“An intimate and indulgent manor house in the Somerset Levels, with gourmet food, romantic rooms and a peaceful setting”
Rooms are spread across 2 wings, each accessed via a separate staircase - one grand oak, the other ancient elm. All are elegant and restful, with heavy wooden furniture on plush carpets, inviting armchairs, and mullioned windows framing parkland views. Antiques are dotted around - a gilt mirror here, an engraved vase there - and the beds are covered with temptingly crisp linen. But the biggest luxury is the silence: despite tales of ghostly footsteps, we heard nothing but birdsong.
The most sumptuous room is Nathaniel Barnard, named after a 16th-century occupant whose moniker is carved into the hearth. It’s a huge, romantic affair spanning the entire length of one wing, with a four-poster bed, a roll-top tub by the window, a separate bathroom with a walk-in shower, and a sitting area dressed in delicate blues and yellows. Up above is a magnificent plasterwork ceiling with ornate mouldings that hang down like stalactites.
Smaller but just as comfortable are the 3 Unique Rooms. We’ve stayed in 2 of these - Richardson, a twin or super-kingsize double decorated in muted burgundy and sage, and Jessie de Mowbray Matterson, whose four-poster bed is topped with a snuggly peacock-blue throw. The third, Sybilla de Gundvill, also has a four-poster, this time trimmed in sunny yellows and backed by panelling.
More contemporary in style, with a gleaming nickel bedstead and dove-grey walls, is The Diamond Smugglers. The name is the title of an Ian Fleming novel to which 1960s resident George Willoughby bought the film rights, although the project never got off the ground. There's also another kingsize double, 10 July 1645 (the date of a local Civil War battle), which is decked out in calming creams; its bathroom has a separate entrance to the bedroom, with a heavy curtain across both for privacy.
Bathrooms are pampering, with rainfall showers (most also have tubs), fluffy bathrobes and organic Sedburgh Soap Co goodies. You also get tea- and coffee-making kit, slippers, and snazzy Ruark radios/iPod docks.
Olly is an experienced chef with a background in AA-rosetted restaurants, and Somerset’s strong tradition of artisan food means he has plenty of inspiration to work with. His creations are delicious, packed with fresh ingredients from nearby farms and Langford Fivehead’s own kitchen garden.
Dinner (available Tuesday-Saturday) starts with aperitifs and amuse-bouches on the terrace or around the fire in the drawing room - perhaps parmesan crisps or light-as-air bacon tartlets. Guests then move to individual tables in the dining room (or to a private table in the library) for the main event. The prix-fixe menu offers a choice of 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts and is based around whatever’s in season - we munched our way through smooth courgette and rosemary soup topped with edible flowers, crispy sea bass with sweet scallops and zingy tomatoes, and a perfectly cooked pan-seared fillet of beef served with braised shin, a velvety mushroom purée and confit shallots. We rounded things off with tangy West Country cheeses and an iced chocolate parfait, before rolling ourselves over to the snug for coffee and petits fours.
After so much indulgence we didn’t think we’d fancy breakfast the next morning, but the enticing smells wafting through the house soon changed our minds. You can eat wherever you want, so just pick a spot in the library, the garden or even the kitchen and tuck into homemade granola with yoghurt and fresh fruit, local apple juice, steaming cafetières of coffee, croissants and jams, and irresistible cooked options (the Full English, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs).
If you can still face lunch, there are some fine restaurants within driving distance - try The Castle Hotel in Taunton for modern British food with a gourmet twist, or ask Olly and Rebecca to recommend somewhere for good gastro-pub grub.