Inn with Freddie — Drusilla’s Inn
Drusilla’s Inn, Horton, Nr Wimborne BH21 7JH, 01258 840297
Published in January ’08
Older readers may remember Drusilla’s when it was a tea-room, converted from three labourers’ cottages. It was about thirty years ago that it was changed into a pub, since when it has grown to perhaps double its original size with additions at one end and at the back.
Standing just east of the village of Horton, it is in the shadow of Horton Tower. Aesthetically, the Tower provokes conflicting views, from comparisons with a factory chimney to ‘the finest folly in the south of England’. I find it rather difficult to make such a judgement: for me it is such a symbol of this part of Dorset that, like an old friend, it just is, for better or worse. Built by Humphrey Sturt of Crichel so that he could watch his hounds work when he was too old to ride, it enjoyed fame as the setting for the cock-fighting scene in the film of Far from the Madding Crowd and is owned by a mobile phone company, who have filled it with aerials.
Apart from the fact that all the front windows of Drusilla’s look out on the Tower, it could be significant to the pub for another reason. A local at the bar with whom we fell into conversation was adamant that three tunnels ran from the Tower, one of them to Drusilla’s. I’m jolly certain that it is only a unsubstantiated piece of local folklore, but the English countryside – and its country pubs – would be the poorer without such stories.
The extravagant thatch of Drusilla’s makes the best possible first impression and the inside doesn’t disappoint. Show me a pub with diamond panes and with horse-brasses hanging off low beams, and normally I will tell you it is a fake, but there is an unmistakeable air of authenticity about the original part of Drusilla’s. Comfort, too, with an open fire at one end and a wood-burning stove at the other, which we appreciated on the cold winter’s day when we visited; in six months time, no doubt the large and attractive garden will be equally appreciated.
There are old photos on the wall and books to read for anyone dining alone – although I did wonder if they were more for show when I saw that one of them was hardly light reading but a legal tome entitled Williams on Wills (Second Edition).
A while back, Drusilla’s was frankly going through something of a dip. Its previous owners moved it down-market, installed pool tables and tried to attract a different clientele from the one which might expect to appreciate the pub’s setting and décor. However, six months ago, it was taken over by Gary and Nicky Watling, who were running a bistro in the New Forest. They immediately adopted what is surely a sensible policy of building up the food side and making Drusilla’s an attractive ‘destination pub’.
To judge from the meal we had there, they are succeeding. There is a standard menu, a special board and a ‘quick bites’ menu, all of which had some interesting items, although we passed up the delicious-looking starters and puddings and went just for a main course. Mrs Freddie chose a beef burger topped with bacon and brie, which came as a tower to rival the one outside the window. ‘I don’t know where to start,’ she said, but, showing an unsuspected gift for siege engineering, she started from the bottom until the undermined tower gave way before her assault. She liked the fact that the homemade burger was on a ciabatta rather than a floury bun, and noticed the good quality of the meat that had gone into the mince.
I chose baked haddock wrapped in Parma ham, the fish being very fresh and flakey and much enhanced by the creamy mushroom and smoked cheddar sauce that accompanied it. I even put aside fifty-year-old memories of prep school cabbage and enjoyed the Savoy cabbage on which the fish sat. Both our dishes were a tribute to the chef, James, who came to Drusilla’s from the Langton Arms at Tarrant Monkton and works closely with chef-patron Gary Watling.
Gary told us that the pub is open from 10 am to 11 pm every day and, while the full menu is served at conventional meal-times, ‘we can always find something if a customer wants to eat’. Such an attitude, along with its natural advantages and the quality of the cooking, bodes well for Drusilla’s.