A Night Away: comfort with a conscience at the Bull Inn, Totnes
A stopover at the delightful ethically led Devon establishment leaves Inigo feeling rested, rejuvenated and with renewed optimism for the future
You can get a taxi from Totnes station to Rotherfold square. It sits at the other end of the ancient market town, but the walk – about half a mile up towards the Norman motte-and-bailey castle and along the high street, filled with indie shops and cafés – is worth it. Besides, one gets the sense that walking would be encouraged by Geetie Singh-Watson, ethical entrepreneur and proprietor of the Bull Inn, which overlooks this former cattle marketplace.
In 1998, Geetie set up the country’s first entirely organic pub, the Duke of Cambridge in Islington. The Bull – “an inn with rooms” that opened in 2020 – follows in its venerable footsteps. Its slogan is “Organic. Radical. Ethical” and this “no-bull” approach is apparent in everything it does, from food – organic, seasonal, simple, low-waste – to interiors.
One of nine, Inigo’s bedroom, for instance, was decorated largely with well-chosen second-hand bits and bobs, antiques and reclaimed lace and chintz, all set against roughly scrubbed lime-plastered walls painted in shades of pink and Devon cream. Where things have had to be bought new, they’re local, ethically sourced or both – woollen mattresses from Exeter; bed linen from Greenfibres, the UK’s first organic textile company whose shop is across the street; lampshades from Pippi & Me in Dartington, less than two miles down the road.
With all the trappings of a country house, the Bull is deeply comfortable, unpretentious and unchallenging. Yet it is radical too. Not many places with beautiful bedrooms tell you how they’re heated, for instance, but that’s because not nearly enough use solar or heat-recapture systems. Nor do many other hotels tell you how they’ve reduced the embedded carbon of their offering by cutting down on the number of irons on site, instead stocking a communal dresser on the landing from which guests can also help themselves to more of the heavenly handmade honey-scented soap or spare towels, encouraging a more neighbourly mentality in the process. And you don’t catch many five-star establishments waxing lyrical on their hemp-based lino floors…
All this information is outlined in the cork-bound pamphlet found in each room that manages to teach, not preach. Most of it is common sense (albeit that which bears repeating): towels may not look brand new because, well… they’re not (though they are clean and luxurious); the old radiators have been moved away from the single-glazed sash windows (the building is Grade II listed) so that curtains can be drawn behind them to limit heat loss. We are reassured our rubbish will be sorted for recycling.
Also in this bold little booklet are notes on the Bull’s deep-rooted eating ethos. Given that Geetie’s husband is the founder of Riverford Organic, Guy Singh-Watson, a veg-heavy menu (with prudent amounts of mindfully sourced meat and day-boat fish) was perhaps a given. But while its environmental impact is minimal, the Bull’s gastronomic force is anything but.
The chalkboard of daily dishes on the day of Inigo’s visit was almost impossible to choose from. Should one have the fennel, mustard leaf and chopped egg salad, or the soy miso mushrooms with broccoli, tahini and kimchi? (The correct answer is, of course, both.) Drinks – equally delicious – are sourced from biodynamic, natural or organic suppliers with admirable credentials.
The Bull’s commitment to doing good in a way that makes you feel good is easy to see here – and easy to enjoy too. What is harder convey in words and pictures is the rounded air of Devonian cheer – the convivial welcome, like you’ve just walked into your neighbourhood pub, and the easy charm of its smiling staff. Like much of Totnes itself, the Bull has an air of independence and a love of localism that might, in the past, have been seen as hippyish. Not anymore. This is sustainability with soul, substance and style. It’s ravishing and, yes, radical. And we’d walk much further than a half-mile to happen upon it again.
The Bull Inn on Instagram
- Home Comforts: bed, bath and beyond with Sarah Watson of BalineumLeisure
- Home Comforts: musicals, Magimixes, mirth and merriment with Jeremy LeeLeisure
- A Night Away: salt-spiked escapism at the Suffolk, in AldeburghLeisure
- Home Comforts: more is more with Ned and Sarah Corbett-WinderLeisure
- Home Comforts: Arthur Parkinson on all things fair and fowlLeisure