Farmers' Inn

“Former nightclub in countryside outside Taunton, now a restaurant with five attractive rooms”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 10th February 2008.

Given events at home, I feel faintly justified in setting off for a place called the Farmers' Inn on this particular afternoon. A large, woolly, brown cow has recently decided that the 145 square miles of New Forest on which she is allowed to roam no longer appeal and that my garden is where she must live from now on.

Time and again I chase her out and time and again she returns, nimbly leaping our cattle grid, lightly brushing aside my hastily erected barbed wire. We battle for hours. I leave…she wins.

When it comes to cows and other agricultural matters I'm a self-confessed townie loosely masquerading as a country woman and so, I reflect, is this rural idyll of an inn, perched on top of the first of Somerset's lovely yet little-visited Blackdown Hills.

Why is that? Because, until its recent transformation, it used to be, of all things, a nightclub.

Taunton's first nightclub, apparently.

The drink-driving laws killed it off, and it's hard to believe that until only eight or nine years ago 300 people would regularly drive out of Taunton on a Friday and Saturday night into a network of particularly tiny, high-sided, one-car-at-a-time lanes to the Farmers' to drink, play skittles and cram on to a small, black dance floor under a glittering mirrored disco ball.

That small dance floor, minus the disco ball, is now my very large bathroom, with a deep roll-top bath. The raised skittle alley is clearly visible in another of the five lovely bedrooms, while the twin-bedded room, with its separate sitting area and large bathroom, used to be the ladies' and gents' loos.

"It would have been easier," says the owner, Debbie Lush, "to tear the whole place down and start again."

In other hands these bedrooms, fashioned as they are from tired 1970s functions rooms, might have been horrible. Even in Debbie's capable hands, they can't help but exude more than a whiff of their former purpose. But still, they are a delightful surprise.

All five rooms - Debbie could have created eight but preferred to have fewer, larger ones - immediately please the eye. As well as restored Victorian bedsteads, there are chaise longues and squashy sofas, antique tables and chests of drawers, lavish cushions and stand-alone baths, with pretty chandeliers and wall lights and pastel-coloured walls (a bit blank: I would add some well-chosen pictures).

Attention to detail is good: fresh milk for the coffee in the mini-bar, radios by the bed, towelling robes, chrome ladder towel rails, free wi-fi throughout. All the rooms, named after the hills they overlook, have fine views and there are circular walks from the door.

As for the bar and restaurant, they have all the ingredients you would expect - flagstone floor, scrubbed wooden tables, armchairs around a wood burning stove, 80 per cent locals - without, oddly, feeling particularly cosy.

The robust food isn't try-hard or talked-up and consequently doesn't disappoint. It's tasty without being special, no more nor less than one would expect.

To conclude: a great stopover en route to Cornwall, or for a walking weekend.

For me, it's back to my what used to be garden, now virtually a farmyard, where Daisy the cow has invited all her friends in my absence.

Higher West Hatch, Taunton (01823 480480; www.farmersinnwesthatch.co.uk). Doubles £90 to £120, including breakfast.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
5 out of 5

Five huge suites; difficult to decide which is most alluring.

Service
4 out of 5

Hands-on service from a small team headed by friendly debbie and tom

Character
3 out of 5

Considering it was a nightclub, more than one might expect; good views.

Food and drink
3 out of 5

All the better for not being talked up.

Value for money
4 out of 5

You'd expect to pay more for the rooms -- which means they are just the right price.

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