The Great Arch at Fonthill: A Grade-I getaway

The B&B options at the Beckford Arms in Wiltshire have always been lovely. Now, though, they include something really rather incredible: a Grade I-listed arch that was built as the gateway for a Georgian estate. Mark Hedges paid a visit.

Wiltshire feels ancient: Huge fields gently roll across the downs punctured by burial mounds and great henges. It is a place many of us, depending on the traffic, flash or trudge past in our cars on the A303 on the way to Cornwall, but we miss so much. 

My wife, Rachel, and I stayed recently at The Great Arch at Fonthill. These types of properties have become increasingly popular — the sort of places you have exclusively to yourself, whether it be a shepherd’s hut on the banks of a loch in Scotland or a clock tower on a great estate further south. 

They are a great way to explore an area and relax in an interesting property. Who needs to battle an airport when we have so many weekend break destinations on our doorstep?

Few can be grander or more unusual than the newly opened Great Arch. Built in 1755, it formed the entrance to the enormous estate at Fonthill built later by William Beckford, the man dubbed ‘the richest commoner in Britain’.

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Beckford was a man of precocious talent and constant scandal. Fonthill Abbey, his Gothic masterpiece, was designed by James Wyatt with a 295 foot tower that collapsed on several occasions. The rest of the abbey was demolished in the middle of the 19th century.

The Grade I-listed Arch, which has a road still running under it, is run by the Beckford Group which means that the wondrous Beckford Arms is just a mile away across the park full of majestic trees and a soothing lake.

A cricket match was taking place as we arrived. Of course we ate at the pub as we have done many times before and being just five minutes off the A303 it is a happy and spoiling destination on its own.

The Arch is set over three floors with two bedrooms both reached by a winding staircase. Downstairs is a well fitted kitchen (a proper breakfast is provided) and the snuggliest sitting room you could imagine from where to plan your excursions or read about Beckford or one of Hardy’s great novels.

Throughout there is an impeccable comfy interior with fabrics by Colefax and Fowler and Morris and Co among others. It would be equally delightful to stay in winter. 

The Arch is available from £295 per night on a B&B basis — to find out more.

What to do while you’re there

  • Nearby Tisbury is the largest village on the Nadder, a famous chalkstream, and has a 4,000 yew tree in the 12th century parish church
  • The Grade I-listed Tithe Barn at Place Farm on the edge of Tisbury is the largest thatched barn of its type in England. It also hosts the Art gallery run by Messums and a good restaurant
  • The hexagonal Old Wardour Castle has seen plenty of history from the Medieval times to a siege in the civil war when Lord Arundell blew up part of his own castle while recapturing it from the Parliamentarians