Madeleine Silver discovers The Arch - a masterclass in clever interiors nestled amid some of Wiltshire’s best sporting country
The Arch at Fonthill is cartoon grand: a soaring masterpiece built in 1755 to mark the entrance to the original Fonthill estate and welcome a steady flow of Georgian A-listers from Turner to Byron who visited this rolling corner of Wiltshire.
THE ARCH, FONTHILL
Perched on the hill beyond is Fonthill House, home of Lord Margadale, and sprawled out below is a slice of bucolic bliss for every season: hyperactive spring lambs, cricketers basking in a summer haze or the jostle of trailers lining the lane for the South & West Wilts hunt’s New Year Meet. You could happily swing under the arch, breathing a sigh of relief to have left the dawdling A303 behind, with eyes fixed only on a pint of Butcombe and the smart menu at the Beckford Arms beyond (think glazed figs with whipped goat’s curd or roasted venison loin with black pudding croquette). But hidden inside the arch is the pub’s latest ace card: a bolthole laid out over three floors with a pantry, boot room, sitting room, bedroom and bunk beds tucked in the roof, all connected by a spiral stone staircase.
When an estate woodsman who had lived here for a quarter of a century moved out, Charlie Luxton, a co-founder of the Beckford Group (there are three other pubs in this part of the West Country plus two restaurants in nearby Bath) and Farrow & Ball colour consultant Patrick O’Donnell teamed up to overhaul the Grade I-listed building. With every nook kitted out with razor-sharp detail (the antique desk is laid out with pencils and postcards ready to be written, the dresser loaded with decanters of whisky, and a pair of binoculars is perfectly positioned on a windowsill to spy on the lake’s avian arrivals), there’s something about this place that stirs a childlike excitement, like stepping into a doll’s house with tiny details to marvel at behind each door. Luxton’s auction house treasures are around every corner, alongside an Amazon Alexa, a whizzy coffee machine and sunny red-and-white vinyl tiles in the kitchen. There’s a grandfather clock, brass stick stand and barometer on the wall, but also modern graphic prints and a stop-you- in-your-tracks pink bathroom mirror. A new kind of old school.
Mustering the energy to emerge from the Arch is made a little easier with the wellies, rug and flask waiting for you (plus a bottle of Fentimans elderflower and a brownie snaffled from the pantry). Footpaths dart across the estate and further into the Nadder Valley where Wiltshire makes way for Dorset, and for keen fishermen the Beckford team can hook you up with fly-fishing instructor Graham Waterton at Stick Without Brains to make the most of the bountiful chalkstreams. But you’d also be forgiven for only getting as far as the Beckford Arms (a 20-minute walk or a few minutes’ drive), where hunting prints line the walls, cartridges for sale are chalked above the bar and the resident black labrador is reliably in situ by the fire. Here’s the kind of place where you’re just as likely to see loved-up Londoners who’ve bolted for the weekend at the bar as a pint-size jockey post-hunting (hairnet still intact) glugging on the Beckford’s home-made ginger beer. And there’s a menu to match: a towering burger, a ploughman’s with a doorstep hunk of bread but also more grown-up fare (try the Brixham plaice with samphire and jalapeño and lime butter).
If one excursion from your hideaway is enough, the next day’s breakfast can be left in the fridge in the Arch as an alternative to eating it in the pub: apple-sized tomatoes, sausages, bacon, black pudding and storybook- yellow eggs, all washed down with glass bottles of orange juice and blue-top milk. While it sizzles, running the standalone bath in the bedroom is the savvy option, Roberts radio blaring. There’s something deliciously romantic about peeping out through the window as you soak, marvelling at this vignette of British countryside that visitors to Fonthill have been greeted with as they pass beneath the arch for more than 250 years.
From the end of April to the end of July, nab a spot on one of the estate’s simulated game days, the brainchild of the current Lord Margadale and his son Declan Morrison, and led by headkeeper Mick Lewis. You can expect a pheasant drive, partridge, woodcock, pigeon and grouse – with 10 drives at Lewis’ disposal across the estate depending on the weather – set against a backdrop of wildflower meadows and ancient woodland. And however you fare on the clays, the locally sourced lunch cooked over a fire is the perfect pick-me-up. For more information, visit: fonthill.co.uk