Langford Fivehead

Langford Fivehead is a boutique Bed and Breakfast house near the Somerset levels, between the villages of Swell and Langford, east of Taunton and west of Yeovil. You enter its grounds through manicured lawns, a sweeping driveway and mature trees. The imposing front storm porch entrance, replete with heavy wooden door and brass bell, beckons you into this beautiful 15th Century home, built in the reign of King Henry VI, the Plantagenet King. As soon as you arrive you will want to learn more about its immaculately preserved history, and luckily enough there is a detailed dossier of the house from 1453 to the present day in each room. History and architecture buffs will have plenty to keep them inspired. Do bring your regional copy of “The Buildings of Britain” by Nikolaus Pevsner.

The house opened as a B and B just one year ago, the owners Orlando Murrin and Peter Steggall having previously run Le Manoir de Raynaudes, an old country manor house in the Midi-Pyrenees in South West France. In “A Table in the Tarn” {published by Harper Collins in 2008} Orlando wrote the story of how they renovated their country retreat, took in guests, settled into the French way of life and created menus and recipes that revolved around the seasonal ingredients of their terroir.

Orlando originally worked for BBC Good Food magazine and launched Olive magazine, whilst Peter worked in financial services I.T. They divide the work according to their respective talents: Orlando is in the kitchen and the garden and Peter is front-of-house manager, administrator and sommelier. There are two part-time housekeepers and a gardener as well as a lovely neighbour, called Florence, who comes and helps serve dinner when the house is filled with guests.

There are six double bedrooms and there is also a small cottage, named Dukie’s Cottage after a local ex-soldier who lived there. All of the bedrooms are named after previous owners and residents of the house, except for “Teasel” named after the plant that used to flourish in the Somerset Levels, its spiky seedheads used to bring up a shine to fabrics. Bedrooms arrange in terms of grandeur, Nathanial Barnard being the grandest room at between £290 {low season} and £350 {Peak season}. This used to be the principal drawing room and features a four poster bed and decorative plasterwork as well as its own sitting area.

I stayed in The Diamond Smugglers room, the cheapest at £190 {low season} and it is much more contemporary in feel, with shiny bed coverings and modern woodwork. The shower room is small, spotless and shiny with Cath Collins and L’Occitane toiletries and large mirrors. If you are in the mood for a pre-prandial drink there is a small decanter with Madeira and glasses, as well as mineral water.

The rambling house is decorated in a comfortable, country house style with tweeds, big cushions, porcelain lamps, oak furniture, wood panelling, fresh garden flowers, rows of lifestyle magazines and patterned rugs. It is classical, elegant and spotlessly clean. There are ancestral oil paintings which have been handed down with the house and every single surface is bare – tidiness, chicness and order reign throughout.

You share your stay with the other guests, as if you were all joining in a big county house weekend. Prosecco is served before dinner and you meet your fellow house guests over canapés. If you prefer there is also a smaller living room where you can read magazines or books, or maybe take tea in the afternoon. The general idea is that everyone joins in together, and there are no dress rules but most guests do make an effort to dress relatively smartly.

Dinner is served in a beautiful wood panelled dining room, the table set with great style. Everyone sits where they like and orders the wine of their choice from a cellar selection guided by Peter. The food is well sourced from local producers and it is, at its heart, country cooking. There is a “Sourcebook” section on the website which lists the local suppliers. I enjoyed a fluffy roulade of stilton and soft, slow roasted shoulder of Tamworth pork with spiced cabbage and twice baked potato.

The cheeseboard is sourced from near and far and is accompanied by a medlar jelly and a quince cheese. Somerset is a county steeped in cheesemaking tradition and of the 840 different artisanal cheeses put forward for the British Cheese Awards every year, no fewer than 35 are made within a short drive of this house.

There is theatre at every turn with Peter and Orlando describing the different courses and the provenance of ingredients. The lights are dimmed for the pudding course, and Maria Callas is played in the background as “Dates Sheherezade” are served: Moroccan dates filled with cream cheese and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachio nuts. Coffees are then accompanied by homemade petit fours and truffles.

You will sleep soundly here, so far from any roads, lights or other houses. For those guests that require a nightcap or get up early there is a small porch room adjacent to the hallway where you can make your own tea and coffee or help yourself to the 24 hour honesty bar. Birdsong will awaken you if you leave your mullion window open.

Breakfast is very thoughtfully prepared, with freshly squeezed juice, warm croissants, fresh yoghurt, homemade jams and scrambled duck-egg on toast. Every care is taken, the standard and attention to detail is very high.

Langford Fivehead is a very grown up place, small children and dogs are not allowed {unless the whole house is rented}. It is a place of quiet relaxation and upholstered luxury – just like staying at a grand hotel but with a more homely and cosy feel, without signs, an added-on Spa or uniformed staff.

Do make sure you take a stroll through the garden – it has pretty, secret corners, well laid out flower beds, patio areas for eating or reading outside, and a handsome topiary knot parterre in front of the main drawing room windows. There is a greenhouse and kitchen garden too and in the seven acres that surround the house you will find plenty to admire and to inspire you.

This part of Somerset has much that is worth exploring: Barrington Court is a must-see National Trust stately home with the most wonderful walled kitchen garden; Montacute is probably the most beautiful house in the NT stable and Forde Abbey and Lytes Cary are also within half an hour’s drive.

If you love bird watching, walking, photography and exploring, do take advantage of your location. As a result of the wetland nature of the Somerset Levels, the area contains a rich biodiversity, supporting a vast variety of plant and bird species and is an important feeding ground for birds. The Levels include 32 Sites that are designated as Special Scientific Interest,of which 12 are also Special Protection Areas. You will feel completely cut off from the hurly burly of the modern world, and all the better for it. Yet within a short drive you can be back on the M5  and M40 motorways, your working day resumed.

Further Information

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