Dorset in the early summer. You couldn’t get a more perfect picture of Englishness, I thought, as I drove down to meet Little Sis for a weekend at the Acorn Inn in Evershot. Lush green fields, lanes fringed with white cow parley and hedgerows speckled with yellow dandelions and pink campion. The pretty village of Evershot didn’t look like much had changed in the last hundred years, with its old stone houses with lattice windows and a church tower framing the view down the road.
The Acorn Inn is in the heart of Hardy Country and the author Thomas Hardy grew up and lived nearby, using local Dorset towns and villages as the setting for his novels. The Acorn Inn appears in Hardy stories as The Sow and Acorn and the village is renamed Evershead, where Tess of the D’Urbevilles stops for breakfast after walking many miles to meet Angel Clare’s parents. I have a soft spot for poor innocent Tess, as I studied the book at school and have memories of Nastassja Kinski playing Tess, voluptuously eating ripe strawberries in the Roman Polanski film. All the bedrooms at the Acorn Inn are named after characters or places in the Thomas Hardy novels and our room was Kingsbere, based on the village of Bere Regis, where the d’Urbeville ancestors are buried in the novel.
Our bedroom at the Acorn Inn
Our bedroom had recently been refurbished using padded fabric on the walls that is a signature of designer and hotel owner Mrs Tollman, from the family that owns the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. We found a calm beige and blue scheme with suede effect fabric covering the walls and curved headboards, while sheep and shepherdesses frolicked across the toile de jouy print behind the beds. The small chest of drawers and gilt sunburst mirror looked like antique shop finds and the same pretty toile de jouy was used to frame the window that overlooked the car park at the back of the inn.
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There were all the pleasant conveniences of a hair dryer, tray to make tea and coffee, a couple of bottles of mineral water and a flat screen TV on the wall which of course we never turned on, preferring to leaf through the glossy magazines and copy of Tess of the D’Urbevilles that had been thoughtfully provided for us literary types. The bathroom had a bright white scheme with a built in wardrobe, natural REN toiletries and classic bathroom fittings with a shower electric above the bath. We loved the pretty English colour scheme and slept very soundly on the comfortable beds with plump pillows and crisp white cotton bedlinen.
About the Acorn Inn
The Acorn Inn is expertly run by a husband and wife couple, general managers Alex and Jack Mackenzie; Alex, who runs front of house and husband Jack who was formerly Head Chef and oversees the bar and kitchens. Alex told me how the Tollman family who own the Red Carnation Hotel Collection had originally bought Summer Lodge, a luxury country house hotel within the village, where Alex used to work. The family had fallen in love with the village, bought the village shop as well as several houses to extend their rooms at Summer Lodge and when the Acorn Inn came up for sale they decided to buy this too, keeping on Jack as chef who had already established the inn’s reputation for excellent food.
The inn was completely refurbished in 2006 when the family bought it and Mrs Tollman oversaw the decoration personally choosing individual fabrics and colour schemes for each room and completing the look with antiques and decorative finds from auction houses. Since then the Acorn Inn has provided a comfortable base for those who come to explore the beautiful Dorset countryside and the Jurassic coast which is only 30 minutes drive away. The hotel also hosts summer weddings in conjunction with Summer Lodge and is popular in the autumn and winter with shooting parties from the nearby country estates.
By the time I arrived, Little Sis was already settled in the bar with a cup of coffee, reading the weekend papers. Of course, we had arrived too early to check in, wanting to make the most of our weekend, so we spread out our OS map and made plans for what to see and do. Above our head was the Yard of Ale League board, in case you were ever tempted to try and drink one in under a minute and at the other end of the bar was the skittle alley that is popular with local pub teams. As a free house the Acorn Inn has real ales on offer that change weekly; Little Sis is pretty expert on such matters as her husband enjoys his real ale and so she was able to vouch for the authenticity of the Jail Ale, Dorset Knob and Durdle Door that were on offer.
