The Bowlish House, a gem of Georgian architecture near Bath and Wells, honors the past, while the English village of Shepton Mallet marches into the modern era.
I met Len and Martin many years ago when they were living in a three flat they owned in Evanston, Illinois that they had lovingly restored. Their home, on the top floor, was tastefully appointed with a mix of traditional furnishings and antiques (Martin ran an antique business, which I briefly worked for, and Len ran the Chicago Children's Memorial White Elephant Resale Shop).
According to Len, the property was haunted, particularly the front entrance hall and basement. “I never saw the bearded man who walked up and down the front stairs, but others did. In the basement, you would get an occasional sighting of a woman in 1920s dress. You always knew when she was around, as the scent of patchouli was in the air.”
What led you to the village of Shepton Mallet?
When we first moved to Britain, we tried to find jobs that we thought would be satisfactory, but what we were used to does not exist. So we decided to either run a pub or an inn. After looking for a year, we found the Bowlish House listed on an online real estate site. It was the right size and also the right price.
How’d the town get its unusual name?
The town got its name from two brothers, Roger and Robert Mallet (pronounced “mal-lay”) who fought with William the Conqueror when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Shepton is an old word for a sheep enclosure. All the money here was made in the woolen trade.
How did you decide to start a B&B?
We actually bought the business that was up and running, though not doing well. We then set to turning it around, which has been quite successful. However, the downside is that the amount of maintenance required on a 300-year-old house is shocking.
Did you renovate at all?
We are continuously working on the house to upgrade it and also to bring back the look of a country house in the 18th century.
Are there any fun local traditions?
Unfortunately, the most popular local activity seems to be getting drunk and brawling on the high street, with an occasional bit of Morris dancing thrown in.
What is there to do in town?
The town is minute and suffers the same fate of most rural English villages have: the shopping mall. All the little shops are gone and have been replaced by Chinese takeaways. It is much better to drive 10 minutes to the city of Wells. Farther afield are Bath and Bristol, which are worth a visit.
What’s Bath like?
Bath is second only to London where style, fashion and the arts are concerned. Lots of beautiful and occasionally quirky architecture, interesting museums and nice restaurants. It is also very expensive to live there. I like going there when I need to reconnect with my inner city persona.
Any interesting or funny stories about guests or running the inn?
Yes there are stories — most are gross or indecent or both, though.
What’s the most charming part of British village life?
Nice pubs, when you come across them. Market days, some of the antiques shops, castles and gardens and the most amazing wildlife. You can see foxes and hedgehogs in the wild. I’m not too wild about the giant slugs, though. Some of the smells are not so good, particularly from the pig farms.
Has Brexit affected you at all?
It’s too early to tell about Brexit. The pound has certainly dropped, but it is a benefit to me, as my pensions are in U.S. dollars (yes, I am that old), so I get more than I did a few months ago.
And what the heck do Brits think about Trump?
The Donald is considered a huge joke here.There is a sort of horror and amusement regarding him and his politics. There is absolutely no way that any politician here would ever get away the stuff he does. Another aside is that is any politician here started in about their religion, it would be total political suicide.