Dorset pub stroll
The Monmouth Ash, 93 Manor Road, Verwood BH31 6DT, 01202 822227
Published in January ’09
Verwood has grown steadily over the last hundred years from a small heathland village to the large residential community that it is today. One of the demands of a growing town is somewhere for the locals to have a drink, and so it was that the Monmouth Ash was built in the early 1930s.
It has had its unusual name from the start. The Duke of Monmouth was the illegitimate son of Charles II who in 1685 landed in the West Country to claim the throne from his uncle, James II. Defeated at Sedgemoor in Somerset, he fled southwards disguised as a shepherd. Unwisely, he kept in his pocket his badge of the Order of the Garter, which rather blew his cover when he was found cowering in a ditch on Horton Heath, a couple of miles south-west of Verwood. A great ash tree marks the spot, hence the name of the pub.
Until six years ago it was a modest enough building and quite cramped inside. Then Hall & Woodhouse, who had taken it over, re-vamped it and greatly extended it. You would hardly know it from the road, but now it can accommodate 120 covers, not including patio areas at front and back. Yet because the interior is cleverly divided into smaller sections, the pub retains a cosy, intimate atmosphere. This is also encouraged by the restful décor and the old pictures of Verwood and the surrounding area on the walls.
The menu is more extensive than in most pubs and, to judge by the excellent salmon fishcakes that I enjoyed, accompanied by a delicious sauce, the standard is first-rate. The clientele is a good mixture of locals and of those visiting from further afield, attracted by the Monmouth Ash’s atmosphere and cuisine.
Verwood in recent years has been second only to Gillingham among Dorset towns in its rate of growth, so part of the route is inevitably urban, but for the most part the roads and streets are pleasantly laid out, with plenty of greenery.
The stroll of a little over 2 miles also visits Stephens Castle and Bugdens Copse, both nature reserves. Stephens Castle contains a number of different habitats and the rare species it supports include sand lizard, smooth snake, nightjar and Dartford warbler. Stephen is said to have been a local tribal chieftain and his castle is an Iron Age barrow in which archaeologists found human remains. Bugdens Copse is a remnant of the ancient forest of ‘Fayre Wood’, from which Verwood derives its name, and is also rich in wildlife.
Carefully cross Manor Road and turn right. When a pavement appears on the opposite side, cross back again and continue to Vicarage Road on the right, just past no. 59 and with two ‘no entry’ signs. Walk up Vicarage Road and go straight across a main road onto a rough track. Just before the end of the lane, opposite no. 46, go through an opening on the left onto a path. Walk up to a T-junction in front of a fence and turn right onto a path which runs between Stephens Castle on the left and Hillside First School on the right.
At the end of the school grounds, turn right, then continue straight on, leaving the school behind, to reach a holly hedge through which houses may just be seen. Turn left and keep the holly hedge and houses immediately to the right until a bridge and kissing gate are reached. Go through the gate and turn right onto a track which becomes a paved road. Continue ahead to a main road and turn right. Take the first turning on the left (Newtown Road).
Just before reaching another main road, turn right into Hainault Lane. Walk straight ahead to houses round a patch of green with trees on it. Turn half-left to walk to the far left corner of this open area, joining a footpath near a sign: ‘Nos 70-96 Hainault Drive’. Follow it round to the right as it runs alongside the houses, then left to go along the back of them. Reaching a cross-paths, turn right to a gate at the top of a rise. Go through the gate and continue straight ahead on a paved road. At the T-junction, turn left into Vicarage Road. Continue down to Manor Road, where turn left and return to the Monmouth Ash.