After our morning coffee we decided to explore some of the local Dorset attractions and drove to the village of Cerne Abbas where we found the viewing point for the famous Cerne Giant carved into the chalk hillside opposite. Even if you’ve not heard of him you’ve probably seen pictures of the huge naked man with the big willy and even bigger club. No-one knows how long he has been up there on the hillside; some say he’s prehistoric, others that he is only a couple of centuries old, but if you want a closer look there’s a path that takes you up the hillside. Re-parking the car a little closer to the village, we walked down the green lane and found the remains of Cerne Abbey, where we paid our £2 in the honesty box. The Benedictine abbey was founded in 987AD abbey and was in its heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries when it owned most of the land around the village. All that now remains is the South Gate House which was long ago made into a private house, the Abbey Guest house that provided hospitality to travellers and the impressive 3 story Abbot’s Porch where we found some information boards under the archway.
We also walked through the churchyard to St Augustine’s spring, a shallow pool with a stone bench which local folklore holds to be the place to wish for a husband, bathe newborn babies for luck or seek a cure for infertility. We walked on into the village, past the church and the old houses of the pitchmarket, with our stomachs telling us it was past our lunchtime. In the high street, a stall had been set up with colourful delphiniums, iris and other English plants for sale, as part of the Cerne Abbas Gardens Open Day when private gardens are open to the public to raise money for charity. Continuing down the road we had a very nice lunch at the New Inn – scampi and chips for me and soup and crusty bread for Little Sis, washed down by sparkling elderflower cordial. The New Inn was recommended to us by Alex at the Acorn Inn, as the chef had previously worked at Summer Lodge, and we enjoyed the stylish surroundings and excellent food.
Although the chance to peek inside some local gardens was tempting, we decided to press on to the nearby Minterne Gardens that we had spotted on the map (£5 entrance at the gate), known for their rhododendrons and azaleas. The woodland garden is set on the hillside and there were plenty of colourful shrubs, although we could see that the rhododendrons would have been at their best a few weeks earlier. The gardens at the bottom of the valley, among the pools and cascades, were especially lovely and we found a colourful mass of plantings of candelabra primulas, iris and other water loving plants.
A walk through the Melbury Estate
Returning to the Acorn Inn, there was just time before dinner for a walk through the Melbury Estate and we borrowed the local OS map and some printed directions from the inn to guide us. The circular walk which took around 2 hours, led us down country lanes with views of the fields, some still yellow with rapeseed, over muddy streams and finally back towards Melbury House past the horse paddocks and through the deerpark. There was just time to change and shower after our walk and we had certainly worked up an appetite for dinner.
Dinner at the Acorn Inn
Guests at the Acorn Inn can choose to eat in the bar or one of the restaurant rooms, and we really enjoyed our dinner in the main dining room with a stone fireplace carved with acorn motifs, oak ladder-back chairs and comfy button back leather seating in the Hardy Bar area. The general manager, Jack Mackenzie was Head Chef when the hotel was bought by the Red Carnation Collection, and has maintained the gastronomic reputation of the Acorn Inn, which was voted one of the top 3 dining pubs in Dorset, in the Taste of Dorset awards.
I started with a twice baked Dorset blue cheese souffle with a pomegranate & fig salad in which I loved the sweet and fragrant salad but couldn’t taste enough of the blue cheese, while Little Sis had an outstanding smoked mackerel and horseradish pate with homemade soda bread, both prettily presented on wooden platters. From the specials board I chose monkfish tails on a crab risotto with firm, meaty fish that tasted a bit like scampi and a flavoursome risotto, while Little Sis chose confit of duck which was served with green pac-choi and mashed potato that had an interesting hint of vanilla which somehow worked with the rich duck. We couldn’t resist desert and Little Sis chose the popular treacle tart with salt caramel ice cream which was perfect for those of us with a sweet tooth – sweet and treacly but not too sickly, while I had a chocolate parfait, chilled triangles of mousse with warm cooked cherries and a scattering of toasted almonds. The chocolate was smooth and silky and had a chili kick which caught you by surprise at the end of each mouthful. With a fruit tea to finish the meal (no caffeine to avoid tossing & turning all night) it was sweet dreams for us under our comfy duvets in the pretty room upstairs overlooked by frolicking shepherdesses.
