Week­end bolt­hole

Re­view of the re­furbed Ma­sons Arms coach­ing inn, Lin­colnshire

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page - Liz Boul­ter

There is a lot to like about the Ma­sons Arms in his­toric Louth. The hand­some, 1775 coach­ing inn had dwin­dled into a rather shabby pub when lo­cal busi­ness­man and farmer Charles Nick­er­son bought it at the be­gin­ning of this year. It re­opened in Au­gust, of­fer­ing some­thing a lit­tle smarter than this mar­ket town was used to. Man­ager David Mor­gan stresses that it is “evolv­ing”, but first im­pres­sions are good: be­hind the el­e­gant, three-storey black-and-white fa­cade, white walls and dark wood set off the gen­er­ous pro­por­tions and high ceil­ings of the lobby, stairs and 10 en suite rooms.

Be­d­rooms are by Manch­ester de­sign stu­dio NoChintz: orig­i­nal cor­nic­ing and fire­places are high­lighted, but in a clean, con­tem­po­rary way, with lots of dark grey min­gling with pal­ettes of rich green, blue or plum.

We’re in room 8, at the back, with a splen­did view of 15th-cen­tury St James’s church. I’m not con­vinced by brown vinyl head­boards, but I like the ir­reg­u­lar hexag­o­nal wall mir­rors and framed geo­met­ric prints. There are teas of all kinds (though no fresh milk), a Ne­spresso ma­chine, and strong wifi.

The bath­room’s stri­dent di­ag­o­nal black tiles might be a bit harsh in the morn­ing af­ter a good night in Habits cock­tail bar on the first floor, and nice toi­letries in big bot­tles de­mand in bossy cap­i­tals that you “Stop the wa­ter while us­ing me”. But it’s all well-made, warm and sleek, and the pil­low-soft bathrobes are a joy to wear.

We’ve ar­rived on a Sun­day and are sur­prised by how quiet (for which read “dead”) Louth is, with just a few pubs open, desul­to­rily. Even Old Malt­ings An­tique Cen­tre, which would be a per­fect Sun­day af­ter­noon browse, is shut. We’re saved by at­trac­tively pro­duced leaflets in our room de­tail­ing lo­cal walks from town, of be­tween 5½ and 14 miles. We pick a cir­cu­lar route into the Lin­colnshire Wolds AONB, climb­ing to the dizzy (for these parts) height of 104 me­tres above sea level, with views of fens and salt marsh reach­ing to the coast 10 miles away.

(Louth, I has­ten to add, is a dif­fer­ent place by Mon­day: Bri­tain’s favourite mar­ket town, ac­cord­ing to one BBC poll, buzzes on week­days with shop­pers and in­de­pen­dent traders.)

Ap­petite honed by walk­ing, we head for din­ner in the restau­rant, with more white walls, big win­dows, co­ral seat­ing and par­quet floor. Chef Ian Smith is fresh from the Devon­shire Arms at Bee­ley in the Peak District, and his food, too, is fresh – in­ven­tive and lovely to look at. A tomato tart­let

Bri­tain’s favourite mar­ket town (ac­cord­ing to one BBC poll) buzzes with shop­pers and traders

(£7) has an oddly bland puree in­side, but the pas­try and the wa­ter­cress and caramelised onion top­ping are mas­terly. A car­rot and wens­ley­dale salad (£6) sounds ba­sic but tastes just-picked, its lemon yo­ghurt dress­ing crunchy with nigella seeds. My main of ten­der duck with cherry (£17) is mem­o­rable for its sin­ful duck scratch­ings and won­der­fully nutty, pur­ple-fleshed her­itage pota­toes.

Things not to like come to the fore next morn­ing. Con­tra­dic­tory in­for­ma­tion about park­ing leads to me driv­ing round and round Louth’s oneway sys­tem at 8am. Walk­ing back, I find the front door locked and have to bang on the win­dow un­til a charm­ing young woman from re­cep­tion leaves off mop­ping to let me in.

At break­fast the cof­fee is ex­cel­lent, the juice freshly squeezed, and dishes of poached egg with av­o­cado, and wild mush­rooms on toast look beau­ti­ful. But our charm­ing young friend is still mop­ping the par­quet – to within inches of our feet – and the odour of clean­ing fluid masks any­thing else.

This is a good-look­ing ho­tel, with friendly staff, so­phis­ti­cated food, and some rather rough edges. Let’s hope it can “evolve” fast enough to knock them off.

• Ac­com­mo­da­tion was pro­vided by the Ma­sons Arms (dou­bles from £89 B&B, 01507 621200, the-ma­sons-arms.com)

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