John Steinbeck wrote to his wife of Bruton: ‘There’s something here that clears your eyes. I wish you could feel this place, just let it seep into you. There’s a goodness here.’
The great American author made the tiny Somerset town his home in 1959, living in an old cottage on the outskirts for six months. From here, he updated a version of the 15th-century King Arthur legend by Sir Thomas Malory, which he later described as ‘the best work of my life and the most satisfying’.
It’s easy to see why the Of Mice And Men author chose this pretty town as his base, with its roofless limestone dovecote that dominates the skyline and charming High Street crammed with pretty cottages, chapels and old inns.
Harriet Sime explores the tiny Somerset town of Bruton, pictured, where the charming High Street is crammed with pretty cottages, chapels and old inns
Fashion designer Stella McCartney (pictured) is one of the famous names to call Bruton home
Many of these buildings have been tastefully transformed into independent coffee shops, high-end homeware stores and Michelin-starred restaurants. But the tiny bartons — narrow and steep alleyways that lead down to the river — remain, threading through the centre of the town like veins. Bruton (population 3,000) was once an important market town and these peculiar bartons were made for farmers to guide livestock to holding pens ready for sale.
Limestone cottages and timber homes were built in place of the pens, and most still stand today, clustered around the pretty but often raging River Brue.
While Steinbeck is perhaps the town’s most notable resident, many more famous names now call Bruton home, including the former Chancellor George Osborne and fashion designer Stella McCartney. But it’s the founders of global art gallery network Hauser & Wirth, Manuela Hauser and Iwan Wirth, who have been most influential.
The couple sold their Holland Park mansion to the Beckhams in 2007 and bought a working beef farm here, transforming it into a world-class cultural hub with a gallery, restaurant, shop and hotel.
The food in Bruton has become big business. At Roth Bar and Grill, the Hauser & Wirth restaurant, we have harissa-roasted cauliflower and beef ragu.
We visit At The Chapel, a 17th-century building with original ecclesiastical features, and devour fluffy pastries with our flat whites.
And at Godminster Cheese, we sample wedges of award-winning truffle cheddar and daredevil chilli cheese from the 305 cows roaming the surrounding fields.
According to Harriet, rooms at No 1 Bruton are ‘dressed in antiques, heirlooms and vibrant artworks’
Harriet writes: ‘At Godminster Cheese (pictured), we sample wedges of award-winning truffle cheddar and daredevil chilli cheese from the 305 cows roaming the surrounding fields’
Harriet reveals that Bruton owed much of its success to its abbey, one of the great religious houses of Somerset in medieval times, but it soon became known for its river, River Brue (pictured), and was even referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Briuuetone’, meaning ‘vigorously flowing river’
Bruton’s roofless limestone dovecote (pictured) dominates the town’s skyline, according to Harriet
But the best comes at Osip, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of town, where we make our way through eight courses, including pumpkin ravioli, celeriac soup and scallops with elderberry capers.
The restaurant is housed in the same building as our base for the weekend, the charming No 1 Bruton hotel, with its 12 rustic bedrooms dressed in antiques, heirlooms and vibrant artworks.
Historically, Bruton, just 15 miles from Glastonbury, owed much of its success to its abbey, one of the great religious houses of Somerset in medieval times. But it soon became known for its river and was even referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Briuuetone’, meaning ‘vigorously flowing river’.
After a final breakfast at Osip (reserved exclusively for hotel guests), we work off all the food we’ve devoured by walking along the banks of the river before hiking up the lush green mound where the dovecote proudly stands.
‘I could happily live here,’ my mother says. I couldn’t agree more.