A short distance from Stonehenge on the rolling Fonthill Estate, the charming Beckford Arms stands as proof of one abiding truth about the British countryside - that no matter where you go, you're never too far from a superb country pub. Home to eight elegantly-designed bedrooms - each complete with all the latest tech equipment, Vintage Welsh blankets on the beds and stunning natural seagrass floors - the pub is named after William Beckford, owner of the Fonthill Estate and once the richest man in England.
A novelist, travel writer, politician and art critic who travelled extensively, Beckford was a famously extravagant gentleman who used his vast fortune to live a life rich in artistic and cultural pursuits. He wrote the acclaimed Gothic novel 'Vathek' in 1786, as well as other books influenced by his travels, and commissioned England’s foremost architect, James Wyatt, to build him a medieval abbey at Fonthill. He went on to fill the abbey (the ruins of which are still on site) with treasures: including paintings by the great masters, of which twenty now hang in the National Gallery, as well as many contemporary artists; and the best examples of furniture, glass and design available to him.
Back at the pub, the presence of a dedicated in-house masseur, personal trainer and yoga instructor - the enigmatically mononymed Anouchka - is proof that a little of Beckford's extravagance lives on at the estate. Beckford's taste for the finer things in life can be seen in the pub's exceptional restaurant too, where seasonality, local produce and homespun expertise are all important ingredients. Menus change with the season, but it's not unusual to see a whole suckling pig spit-roasting on the bar’s open fire.
As it was, we devoured homecured hams with piccalilli, local game pies with homemade pastry and house chutney, and delicious Wiltshire steaks - all followed by buttermilk pudding with gooseberry, and dark chocolate truffle with hazelnut and sea salt ice cream. The following morning's breakfast (after a good night's sleep, but sadly no in-room massage) was homemade jam on toast, and Eggs Benedict. All come highly recommended.
And so too does the local scenery, and the rich opportunities for hunger-building (or calorie-burning) walks it offers. From the pub front door, we took a muddy midwinter trek around the surrounding fields, in Wellington boots borrowed from the bar. The rolling greenery, the sheet grey sky overhead revealing occasional snatches of icy blue, the chirping wildlife all around and the friendliness of the locals each out on similar walks, only added to the enjoyment.
We'll be back again soon - for the food, the rooms and the views - but perhaps the highest praise we could give that Beckford Arms is that its namesake, a discerning man for sure, would love the place.