A regular contributor to CAMRA magazine Pints West, Duncan Shine champions the virtues of real ale and traditional cider. He’s also editor of the website britishpubguide.com
The Carpenters Arms
Somerset BS39 4BX
There is, I think, nothing quite so satisfying as an accidentally discovered country inn. No matter how popular it turns out to be, you always feel as though it’s your own personal discovery, like some intrepid pub adventurer going where no Westerner has ever gone.
That’s exactly the experience I had several years ago driving along a narrow country road south of Pensford in Somerset.
There, in the hamlet of Stanton Wick, and sitting very slightly sunken below the road, sat The Carpenter’s Arms. A cracking dining pub in beautiful surroundings that has since become a regular favourite of mine. Originally, this was a row of miners’ cottages, so it’s much wider than it is deep.
These days as you approach you see a compact stone-built pub in an immaculate setting. All the shrubs and plants around the grounds and patio areas are perfectly ‘coiffed’ to provide sheltered suntrap drinking in an environment that is almost otherworldly in its tranquillity.
The attention to detail is as evident in the ‘30s-style avuncular carpenter realised on the pub sign by painter Rob Rowland as it is in the clean lines of the hedges and spotless tables.
Inside there is a long bar in front of you stretching towards separate dining areas to the left and right. The walls have a nicotine-stained colouring that you just know doesn’t actually come from nicotine. The low beams have that slightly uneven authenticity only seen in pubs of a certain age, while the artwork adorning the walls is understated and traditional, with prints of a horse above a big old wood burning fire to the left.
Dining is in ‘Cooper’s Parlour’ to the right, or a marginally more formal dining room to the left. Although the food is imaginatively selected and prepared, using local produce wherever possible, the menu eschews the pseudo-gastro excesses sometimes associated with dining pubs. Main dishes such as the Thai curries or fillet of sea bass or trout sit alongside linguini with spinach, while Saturday afternoons see a simple sandwich menu for quick but delicious refuelling. There is also a good children’s menu.
For the non-drivers, there is an extensive wine list, with many available by the glass. The real ales are like stepping stones out across the West Country peninsula, with Somerset’s Butcombe Bitter leading you to Devon’s Otter Ale and finally to North Cornwall and Sharp’s Doom Bar Bitter. The Otter Ale on my most recent visit was in fine form.
This is such a beautiful part of the world. It’s well worth considering an overnight stay in one of the 12 rooms available. The location is ideal for exploring the Chew Valley, or for popping into Bath or Bristol to do the tourist thing. In peak season it is quite busy so well worth booking online.
Although I like to think of The Carpenter’s Arms as my own little discovery, the truth is it is a very well- known venue and so – particularly in the evenings – takes on a bustling vitality as locals enjoying a pint mix with diners from further afield. The welcome is always friendly and obliging however, and even on the busiest nights, there is an all- pervading sense of calm efficiency.
The best way to ‘accidentally’ happen upon The Carpenter’s Arms is to book a table in advance, and then follow the signs to Stanton Wick from where the A37 meets the A368. OK, it’s hardly Livingstone beating his way through the undergrowth, but the expedition is well worth it for all that.
Raise a glass to…
Butcombe Bitter (4%)
Brewed in Somerset since 1978, this is a bitter whose taste lives up to the name: a truly bitter bitter. There’s a faint hint of lemon in there too, plus a good old whack of malt.
Otter Ale (4.5%)
From down Honiton way in Devon. This is a mahogany-brown premium ale which, for me, is genuinely malty. It’s true there are hints of fruit in both the aroma and taste, but this is secondary. The malt isn’t overwhelming though, and there is a pleasing bitterness towards the end.
Sharp’s Doom Bar (4%)
Named after a treacherous sand bank in the Camel Estuary, this has become the brewery’s flagship beer. Flowers and berries are recalled with a waft of this under your nose, and when you taste it the fruit remains but is joined more overtly by the malty bitterness that is its trademark. It all ends up slightly sweet, which has made it very popular among less hardened real ale drinkers.