August 8, 2022

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The Duncombe Arms has a natural lamp-lit warmth; it is one of those places where,...

The Duncombe Arms has a natural lamp-lit warmth; it is one of those places where, the moment you walk in, you feel better. In a circle of rooms, there are open fires, eye-catching pictures and photographs (many of them equine: Johnny is a keen horseman), cosy corners, cushions, shelves of books, and the prettiest of china. I didn’t want to leave. If the Duncombe Arms reminds you of another superb northern hostelry, the Star at Harome, you will not be surprised to hear that the Yorkshire inn created by Andrew and Jacquie Pern – one of the first country pubs to offer Michelin-starred food amid sophisticated surrounds – was an acknowledged influence, for its owners are great friends. 
The two places aren’t the same, but they create the same ambience, both havens of rural good living. If they were animals, they would be sleek, purring cats. How sad to hear of the Star’s recent devastating fire: it will be back for sure.Both the rooms and the food live up to expectations. The 10 gorgeous bedrooms are located in a purpose-made building, the Walnut House, beyond the pub. Designed by Laura, they are superbly kitted out, each different, with arresting wallpapers, British pictures from London’s Crane Kalman Gallery, heavenly beds, big table lamps, plenty of natural materials and toiletries from Bamford. They could grace any smart hotel.
A plainly happy brigade in the kitchen is led by Jake Boyce and Scott Law, while Laura credits long-time general manager James Oddy with much of the pub’s success. My starter of roasted baby carrots, burnt aubergine, chervil and mustard and the ox-cheek pie that followed were both excellent. On the pudding menu there is a splendid ­painting of Sidney the Sheep. Sidney belongs to Johnny and the following day he came for a walk with us (honestly) around his master’s beautiful woodland garden. 
While Laura works in the pub several days a week, and Johnny is responsible for both the finances and the varied playlist (a source of great pride), they have somehow found the time, as well as bringing up their children, to replant 10 acres of dramatic woodland dell and stream, including many specimen trees. In spring and autumn, a special Garden Market Menu is available for customers wishing to visit the garden; the price includes a £5 entry fee. Now there’s a treat.
How to do it
Doubles from £195 including breakfast. Read the full review.
Main Road, Ellastone, Ashbourne, Staffordshire DE6 2GZ (01335 324275;

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