PUBS, PATIOS & BARS: England’s oldest hotel a prism to the past
While most of Britain will be celebrating the coronation of King Charles III this spring, the quaint Cotswold town of Malmesbury will also be looking back over a thousand years to another other milestone: the crowning of the first king of Britain – Athelstone, who is today the town’s most famous son.
And where better to set up base for festivities, or a visit to the renowned medieval market town, than The Old Bell Hotel, believed to be the oldest hotel in Britain?
Dating back to 1220, the hotel is set in a prime location next door to Malmesbury Abbey (which includes Athelstone’s tomb), Abbey House Manor, and quaint shops and restaurants, in a historic Wiltshire town that belongs to the oldest borough in England.
A requisite town walk reveals some of Britain’s finest late Norman features and remnants, including the wonderfully decorated 500-year-old market cross, and the Tolsley Gate – site of the town lock-up, where drunks were tossed into windowless rooms until they sobered up, spawning the expression “blind drunk.” Further retribution for transgressors was meted out by a stint in the adjacent stocks where passersby would fling “mud in their eyes.”
Dubbed the “Queen of hilltop towns” and encircled by two rivers, Malmesbury is a mecca for hiking and walks in the gentle English countryside, and is also deemed a gateway to the Cotswolds, and nearby Bath.
It might be noted that the town is only a 15-minute drive from the Highgrove House, country home of the current king.
The Old Bell Hotel
At the centre of it all is the delightful Old Bell, a thoroughly renovated hotel (thank goodness) that nevertheless reflects its ancient roots.
Its 34 rooms are individually designed and furnished with colourful wallcoverings, and interesting antiques and art. Many rooms are named after local historical figures and previous owners of the Grade 1-listed hotel.
The restaurant Saints & Sinners offers a nod to Malmesbury Abbey next door and the Saints statues on display, collected by their owners on their travels to Vietnam. Food is a celebration of Cotswold produce and in-season menus incorporate local cheese makers, butchers and produce from the garden located at a cousin property, Abbey House Manor.
Meanwhile three lounges offer plenty of choice for a quiet drink or signature Afternoon Tea. In the evening, guests can settle in in front of a warming fire or, if the sun is shining, head out to one of the terraces and pretty garden.The unique outdoor Tyger Bar (photo) is covered and heated, making it suitable for use year-round and features a wide variety of cocktails along with frozen alcoholic concoctions.
A number of historic pubs are scattered throughout the town, and the town lists a pub trail online.
But whether staying close to home in the hotel or further afield for a few pints, it’s good to know that the lock-up and stocks are long closed, while a few words in the famous Abbey next door the morning after probably can’t hurt.
Malmesbury is located about an hour from London by train and 40 km from Bath along England’s Great West Way.
With glass purposefully in hand, we at Travel Industry Today continue our series on some of the planet’s best bars, patios and rooftop venues. For more articles in the series, click here:
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First published at Travel Industry Today