When it comes to holidays in Somerset there are certain things that just have to be done, things that capture the essence, the character of the West Country – like visiting a cider shack where the ‘elixir of life’ (as the locals call it) is still made to traditional methods, buying proper job Cheddar from a farm shop, and of course, spending time in a lovely old country pub. When it comes to the latter, the problem is – which one? There are so many! Well, here’s one we’re more than happy to recommend – The Farmers Arms at Combe Florey.
The bookworms among you may recognise the name Combe Florey as the village where Evelyn Waugh had his country home in the 1950’s. He regularly frequented the Farmers Arms with various members of the literati, and his grave is in the churchyard. Combe Florey is a pretty little village just off the A358, the main road to the Quantocks and the West Somerset coast, so if you’re planning an excursion when you’re on your large group holiday put the Farmers Arms on your agenda as a pit stop for drinks or a leisurely lunch. Otherwise go there for dinner, and if you’ve got something special to celebrate book the room upstairs where you can have your own private party – drinks and canapes, a hot or cold buffet, or a three course feast – whatever you like. It’s a great space up there, spanking brand new but the old timbers they’ve used blend seamlessly with the modern look, and it’s big enough for 50-60 people, so if you’re coming down on holiday to catch up with old friends or family for a special occasion, there’s your answer, have that room, celebrate in style.
The Farmers Arms dates back to the 15th century and it’s utterly charming, with an exterior of bumpy whitewashed walls and a heavy thatched roof; what’s hard to believe is that it was almost completely destroyed by a fire in January 2017. Owners Tim and Jane decamped to run another local pub whilst the Farmers Arms was painstakingly rebuilt, a huge project that was pulled off with incredible success, incorporating a new open plan bar and restaurant space on the ground floor, a covered walkway and disabled loos. A solid oak staircase was installed in the bar leading up to the private dining room.
The original footprint of the pub remains, and fortunately, much of the ground floor survived so the features typical of country pubs in this part of the world are still there – thick stone walls of the lovely red-pink sandstone that prevails in the Quantock villages, chunky ceiling beams and two big inglenook fireplaces (one in the bar and one at the end of the restaurant). It’s such a pleasure to walk in on chillier days and find the wood-burners aglow, the warmth pervading the friendly ambience, but it’s equally good on those forbiddingly hot summer days when you need a welcome escape from the heat of the sun; these cool interiors are just the ticket. When they’ve finished here you’ll be able to sit in the beer garden beneath parasols and enjoy a refreshing pint of the local brew. They’ve plans to install an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven and to offer take out pizzas; now there’s a nice idea – ring ahead and order pizzas to pick up on your way back from Minehead or Dunster, but get there in plenty of time for a drink whilst you wait.
You’re certainly guaranteed a warm welcome and very attentive service, with a smile, - which is just how it should be, but don’t expect much from the huge stag heads behind the bar! There’s a fine selection of wines and spirits, and they’re big on the aforementioned local brew so there are ales and ciders that are made just a few miles away, and regular guest beers. In fact, you can even try the landlord’s own cider, made in the hills with apples gathered from his own and neighbouring orchards. He puts his all into running this place; he even makes charcoal to fuel the top-notch Josper oven in the kitchen – and you don’t need us to tell you how exquisite the steaks are.
It’s a similar story with the food. Head chef Mike puts passion and creativity into what he does and he certainly knows his stuff, how the flavours work and how to make the best of what’s available, working in harmony with the seasons. All produce and ingredients are locally sourced, with some grown in gardens close by and brought in by the locals; all manner of vegetables and herbs, and only the other day, someone brought some home-grown chillies in. Mike puts it all to good use.
Go at lunchtime for pub favourites like Exmoor Beer Battered Cod & Chips, Oven Baked Gammon, and Poacher’s Pie, or have something lighter, like a Ploughman’s or a ciabatta with salad and chips. In the evening it gets a bit more fancy but it’s still unpretentious, restaurant quality food without the silly prices. Have a starter of Panko Crumbed Quantock Pheasant Goujons, or Steamed River Exe Mussels, followed by Supreme of Creedy Carver Chicken, and rounded off with Warm Bramley Apple & Blackcurrant Crumble. Your tastebuds will be jumping for joy and you’ll go home feeling smugly satisfied.
The Farmer’s Arms isn’t far at all from some of our luxury large group holiday homes; just up the road are five timber-clad lodges, each with their own indoor pool, and sleeping 12-14 guests. The beauty is that these can be hired individually, or if there’s a particularly big group of you, you can hire two together; see Ramscombe and Cockercombe, Crowcombe and Thorncombe, and Foxcombe. Just a couple of miles down the road, sleeping up to 21 guests, is Pound Farm, a gorgeous rambling old farmstead with an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna. A bit further on is Ilbeare, a beautiful country house for 14, with a hot tub and 2 acres of grounds, and out round the lanes are Halse Water House, a big holiday cottage for 12, and Dustings for 16; again, both have a hot tub. If you’ve got people in your party who are happy to drive, great, but if not book a taxi, or hop on the bus and from where it drops you, you just take a stroll down the charmingly named Coggins Lane and along a stream to get to the pub. Perfick, isn’t it?
The thing is, the Farmers Arms is everything a country pub should be; plenty of character, friendly service, fantastic food, well kept beer, and a great atmosphere. You can have a good old night, or lunchtime session at the pub; sit down with the locals and have a bit of banter, find out some stories, they’ve got plenty of ‘em and it’s all good fun, all very jolly. The pub is family friendly, dog friendly, and it’s open from midday every day; make sure it’s on your list for your large group holiday in Somerset.