The Cotswold village of Lacock will feel familiar to most, even if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting before – it’s the set of many a period drama, from Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice to Cranford, and even Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Thanks to the protection of the National Trust, visiting it feels like stepping back in time. Buildings are all wonky roofs and creaky floors. There’s an old workhouse, a medieval tithe barn, and even an abbey. In the spring, aromatic blankets of wild garlic hug the borders of the village, and ducklings jostle for room in the road as they waddle to water. Wisteria climbs the Cotswold stone bricks of idyllic family homes, while on crumbly walls jars of homemade preserves, pickles, apple juice, fudge and meringue are lined up with bunting and honesty boxes. In the winter, the roaring open fires and sink-into beds of the local inns call, including those at Sign of the Angel.
Dating back to the 15th century, this former coaching inn sits in the heart of Lacock village. With its rough stone walls, well-worn tiled floors, moody oak-panelled snugs and imposing inglenook fireplace it’s a cosy setting for some hearty West Country food and an early night. Out at the back, a garden leads to a stream and a paddock.
The food at Sign of the Angel Inn
West Country ingredients are put to good use in the regularly changing, seasonal menu from the 2 AA rosette kitchen. Expect local game in the autumn, hunks of blushing lamb in the spring and plenty of veg, potato and pastry all year round. Whenever you visit, though, expect to kick things off with homemade bread, slabs of cold, salted butter, oil and balsamic vinegar and a little canapé – on our visit a comforting offering of sliced white enriched with blue cheese, brown flecked with rocket and lemon, and mouthfuls of pressed rabbit, apple and fiercely pickled red onions.
Starters dance around the £6-10 mark and are modern, rustic riffs on pub classics – expect a meaty terrine, cured fish, and crumbed cheese with chutney, for example. You also get a free palate cleanser between courses – a surprise but welcome addition in such a relaxed dining room – think pear and mint, or perhaps berry and Pimms. Mains, which creep up to £24 for steak, are hefty but well balanced and prettily presented, each ingredient delivering on its promise of flavour – from pork loin with black pudding and crackling crumb with creamed potato, parsnips, peas and a smoked garlic sauce to wild bass with spinach and lemon dauphinoise, purple sprouting broccoli, tomato and a rich lobster cream. A deconstructed cheesecake was the only let down for us – trying too hard, when everything else we tried was such a simple pleasure – but the pub’s famed, port-soaked stilton we finished with summed up everything that’s great about this place.
The drink at Sign of the Angel Inn
The succinct wine list is easy to navigate and without snobbery, with each colour broken down into sub genres; for white, you can look under “very dry, delicate and light” or “dry, herbaceous and aromatic”, among others, or for red, “spicy, peppery and warming”. It’s very reasonably priced, too, with bottles rarely tipping 30 quid. There are artisan soft drinks, too, and local ales – but if you’re staying the night be sure to try the champagne afternoon tea the next day, complete with West Country clotted cream, of course.
The bedrooms at Sign of the Angel Inn
There are five bedrooms at Sign of the Angel and each is comfortably chic. With little else to do in the village after dark – there’s only one other pub within walking distance – prepare for an early night. At the foot of our sink-into bed, topped with duck down and feather pillows and fringed with a homely grey blanket, thick, large towels beg to be used after a long soak in the tub. Even the toiletries here are local – made by Caroline Henry in nearby Bath. There’s also a jar of Bakewell tarts on our visit (homemade cookies might make an appearance at other times), a Nespresso machine (should you need help raising your head from the pillow come morning) and Scottish Strathmore bottled water. Dogs are welcome, too, which seems only right, given how many great walks there are on the doorstep.
The breakfast at Sign of the Angel Inn
Breakfast is kept simple, traditionally British, and well-executed. A fruit platter sits alongside a pile of giant croissants. Service is quick and warm – with mountains of toast, pots of tea and cups of super-hot coffee offered straight away. A fry up here consists of rashers of bacon and a banger (both befitting their locale), grilled mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and fried eggs. The crowning glory, though, is homemade tomato (or brown) sauce. A nice touch.
What to do in the area
If you can’t get enough of the Cotswold stone of Lacock then pootle on over to nearby Castle Combe – if you’ve got yourself a vintage car, like we did, all the better as you’ll feel right at home. With a racetrack at the top of the village, and picture-postcard homes, two cracking pubs, and a Michelin-starred manor house below, there’s plenty to keep you busy – as well as, of course, some more tried-and-tested Cotswold walks.