The Swan

“An ambitiously renovated but all-too-familiar old inn in the centre of town.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th January 2008.

Five minutes before arriving, I'd given my husband a warning. "If this hotel, which has just been completely renovated, has leather sofas on stripped wood or slate floors, chunky wooden tables and chairs in the dining room, oatmeal carpets in the bedrooms, linen curtains and walls the colour of a mud pack, then I will kill myself".

The rooms at the Swan are decent value but dull.

Only the thought that no one would feed the cat prevented me from carrying out my threat, quite possibly in full public view, because what I saw inside was, you guessed it, exactly that. Most people, of course, will wonder at such extremity and will be unfazed, perhaps even chuffed at what they find here, but then most people don't see as many hotels as I do and they don't know that all across the country there are splendid old buildings, full of history, character, nooks, crannies and creaking floorboards, being rendered as uniform as a Georgian high street that's had its identity stolen by corporate logos.

Not that this landmark, handsome black and white 16th-century inn, plumb in the middle of gorgeous Bradford-on-Avon, was any great shakes in its previous incarnation. It was frankly awful, with the youth of the town session-drinking in the back bar and bedrooms that were the last word in drab and old hat. It's just that when I heard that Stephen Ross, an independent hotelier with a great track record, had leased the place from Greene King, I had high hopes of finding something other than the usual bland, head-bangingly boring, fury-inducing neutral beige makeover.

And so, I firmly believe, did Mr Ross, who found the conversion a budget-busting nightmare, and was further challenged by the need to create a hostelry - smack, as it is, in the centre of town - that offers something for everyone: a hotel, a restaurant and a pub in one. It's a hard thing to pull off, especially with budget constraints and the exacting demands of listed-building officers.

Tom Bridgeman, the chef, also manages the hotel. The ground floor has been opened up to allow sitting areas in the front, with the restaurant, serving Tom's straightforward English menu, at the rear, with a large square bar in between and a large unlit (on our visit) hearth. Leather sofas, walls the colour of a bruise, plain wood tables and chairs, bare wood and slate floors.

"What do you feel in here?" I asked my sister, who kindly joined us at the last minute in order to counteract my dyspeptic mood. "Not comfortable. And fancy," she said, warming to her role as hotel critic, "choosing lilies for the table flowers; their scent overpowers everything on the plate".

The food was a mixed bag. "The best steak ever," declared my nephew, not easy to please. "Okay scallops with bacon and lentils, and tasty butternut squash with ricotta, but the bread rolls are straight from the bottom shelf at the Spar," noted my sister. Not bad, but could do better, was the general opinion. Which is exactly my feeling about the whole place. Once the desire to end it all had subsided, it induced not fury, but ennui. The rooms though, it must be said, are fairly priced and if you want an outing, it's only 15 minutes to Bath on the train.

Church Street, Bradford-on-Avon (01225 868686; Doubles from £95 to £135 per night, including breakfast. For reviews and recommendations from Fiona Duncan visit

The Hotel Guru verdict

3 out of 5

Predictable. huge no 12 is a bargain; nos 8 and 11 (four poster) also stand out.

4 out of 5

Pleasant, smiley and informal on our visit.

2 out of 5

Apart from the splendid setting, curiously lacking in character for such an old building.

Food and drink
3 out of 5

Good intentions: reasonably executed at a fair price.

Value for money
4 out of 5

Despite misgivings, one couldn't quibble with the bill.

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