Exploring Hardy Country
Next morning we had a little lie in (who doesn’t deserve it after a hard week at work?) and took our time to come down to the restaurant for a lovely cooked breakfast and some compote of apricots, yogurts and pastries washed down by good strong coffee. Time to check out of the Acorn Inn, but our weekend break was far from over, as we like to make the most of our weekends away. Little Sis had plenty of ideas on more things to see, but as the weather forecast was for showers we planned to do some more indoor things on our Sunday in Dorset.
We decided to follow the Thomas Hardy Trail to the cottage where he was born, followed by Max Gate, the redbrick Victorian villa that Hardy had built to live with his wife, Emma. The two houses are run by the National Trust and are a few miles apart. As we arrived at the village of Higher Bockhampton we followed the signs for the Thomas Hardy Birthplace, parked the car and walked though the woods for 10 minutes until we arrived at the lane leading to the pretty thatched cottage. This was where Thomas Hardy was born and lived with his parents, brother and two sisters as well as granny in a tiny annex next door, and where he wrote some of his early novels.
The thatched cottage couldn’t have been more pretty and picturesque, especially since there was a beautiful English cottage garden at the front filled with iris and delphiniums, although in Hardy’s day this would have been a somewhat less attractive builder’s yard for Hardy’s brother, Henry. Inside the cottage was simply furnished with a wooden settle beside the open fireplace and three small bedrooms upstairs, containing a bedstead and a small desk, the replica of the one where Hardy wrote by the window. The National Trust volunteers were on hand to tell us fascinating stories of the life of the Hardy family and there was plenty of information to read about Hardy’s life as we walked around.
We drove on to Max Gate, a comfortable red brick Victorian villa surrounded by gardens and trees, which was a complete contrast; richly coloured and stuffed full of furniture, pictures and ornaments, showing how far Hardy had stepped up in prosperity from the simple surroundings of his childhood home. Upstairs were the various rooms that Hardy used as studies and bedrooms at different times and the attic rooms where his wife Emma kept out of Hardy’s way. The couple seemed to have grown apart later in their marriage and yet when Emma died, Hardy wrote some of his most moving love poetry to her. My husband, who loves Hardy poetry is forever quoting to me; “Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me”.
Sherborne Abbey and a Dorest Cream Tea
Our final stop of the day before heading for home was the pretty market town of Sherborne, with a well known boy’s school and Sherborne Abbey. There were plenty of interesting looking small shops and cafes but the town was very quiet as everything was closed on a Sunday, so I think it would be better to visit on other days when there would be more atmosphere and bustle. There were some beautiful medieval buildings and the abbey was also lovely with a painted stone vaulted ceiling that fanned out above us and beautiful carved stone tombs. We finished our afternoon with a Dorset cream tea which served as a late lunch at the Three Wishes cafe and tea shop.
Our weekend in Dorset seemed to celebrate all that is best about England in June. Walks through green country lanes speckled with wildflowers, the step back in time to medieval England and an exploration of the life of one of our greatest English writers who celebrated country life. To top it all the Acorn Inn was the perfect base for exploring Dorset, combining a charming atmosphere of days gone by with boutique style bedrooms and delicious food. I feel sure that I’ll be back to explore more of what Hardy country and Dorset have to offer.
About the Acorn Inn
My thanks to the Acorn Inn, Evershot who hosted our stay and are part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection of luxury boutique hotels. You can follow the Acorn Inn on Twitter @Acorn_Inn, on their Facebook Page and on Google+ . Their sister hotel, Summer Lodge is also situated just up the road in the same village and is the perfect place for an English cream tea in their drawing room that was designed by Thomas Hardy.
Acorn Inn Website
Address: 28 Fore Street, Evershot, Dorset, DT2 0JW, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1935 83228 Reservations: [email protected]
We stayed in the Kingsbere twin room Peak season £120, Off Peak season £109 (Sat night)
For dinner we ate;
Twice baked Dorset blue cheese souffle with a fig and pomegranate salad £7.95
Lightly smoked, West Bexington, line caught mackerel and horseadish pate with homemade soda bread £7.40
Confit leg of Gressingham duck with vanilla mash, seasonal vegetables and red wine jus £15.45
Pan fried monkfish tails served on Lyme Bar Crab Risotto £15.95
Warm treacle tart with salted caramel and pecan nut ice cream £6.95
Iced chilli chocolate parfait, flambeed cherries and toasted almonds £5.75
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