So I bet you’ve heard of The Pig in the New Forest, but how about Tudor Farmhouse in the Royal Forest of Dean? Shhh, let’s keep this secret hotel hideaway with culinary clout to ourselves…
We all know and love the Forest of Dean for its amazing number of kid-friendly activities – Puzzlewood, Go Ape, Clearwell Caves, Perrygrove Railways, The Secret Forest – and magical, Middle Earth topography, but if we’re looking for a chi-chi, boutique hotel experience we’d normally turn the car in the direction of the Cotswolds. Well, stop right there people and tap Tudor Farmhouse’s postcode into your satnav (though take an old-school map, too, as the network coverage is veeery patchy in the Forest).
Opened 13 years ago by the charming Colin and Hari Fell, Tudor Farmhouse is located in Clearwell, one of the Forest’s more attractive villages, though don’t expect frou-frou gift shops and cafés, the Forest doesn’t really do that. It used to be a working sheep farm – Colin showed me a picture of it in 1970 and it looked a bit rough round the edges back then, but today, it’s preened and pristine, with 20 stylish rooms and a restaurant that could happily sit at the big boys’ table of metropolitan fine dining.
There’s no pomp and circumstance here, everything is super relaxed. In fact, it feels a bit like turning up at a friend’s house. The staff are really welcoming and nothing’s too much trouble – at the last minute I called to ask if I could bring the Muddy hound along and that was just fine. And as well as being a great place for a family stay – my three weren’t turning heads in a bad way and there were also babies in tow among the other guests – I also fancy it as a romantic getaway. I always feel like I’m in a fairy tale whenever I go to the Forest and now I’ve found the perfect place to bed down with my Prince Charming.
Given the higgledy-piggledy nature of the former farmhouse, rooms are dotted around different buildings and many have their own front door, so you almost feel like you’re in a cottage. We stayed in two rooms next to each other, both giving onto the courtyard. The ‘adult’ room, The Byre, was divine, with a gloriously comfy bed and luxurious roll-top bath sectioned off from the sleeping area, but with no door, so if romance had been the mission, this would have offered up some nice possibilities. There was also a cute little study area just calling out for some creative journaling.
The kids’ and dog’s abode (there are three dog-friendly rooms at the hotel) was a more nursery-style affair with three beds in a row (one put up specially) that looked like they were waiting for Goldilocks (though the Muddy hound seemed to think they were waiting for him, shhh). The mudlets were suitably impressed by the TV and en-suite, but it was the old-fashioned phone complete with brrring, brrring ringtone, which they could use to ring through to our room, that really pressed their buttons. Décor in both rooms was quietly stylish in a New Hamptons kind of way. And the sheets were soooo soft. Good zzz’s guaranteed.
SCOFF & QUAFF
When we finally prised the mudlets away from the retro telephones, we retired to the small but perfectly formed restaurant which turned out to be so accomplished I wouldn’t rule out a Michelin star in the future.
Just take a look at these starters (all around the £8 mark), of which a complimentary amuse bouche of pea and ham soup with mint oil in an espresso cup set the tone. The eel (fresh from the Severn, most of the ingredients come from a 20-mile radius) looked like something Noma might serve up and was sublime, so probably wasn’t too far away from tasting like the famous Copenhagen restaurant’s fare, while the honey and lavender glazed duck breast came with lavender seeds, which also tasted heavenly.
The mains (most were around £20) didn’t disappoint either. Rump and shoulder of Cotswold lamb with apricots and couscous was an accomplished fusion of British Moroccan cuisine with the shoulder slow-cooked and the rump tantalisingly rare, while the Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with apple, cockles and vanilla & ginger jus took my favourite roast to the next level.
Then there was pudding (£8) to enjoy, and enjoy I was going to. I mean, how could I resist dark chocolate and cherry mousse with poached cherries and cherry sorbet, which tasted like a deconstructed Black Forest gateaux? The eldest mudlet opted for baked cheesecake with raspberry and lychee, while the younger two were offered sticky toffee pudding from the lunch menu and Mr M went for his usual cheeseboard to quaff the remaining Bergerac down with. I stuck with the superb Tintern Parva Bachhus, from nearby Wales, which I was happy to hog to myself, while the mudlets were all over the local Raglan’s Lane Farm papple (pear & apple) and rapple (raspberry & apple) juices.
The food was really superb and on another day if I didn’t have children’s plates I could steal from, I’d definitely go for the six-course tasting menu. At £60 (optional accompanying flight of six wines, £30), I’d say it was pretty good value and would mean you could sample the kitchen’s prowess in as many dishes as possible. Which is definitely something you want to do.
I don’t know how we found room to put away full English breakfasts and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs the next day, but we did! And very nice they were too.
Definitely. And dog-friendly! They were extremely welcoming to my brood and while the hotel isn’t set up for children specifically, there is so much to do with kids in the Forest, you could spend a week there having a blast. (Check out my outdoor activities guide here – nearly half are in the Forest.) And the hotel’s brilliant, easy-to-follow walking leaflets include Scavenger Hunts on the back to motivate younger legs, while Clearwell Caves nearby is a cool adventure for kids and adults alike.
OUT AND ABOUT
The hotel’s gardens – a cottage-style one where you can eat outside, the kitchen garden and a stunning back garden perfect for gazing at the countryside (the area is designated triple S i, so is abundant in wild flowers) – are the main reason to stay in Clearwell itself. There’s not much else in the village – the stunning Clearwell Castle is privately owned, though Mr M and I did have a sneaky snoop around the grounds after dinner walking the hound, but don’t tell anyone. You can hire it for a wedding though, if your romantic weekend pans out well. Otherwise, you’ve got walking, cycling, riding or running trails on your doorstep, but, it being summer, we opted for a wild swimming adventure.
The hotel can arrange a guide if you like (there are also foraging expeditions which would be great in the autumn), but we decided to head off on our own, armed with a fantastic picnic hamper produced by the kitchen and a printout of nearby swimming spots on the Wye. Eschewing Symonds Yat in search of something a bit less crowded, we headed towards Ross-on-Wye and, about a half hour drive away from the hotel, found the perfect, secluded riverside bathing area at Tressick Campsite. We braced ourselves and plunged into the Wye with the swans, and then, wrapped in our towels, tucked into beef salad and cheese & pickle sandwiches, caviar, smoked salmon, cheese, scones with cream and jam and chocolate brownies. I felt like I was in an Enid Blyton Famous Five adventure.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families wanting to access all the fab outdoor activities on offer in the Forest; hiking couples, young and old; couples looking for a romantic hideaway; tourists, British or otherwise, who want to experience a largely undiscovered corner of England; outward bound types who want a comfy bed and seriously good meal to come back to.
Not for: Urbanites who like shopping and cultural pursuits. Most of your fun is outdoors in the Forest.
The damage: Pretty darned reasonable for what you get I’d say. From £130 based on two sharing a Hatchling Room on a B&B basis, additional guests £25, children under 6 free. Check out the website for some pretty great seasonal special offers, too. They also do special wild swimming packages.
Tudor Farmhouse, High Street, Clearwell, Royal Forest of Dean GL16 8JS. Tel: 01594 833046. tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk