Remote it may be, but a weekend break at The Dolaucothi Arms is certainly worth the journey. Set in the tiny village of Pumsaint, and part of the National Trust’s Dolaucothi Estate, it’s a 16th Century coaching inn that overlooks two rivers, Cothi and Twrch, both of which the pub has fishing rights to. A red-and-white Georgian exterior and beautiful gardens – including manicured lawn, bee hives and wild flower meadow, a pet project of co-owner David Joy – makes for a welcoming approach from the road to Lampeter.
Inside, the bar area stays true to its cosy, traditional roots – Chesterfield sofas, log burners, piles of worn books, polished quarry floor tiles and original sash windows are the highlights. But little touches, like meticulously arranged antique beer bottles on the shelves and modern two-tone walls, make it feel fresh and cared for. David runs the bar and chooses his drinks carefully, sourcing real ale and cider from Welsh breweries including Evan Evans and Wye Valley. Even the apple juice is Welsh – try a bottle of Dr Grandad’s, made with teeth-tingling sweet Lord Derby apples.
A separate dining room follows the same subtly updated theme. Chairs may be dark wood antiques, but co-owner Esther Hubert has reupholstered them with mix-and-match fabrics to bring colour into the room. Artwork hangs neatly from picture rails and is set against a terracotta-coloured wall, and a large window gives pretty views of the garden and ‘welcome arch’ outside. Food is renowned, to the point where we shortlisted their chicken, leek, bacon and cider pie in our 2014 ‘Britain’s best pub pie’ competition. It’s still excellent, with clean, precise flavours and impressive depth (David attributes that to both Esther’s cooking and the quality of the cider she uses).
There are two menus, bar and seasonal, with the latter being a touch fancier. Try heirloom tomato and sourdough salad, a colourful, juicy plate reminiscent of panzanella, with Welsh goat’s cheese as creamy as burrata. A red pepper and lentil soup was made punchy with plenty of cumin, and pearly white hake for main was strikingly contrasted against a vibrant roast tomato sauce and charred spring onions.
Look out for globe artichokes and rhubarb on the menu, too – David grows both in giant tractor tyres at the back of the inn. Pick the cheese board for dessert, with Carmarthenshire Mouldy Mabel blue cheese (smooth and pungent) and homemade damson butter.
If you’re driving to The Dolaucothi Arms, do as we did and book a room (arrive by bike and you’ll get 10% off for being an eco-friendly customer). There are three to choose from, all no more than £80 a night and all made charming with thoughtful adornments that match the building’s age. We loved the little dressing table, snug window seat, chunky stone walls and silver hospitality tray (complete with china teapot and sugar bowl), and found the absence of a television refreshing – there is a radio, after all.
Breakfast is taken downstairs in the dining room and includes organic fruit, homemade jams and muesli. For something hot, try creamy scrambled eggs, laid by hens in the garden coop, with ribbons of soft, rich smoked salmon from Severn & Wye smokery. Milk and butter come from cows grazing five minutes down the road, and all the bread is organic and homemade. Another example of the kind of considerate, personal owners Esther and David are.
Don’t leave without a browse of the little tuck shop near the bar, stacked with Welsh produce including David’s homemade piccalilli, cold-pressed rapeseed oil and coffee. Our favourite was the NomNom Venezuelan chocolate, made with chunky Welsh peanut butter and shards of Anglesey sea salt – creamy, so salty and a delicious end to a Welsh mini break.