The most spectacular afternoon tea in Somerset?
Cross Lane House is a beautifully preserved Medieval house turned boutique hotel and restaurant on Exmoor, where you can enjoy a luxurious, tranquil weekend away, dinner – and what must be the most spectacular afternoon tea in Somerset.
The hotel, recently listed in The Telegraph‘s Top 10 Hotels for 2015 as well as winning a host of other accolades, is just off the A39 in the tiny village of Allerford on the National Trust’s 12,000-acre Holnicote Estate. With its picturesque Pack Horse Bridge, blacksmith’s forge and cottages with strange rounded chimney stacks, it’s a photogenic setting.
The house dates back to 1482 – a full ten years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue to discover the New World – and has been beautifully restored by ex-banker Andrew Stimson and ex-restaurateur Max Lawrence, who now lease the house from the National Trust. The historic features of the house have been preserved – there are ancient beams, oak panelling, flagstone floors aplenty – but don’t expect any chintz or saggy sofas here; the interiors are elegant, contemporary and finished to perfection.
Although we were only coming for afternoon tea and weren’t staying at the hotel, Andrew showed what we were missing by letting us take a quick peep into the bedrooms.
They’re rather swish – walls painted with chalky green/grey paint, furnishings by top contemporary designers – and come kitted out with fluffy Babington House bathrobes and full-sized Cowshed toiletries, free mini bars (they ask for guests’ preferences before stocking them) and proper coffee machines. There are four bedrooms in all, two of which are arranged as a suite (good for those with an older child). Each room is named after a previous occupant of the house and original features have been cleverly utilised – one room has a little wig cupboard that now hides the kettle.
Downstairs there’s an elegant dining room which is also open to non-residents.
When the house was restored, they uncovered a brick in one corner of the dining room which had been inscribed with the words ‘Christina I love you dearly HB’. It brought a little tear to the Muddy eye.
Then it’s time for tea in the cosy, wood panelled lounge filled with beautiful artworks and ornaments, fresh flowers and loads of books, magazines and newspapers to while away the time…
…and a wood burner to idly toss logs onto.
There’s a selection of tea including the expected Earl Grey (which unexpectedly comes from Cornwall) as well as also more exotic varieties including the fabulously named Phoenix Formosa Oolong – Iron Goddess of Mercy. It arrives with a timer so you can have just so.
The Afternoon Tea itself (so grand it deserves capital letters) arrived on a splendid silver stand about three feet tall.
What was on the stand was so spectacular, I thought I’d show you in detail *drool*. There were about 20 mini cakes and patisserie, including pastel macarons, chocolate tarts filled with mousse, blueberry muffin, panna cotta, tarts, choux buns and profiteroles, choc brownies….OK, I’ll stop torturing you now.
There were finger sandwiches (crusts off, naturally): Godminster cheddar and homemade chutney, smoked salmon with lemon and black pepper, cucumber and cream cheese and local ham.
And there was a top layer of homemade scones, preserves and clotted cream. I’d love to be able to tell you that the scone was melt-in-the-mouth and the cream so scrummy but sadly there was simply no more room in the Muddy tum to try even a single mouthful. This is an afternoon tea you need to prepare for: no eating beforehand and only a light stroll afterwards to work some of it off.
With the rays of the afternoon sun pouring into the cosy room, the warmth of the fire and the gentle piano music playing in the background all made the atmosphere sooooo relaxing. Afternoon tea at Cross Lane House had turned into a meditation session with cake.
There’s lots to discover in the area. Andrew and Max know all the best places to go and have put together a series of local walks from the hotel. You’re just around the corner from the hamlet of Bossington, so you could walk around the coast to Porlock Weir and have a drink in the Ship Inn or lunch at Andrew Dixon’s Cafe. You could drive up the incredibly steep Porlock hill to get great views of Exmoor and the sea, or head east to 11th century Dunster Castle. And of course, there’s the whole of Exmoor to explore too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: for those who like elegant surroundings with all the trimmings; couples (obviously), friends, with your mum, for birthday or anniversary weekend (you can hire all four bedrooms and take over the place)
Not for: people who like a rowdy time or want to bring raucous kids – it’s a tranquil place; those with bird-like appetites (judging by afternoon tea)
£££ Afternoon tea per person £19.95 (£25.95 including a glass of bubbles); double rooms start at £130, including breakfast.
Cross Lane House, Allerford, Minehead, Somerset TA24 8HW. Tel 01643 863276. crosslanehouse.com