Photo of Stapleton Arms

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th September 2008.

Even in deepest Dorset, where the old-fashioned signposts are either missing or, even more confusingly, bent heavenward, I find myself in a new-wave village inn, the type one might describe as “urban chic with a country twist” (Wellingtons by the door and one old boy propping up the bar).

From the outside, with its fresh white paint, pillared portico and elegant proportions, the Stapleton Arms looks more like a gentleman’s residence than a long-established hostelry. There’s an inviting terrace in front while the four guest bedrooms have a separate entrance next door.

Step inside and the scene is contemporary, of course. As the old boy at the bar looks around him, he sees walls that a couple of years ago were probably decorated by nicotine stains, and now are by Farrow and Ball, in a large, open-plan room with leather sofas and chunky, wooden tables. His inscrutable expression is that of a man drawn each day to his local as if by a magnet, and whatever they do to it, he’ll still be there. It’s the beer he’s interested in, and it happens to be very good, along with home-made pork pies at the bar, and big jars of chutney.

The wine is good, too, and reasonably priced. We enjoy our Sauvignon, a fragrant Côtes de Gascogne at £3.30 per glass. The short but intelligent list of bottles ranges from £13 to £36. Admirable.

All pubs, even new-wave ones, need a good number of customers to make one feel merry, but on a Sunday evening this one has surprisingly few, though Jane tells me it’s the first time she has seen it so quiet. The dark-blue dining room is furnished with polished–wood tables and an eclectic assortment (“a cacophony,” Jane says) of mismatched wooden chairs, a clever device that I’ve seen work well elsewhere to avoid the look of uniformity.

Dinner, if we are honest, is a slight disappointment, especially as I had heard much about the excellence of the food. We choose tender scallops with crispy pancetta (and, unfortunately, a particularly persistent, dive-bombing fly), Cornish mussels in a delicious lemongrass-scented broth and good, local cheese but also somewhat woolly, bone-bedevilled plaice, limp garden salad, and a particularly cloying banana crème brûlée complete with unappetising banana bits). We have to call more than once for missing cutlery and ask for water. And we wish we could have been put in the window, rather than at a blank wall, in the almost empty room. Beside us is a lone chair, forlornly facing the wall. “Why has it been put in the naughty corner?” asks Jane. “Oh, look, you see, it’s broken.”

The bedrooms are great, especially for the price: airy and well-proportioned, if a little masculine in design, with smart new curtains and co-ordinating cushions on the bed. Mine has a lovely bathroom, with large, freestanding tub and generous toiletries.

Breakfast is top notch; excellent coffee and tea. When the Stapleton Arms is humming, as it often is, I reckon it would be a great place to stay – a nigh-on perfect stop-off en route to the West Country.

Church Hill, Buckhorn Weston (01963 370396; Doubles from £90 to £120 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.