Country pub charm at its best
With 360-degree views across five valleys and a deliciously arcadian feel, it's no wonder the Bear of Rodborough is an iconic Glos landmark. But what's it like as a getaway? Muddy went along to find out.
Wow-factor panoramas are two a penny in the Cotswolds (blessed as we are with miles of AONB awesomeness). But the 700 acres of riotously beautiful National Trust land that makes up Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons are next-level lovely, and The Bear sits slap bang in the middle of them.
The route to the Bear is pretty special alone, taking you across the top of a high ridge with views across the Five Valleys. I could never get bored of the cattle that free-range here from May onwards, they’re known to make pop-up appearances in the pub garden sometimes and we had to wait for one to cross the road (verry slowly) as these majestic beasts have right of way here, a fabulous quirk.
Taken over by stylish pub chain Fullers in 2019, the Bear now belongs to a seven-strong stable of Cotswold pubs and inns that includes some Muddy favourites, from The Lamb Inn in Burford and the Hare & Hounds in Tetbury to The Swan, Bibury. So it’s in good company.
I love a proper old country inn and this place has rustic charm by the bucketload, priding itself on its historic character, just take the namesake bear waiting for you (currently with a tray of hand sanitiser!) in the foyer.
Don’t be fooled by its exterior grandiosity. It may be rather monolithic but this is no stand-on-ceremony pub by any means. The feel as soon as you step inside is welcoming country-chic, with it’s chunky-beamed Bear bar and rustic stone fireplaces.
The service strikes a good balance too (there were plenty of staff walking around for orders but you’re left in peace). We arrived with the dog in tow, having heard how pooch-friendly it was, and we weren’t disappointed. In normal times you’ll find doggie-catnip pig ears at the bar for them, and you can sit anywhere with your pooch even if you’re grabbing a bite to eat.
Being just a hop and skip from Stroud with its famously boho spirit it attracts an eclectic local crowd, from families ending their Sunday stroll in a full-on roast, to couples soaking up espresso martinis, but it’s the walkers who’ve wandered in from the Common that make up the bulk. In the summer I was here a lot – but at the Pavillion Bar on the terrace, with it’s cool Ibiza-esque vibe, fairy lights, Kilner jars filled with treats and deckchairs.
I hadn’t been here much in the winter and I was pleasantly surprised how much this 17th century former coaching inn comes into its own in the colder months with cracking roaring fires and deep chairs that have ‘sink into me with a good book’ feel.
The place has had a fabulous makeover too since Fullers took over and it’s rather lovely to relax in now with a surfeit of jewel-coloured wallpapers and contemporary fabrics.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
If you want to upgrade your eating experience from the Bear Bar then head to the Library Restaurant, it’s rather maze-like finding your way there, but this double AA rosette awarded restaurant is hidden away at the back of the hotel for good reason – its big feature windows giving extraordinary views over the Common (I do love a nosh with a view).
The menu is brief and really well curated. There are five starters to choose from and eight mains. I went for the Isle of Wight Tomato Salad with which came with a lovely tomato broth and herbs (£8.00), and Mr Muddy opted for the Marinated Tiger Prawns (£8.00). Both were super fresh and very tasty.
For mains we chose the Chalcroft Farm beef burger (£16.00) with gouda and secret sauce, which was incredibly tender and the Cornish Loin of Hake with St Austell Bay Mussells and a Samphire Broth (£21.00).
Fluffy and light it was a great dish and one I’d order again. And whilst the dishes are not locally sourced, I personally couldn’t have been happier to feel for a brief few minutes like I was on the South Coast!
Dessert was equally delicious, with one of the best Sticky Toffee Puddings I’ve had (made with molasses, dates and hops) and Mr Muddy’s Valrhona Carmelia Chocolate with Chocolate Soil (£8.00) was a divine caramel mousse. In truth so good I ate them both (elasticated waistbands recommended here) before we rolled back to our room (getting lost a couple of times) along the winding passageway.
There are 46 en-suite bedrooms here, which have all been individually designed, with a mash-up of antique and contemporary furniture, so no room is the same. We had views over the Common over to the Severn Estuary which were stunning and many of the rooms have these (a good tip is to be sure to request this upon booking).
Rooms are located both in the Main House and the neighbouring Country House, although you may find it slightly quieter in the former.
We had one of the more modern, newly refurbed rooms (above) in the Country House which was clean, compact and comfortable (plus dog-friendly). There were lovely Bramley toiletries in the bathroom and a good selection of tea, coffee and biscuits to graze on. And I can’t fault the beds, we had an incredibly good night’s sleep.
OUT AND ABOUT
Both townies and countryphiles will love it here. Of course you are in the middle of Rodborough and Minch Commons so it’s a wellie-wearers delight, with miles of off-the-beaten track trails to walk, run or mountain bike (take a kite too it’s famous for the fluttering beauties here).
Stroud (dubbed the Covent Garden of the Cotswolds) with it’s Borough-like Farmers’ Market every Saturday and new multi-million pound Five Valleys retail and food destination are also a must-visit.
Five minutes away is the market town of Nailsworth which is packed with indie boutiques such as Junglist Atelier for funky plants, Pulp Stationary and Woodcock and Cavendish for gifts. Oh, and Tetbury is just 20 minutes away with its myriad of antiques shops to rummage in.
Venture a bit further south and you have the lovely leafy Westonbirt Arboretum for stunning walks and WWT Slimbridge to the west, with its watery wildlife trails.
This place get a Covid-safe high five from us. We found regulations being really well followed here with staff wearing masks, socially distanced tables, a track and trace system, hand sanitiser freely available at various points and a one way system in place.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Dog-lovers, nature nuts, couples and families looking for somewhere to have a low-key, country charm-filled lunch, or dinner. The outside space is spot on for exuberant kids in the warmer months. Perfect if you like your pub heavy on the authentic and light on pretension.
Not for: Anyone who favours a massive menu, the menu here is refined and all the more delicious for it. Seekers of high glam getaways might not get it, this is the wholesome Cotswolds at its best, full of charm and homeliness.
The damage: Fairly reasonable for a great meal out. A three-course meal for two will set you back around £70, we added wine which took it up to just short of £100. A cosy double room starts from £99.
Book your stay now at The Bear of Rodborough.