part

Distances:

  • Hospital: 10 mins (Swindon)
  • Supermarket: 10 mins (Swindon)
Kid Friendly:

Location

Helen Browning's Royal Oak is set in the small village of Bishopstone in Wiltshire, near the borders with Berkshire and Oxfordshire - and 10 miles / 15 km outside Swindon (but don't let that put you off).

By Car:
It's 10 mins' drive off the M4 motorway (junction 15), about halfway between Bristol (1 hour) and London (1-2 hours). If you want to hire a car, see our recommendations.

By Train:
Swindon station, which is on the main western line from Paddington, is 15-20 mins' drive away. They can collect you in their Land Rover.

By Horse:
Yes, you can even arrive by horse if you want to: check ahead for stabling arrangements.

By Air:
London Heathrow (1.5 hours' drive) is your best bet; otherwise try Bristol Airport (1.5 hours) or Luton (2 hours).

Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.

Airports:

  • London Heathrow 100.0 km LHR
  • Bristol 90.0 km BRS

Other:

  • Beach 100.0 km
  • Shops 0.1 km
  • Restaurant 2.5 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
8/10
Food
10/10
Service
10/10
Value
10/10
Overall

The most friendly and welcoming venue for a few days away. Fascinating to learn more about the organic farm and where our pub meals were sourced from. There are numerous walking opportunities in the area. Basically a fine location if you like things fairly unformal and it is clearly very popular. Food and service were superb - if staying for more than a couple of days for lunch and dinner, perhaps more daily changes to the menu would be welcome. This observation aside, it was faultless.

10/10,

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