Dorset pub stroll
The Hambro Arms, Milton Abbas, Blandford DT11 0BP 01258 880233
Published in February ’09
Liking a product so much that you buy the business is something of a cliché, but it came true for two married couples in Milton Abbas, the Sodens and the Iveses, who bought the Hambro Arms two years ago and have made a great success of it. The pub is set in the middle of the picture-postcard community that was created when Joseph Damer demolished the village of Middleton in 1780 because it was spoiling the view from his new mansion next to Milton Abbey.
The pub is probably older than that, but in the last two hundred years its name has changed several times to reflect the ownership of the mansion. Since the latter is now a school, the pub’s name is still that of the last private owners, the banking Hambro family, who were there from 1852 to 1954.
The Hambro Arms has always been a popular ‘destination’ pub as well as serving the village. When the new owners took over, they quickly realised that the key to success would be first-rate food and wines, and they have followed that policy to considerable effect. Their chef, Alan Yunis, has a distinguished pedigree, including working at Kemps in Wareham, Fosse Manor in Stow-on-the-Wold and the Bell Inn at Lyndhurst. Important dates in his diary are the occasional theme nights and the monthly gourmet nights when diners enjoy six courses, each with its own wine; these are nearly always fully booked.
Sensibly, in putting the emphasis on the food, the owners have not forgotten that this is also a ‘local’ and there is usually someone from the village enjoying their pint at the bar. There is a choice between Ringwood and two guest beers but the local Piddle, which started as a guest beer, proved so popular that it is now pretty well permanent.
The Hambro Arms is open in the winter from 11.30 until 3 and 6 until 11, and in the summer all day from 11.30 to 11. On Saturdays the hours are 11 to 11 and on Sundays noon to 11. Food is served on weekdays from 12 to 2.30 and from 6.30 to 9 (Fridays 9.30); at weekends it is served from 12 to 3 and from 6.30 to 9 (on Sundays) and to 9.30 (on Saturdays).
The restrictions on historic buildings don’t allow for full facilities for the disabled, but access to the bar and the dining room is easy.
One of the successes of the last two years has been the provision of accommodation. There are three B & B rooms – which prove understandably popular after the gourmet nights!
The route is a little over 1½ miles through the woodland that surrounds the village. It takes in two of its historic ecclesiastical buildings as well as the village itself.
Cross the road from the pub, turn right and walk uphill past the old village school on the left. In 130 yards after the school, turn left and follow a path uphill, including some steps, until it reaches a paved drive. Continue uphill to a T-junction opposite no. 18. Turn left.
Where the road peters out into a rough track, continue straight ahead. Follow the track as it bends to the right, passes the drive to St Catherine’s House and enters woodland. In about 200 yards, with a metal gate on the left and the path descending more steeply ahead, fork right and pass a metal barrier. Continue along the broad woodland track to reach St Catherine’s Chapel.
The chapel is Norman, with some survivals from an earlier Saxon building. It is one of a number of hill-top chapels or locations in Dorset dedicated to St Catherine, for reasons which are obscure. From its western end, look down on the great church of Milton Abbey, founded by King Athelstan, the first king of all England and the grandson of Alfred the Great, in the 10th century. His church burned down in 1309 and the present building is mainly 14th-century.
Leaving the chapel, retrace your steps to the fork beyond the metal barrier. Here turn right, downhill, to a paved lane. Turn left and walk carefully down this lane to its junction with the main street of Milton Abbas, turn left and walk up the street to the pub on the right.