Girls just want to have fun (in Somerset): A weekend away in one of the West Country’s best holiday homes

The right holiday home can inspire you to throw even the best laid plans to the wind, finds Rosie Paterson, on a weekend away to Somerset’s wild and mystical Quantock Hills.

I read something, somewhere, once, that said if you have house guests to plan three, distinct activities per day. It could be a walk, a beach BBQ and a trip to the cinema; a long, lazy brunch, a look round the local farmer’s market and a garden tour. 

The idea — I assume — is to keep people busy, but not so busy that they retire to bed at 8pm and miss the supper you’ve laboured over in the kitchen. To keep momentum going through the week or weekend so that the dreaded words ‘so what shall we do now’ don’t rear their ugly heads. Words that once uttered have an annoying habit of settling, uninvited, in the room and inducing a kind of non-committal stupor.

It’s advice — I’ve since discovered — to live by, especially on multi-generational and large group holidays. And it’s advice — I’ve also discovered — to discard if you’re on a girls weekend away. Because a girls’ holiday is a different breed of holiday altogether. 

Cut to April, to Somerset, to a house called Aria — available to rent via Unique Homestays. 

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Aria belongs to sculptor Neil Simmons (his eight feet high, two-ton statue of Lady Thatcher was famously decapitated in a fit of protest whilst on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London) and his wife, the artist Emma de Bendern Simmons.

The building, a former cowshed, forms part of a wider estate in a valley at the foot of Somerset’s wild and mystical Quantock Hills — all of it in a state of disrepair when the creative couple purchased it close to two decades ago. 

After restoring the central farmhouse to use as their family home, they set to work on the old cowshed, one separated from the other by a shallow stream, the watery border now patrolled by a genial gaggle of domestic geese. 

The stone barn, which was, by this time, quickly disappearing under a crazed mass of vegetation, was brought back to the fore, and a zinc-clad extension constructed to its rear — almost entirely invisible viewed straight on from the barn’s front (the extension’s flat roof lines up perfectly with the ridge of the pre-existing pitched roof to help create a seamless transition from old to new).

The materials used included local sandstone, salvaged from the estate’s other ruined buildings, Douglas fir, reclaimed slates and a lot of concrete, mixed with red sand to mimic the colour of the reddish-brown local, gritty soil. In the sitting room, wooden scaffolding planks were temporarily pressed into the towering concrete gable-end wall before it could set dry — and left behind a grainy imprint. One of a myriad maverick decisions made during the complex build. 

We arrived — along a mile-long, unmetalled driveway that carves a path through dappled woodland — with the best laid plans. Three distinct activities for each day. Months in the making. All of which went out the window the moment we drew up in front of the rounded, red stone wall circling Aria. 

When you’ve been friends with the same group of girls for more than 20 years, you start to move around one another in a sort of silent dance, steps unspoken, but somehow shared. Some of us naturally migrated to the open-plan, ox-blood red kitchen to cobble together meals and cocktails, two more tasked themselves with breathing life into the wood fired hot tub in the Tuscan-style walled garden, another sat down to plot a possible walk.

One of us — absolutely not me — went for an early morning run, traversing the Quantocks’ craggy peaks and verdant troughs, pausing only to cross the heritage West Somerset Railway line that vintage steam trains run along, making that classic clickety-clack noise, steam billowing up in great white waves like sheets hung out to dry and caught in the wind, . 

The rest of us enjoyed a lie in. 

In a house this other-worldly, with large windows angled towards the soft Somerset light and original pieces of art and sculpture festooning walls and niches — including a larger-than-life portrait of Duke of Cumberland — it was easy to wave goodbye to prior arrangements. To do whatever took our fancy in that immediate moment. 

Out went the previously agreed minimum two, possibly three, walks. In came a single trek up the infamously steep banks behind Crowcombe Court to Hurley Beacon and Dead Woman’s Valley, where wild ponies and their Bambi-legged foals like to graze — homemade flapjacks squirrelled into coat pockets and eaten long before the halftime point. 

Out went the Sunday pub lunch. In came pottering between the kitchen, for leftovers of Saturday night’s roast lamb, and the hot tub where easy conversation slipped between the gossipy and serious.

When you rent Aria it comes with a self-contained studio, but we decided to bunk together — two in the ground floor king-size bedroom and three spread across the two, first floor kings. Time together is precious when it takes months to find a date you can all do. (Case in point: we’re already discussing Christmas.) 

A bespoke concrete spiral staircase connects the two floors. The downstairs, its floor clad in herringbone tiles, the colour of sun-bleached terracotta, spills out into a Mediterranean herb garden to the back and the walled garden — the wall is high enough that the space feels private and low enough to let in the last of each sunset’s orangey glow — at the front. 

It’s a space for relaxing in, for reconnecting in and for rewriting even the best laid plans in.

What gives it the wow factor, according to the girls:

N: ‘Neil and Emma’s 49 dogs’ (a slight exaggeration, there are four and we found ourselves leaving the garden gate open in the hope one or two might wander in for a quick cuddle)

C: ‘The well-equipped kitchen, perfect for if you’re making a feast’

K: ‘The interiors, and gorgeous trails for running and walking’ 

Aria sleeps up to eight guests and is priced from £2,295 per short break and £2,995 per week. Visit for more information and to book