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A Night Away: the Three Horseshoes in Batcombe, Somerset

A crack team of creative people, Margot Henderson among them, have turned a run-down watering hole into a destination more than worthy of all the hype

Grace McCloud
A Night Away: the Three Horseshoes in Batcombe, Somerset

Nobody with their finger on the pulse can have missed Somerset’s star ascending in recent years. The south-western county – or at least a portion of it – has become the destination nonpareil for both well-heeled weekenders and second-home seekers, drawn by the cultural cachet of the likes of Hauser & Wirth in Bruton, the slightly scruffy Georgian gorgeousness of Frome, the rustic luxiness of the Newt and Babington House. Some locals may find this recent idolatry bemusing, but many others are thrilled. As one long-settled Fromeite tells me, “this part of Somerset has finally got the food it deserves.”

Among those responsible for the gastronomic glamourisation of this part of the world is Margot Henderson, co-patron of London’s lauded Rochelle Canteen. Since 2020, Margot has overseen – along with owner Max Wigram, interior designer Frances Penn and landscape designer Libby Russell – the overhaul of the Three Horseshoes in Batcombe, a valley-hidden village about three miles north of Bruton. The 17th-century pub was, until not so long ago, a village local of the recognisable sort: green fitted carpet, varnished wood, pewter tankards above the bar. And, like so many of its ilk, it had sadly struggled before eventually closing. Reopened in 2023, after reimagination by the crack team mentioned, it happily remains a recognisably village local, only now souped-up to the level of sophistication those flocking to Somerset have come to expect.

The night of my visit is cheerless, dark and deadly. Train strikes and fog’s foul fingers choke the roads, amplifying my impatience to arrive; a pint and a plate of head chef Nye Smith’s fabled devilled pig skin beckon. Arriving in the dark, the first thing I hear is laughter, floating out of the kitchen windows. A good sign and a warm welcome indeed.

I’m shown to my room, one of the pub’s five. It’s a wide, under-the-eaves space, hung with a huge Noguchi washi-paper light. A quietly conspicuous statement of taste, this vast lunar lantern sets the tone somewhat: elegant unfussiness, homely textures, beauty over bells and whistles (though more on bells later…). There are Moroccan carpets, plush of pile and richly coloured, sisal rugs, rattan baskets and gleaming white zellige tiles. Beds are fitted with pillowy feather toppers and spread with antique linen. This is a place of neither showiness nor austerity, but simply simplicity: good things, done properly.

The same ethos applies to the food. Smith cut his teeth at St John, the nose-to-tail institution founded by Henderson’s husband, Fergus, and you can sense it colouring his creations here. The hearty menu comprises country classics in the old mould: potted pork, pheasant and ham pie, mussels in cider. I’m swayed by a Jerusalem artichoke salad with unctuous roasted shallots. After comes a pork chop the size of my hand, with a golden corona of blistered fat and a slump of braised lentils, tangled with green. It’s more jolie-laide than pretty – tweezer-handled and towering this is not – and it’s all the better for it.

Localism is clearly championed here – bread and cheese, for instance, come from Westcombe Dairy all of a mile away – though not bragged about. (Incidentally, visit if you’ve time, if only to meet Tina Turner, the dairy’s beloved robotic cheddar turner.) All but one of the taps on the bar (Guinness) are West Country offerings, and the cider list is – naturally – extensive.

The worry with a place like this is that it’s full of DFLs (‘Down From Londons’) on Friday and Saturday nights, empty the rest of the week. But on the Thursday I’m there, a table of local lads take it turns to buy rounds, while clutches of villagers drift throughout the evening, stopping by for a pint of Otter and a packet of Scampi Fries. (Yes, Smith’s bar snacks are sensational, but this pub hasn’t forgotten what it is.) Rather than catering solely to the minted metropolitan elite, the team have instead created something more identifiable to the folk who, really, will ensure the pub keeps going. Instead of swankifying things with swish designer fabrics and club-like upholstery, the team have conjured something altogether less fashionable (and consequently all the more so): the unpretentious air of an old ale house, all flagstone floors, bare walls, low stools and mismatched stick-back chairs.

After such indulgence in my quiet corner of the restaurant, bed – big, bouncy, sumptuously comfy – beckons. I fall asleep thinking about whether eating one of the cookies, left at the tea station in my room, first thing in the morning with a cuppa is acceptable. When I wake, the bells of the 15th-century church of St Mary the Virgin, which overlooks the pub, are gently chiming. I eat the cookie. (It’s delicious.) The watery winter sun, rising as I do, hits the eastern face of the Gothic tower and the world is still.

Breakfast is a quiet affair. Chet Baker plays on the speakers and I’m served a bowl of blushing quinces with homemade yogurt and satisfyingly salt-specked granola. I hear staff discussing the collective noun for a group of magpies (a conventicle, FYI) and think how much I don’t want to leave this peaceable place. Sure, you could come to Somerset for Bruton, for Frome. But really you should come for this.

Further reading

The Three Horseshoes

The Three Horseshoes on Instagram

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