Timbrell's Yard, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire: hotel review
It's hard to believe that this thriving restaurant and bar with stylish rooms, in a historic riverfront building, almost became an office block
It has buildings of creamy limestone, ancient bridges over the Avon and coffee shops galore, but Bradford on Avon is probably best-known as a day trip destination from Bath, with which it has much of the above in common. What it doesn't have is Bath's crowds and queues. A walk on Bradford's riverside path is a peaceful affair: birdsong drifts, a Saxon church peeps from trees, and traffic is a distant rumble. Adding to the town's charms since last year is Timbrell's Yard, in a prime spot by the river and 13th-century Town Bridge. Amazingly for such a well-kept town, this was until 2013 a rundown pub, the Riverside Inn. In 2014, when it had lain empty for a year and was about to be turned into offices and flats, it was bought by Draco Pub Company (now Stay Original Co), owner of the similarly revamped Swan at Wedmore and White Hart in Somerton, both in Somerset. A £1.5m modernisation saw the old pub remodelled and renamed, after research revealed that the site was a dye mill in the 18th century, and the Grade-II listed main building the family home of one Charles Timbrell. It bills itself as bar/restaurant/rooms rather than hotel, and the reception is reached through a long, convivial bar area, where local ladies are having coffee and pastries and young families lunch and drinks. The 14 bedrooms, in a maze of stairs and corridors panelled in mellow unfinished wood, seem to be saying, "Hey, look at all this period stuff" - there are low beams, deep window seats, wonky floors aplenty - "and see how up to date and witty we've made it." In our room, the palette is elegant greys, from bedspread to desk chair, patterned blinds and bathroom tiles, but furry cushions and vintage bits (trunk, dressmaker's mannequin) stop it being sombre. Nipping to the loo, I'm impressed with the smellies - clary sage and lemongrass handwash, grapefruit and lavender hand cream. So starts a weekend-long game of guess the fragrance. Shower gel? Mandarin and lemongrass. Shampoo? Rosemary and lemon. Conditioner? Geranium and lemon. Body lotion? Juniper and bergamot. Husband is more impressed with the silk padding on the beams, but I'm wondering if there'll be this many ingredients on the menu later when we meet friends downstairs for dinner. There's a similar rustic/contemporary mix in the spacious restaurant, with lamps that look like garden incinerators hanging from double-height ceilings, and reds, pinks and browns warming the colour scheme. On our way to a table by a tall window overlooking the river, we see young staff doing energetic things in the open kitchen. That kitchen is overseen by River Cottage graduate Tom Blake, so our expectations are high, and are met with some great hits, and a few misses. Husband's starter of hake ceviche with beans and pea shoots is fresh, delicate and a delight to eat, as are chorizo sausage rolls with slaw from the "little things" section. The expertise seems to lean meatwards: my slow-cooked belly pork is masterly (I've eaten a lot of examples), perfect with black cabbage salsa; and friend's shin beef in garlic and soy is melting and darkly unctuous. But the flavour of husband's pollack is lost amid dukkah coating and spicy cauliflower couscous, and much of the flavour in other friend's fish stew is just lost. There's no lack of generosity, though: portions are huge. Next morning, at a sunny riverside window, husband is hungry after an early swim in the town pool 50 metres away, but can only make a dent in his smoked salmon with (oversweetened) home-baked beans and slab of bubble and squeak. Without the excuse of a swim, I do my best with fruit compote and fantastic bacon from Somerset Sausage Co. Sets us up nicely, though, for Bradford's museum and 14th-century tithe barn,and a walk along the Kennet and Avon canal. And 10 minutes away by train, they say, there's quite a nice town with Assembly Rooms and Roman Baths … o Accommodation was provided by Timbrell's Yard (doubles from £85, 01225 86949, timbrellsyard.com) Ask a local o Eat and drink Bradford on Avon has many lovely pubs, and you can't a beat an early evening drink by the canal. The Lock Inn Cafe has tables outside on a colourful converted boat. The Thai Barn serves delicious food and the Weaving Shed has great coffee. o Culture There are many National Trust properties nearby: Great Chalfield (open between 2 April and 29 October 2017 but not Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays), where some of Wolf Hall was filmed, is a must, and Iford Manor is just down the road. It opens its beautiful Peto garden every spring/summer. o Do Hire a bicycle and ride the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath, 13 miles through rolling countryside.
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