The Perfect Country Pub

DonQui has been rather quite of late and for this he apologises. With summer approaching and various other tedious distractions now behind him, he resolves to get back to the important  business of living life to the fullest. He has some travels coming up soon but on this English holiday weekend he decides to stay firmly on home ground.

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After all he does live in a corner of Suffolk favoured by tourists so why put up with crowded airports and traffic jams when he can simply trot out of his paddock to enjoy what others travel far to experience.

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Nearby Southwold will be overrun with tourists so instead of venturing into the coastal town he heads a bit inland to one of his favourite country pubs — The Star in Wenhaston.

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It just so happens that the Star has a beer festival running over the weekend. With live music, barbecue and a wide selection of beers and ciders on offer for £3 a pint it would be foolish to pass it up.

Now DonQui has previously expounded his philosophy of what makes a good pub. The Ship and Shovel in London is a perfect example of a really good urban pub. The Star at Wenheston is a truly great country pub.

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The sign on the wall says it all. The Star is a proper old fashioned pub of the kind which is becoming increasingly difficult to find as so many are taken over by chains, given a gastropub make-over or otherwise turned into identikit versions of each other.

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In autumn and winter there is a roaring fire in the bar which makes it a great place to escape the damp grey of the colder English seasons.

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One night a month the Star hosts “spin a disk” where you can bring samples of your vinyl collections to play on the record player (younger readers may need to look that up). One might hear anything from traditional jazz to cheesy pop, interspersed with a bit of Led Zeppelin, Bowie, or The Who. It all depends on what people decide to bring with them.

bric a brac.jpgRun by Carl and Virginia, The Star remains quirky and resolutely independent.

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The wonderful bric-a-brac decorating the walls are reflective of the fact that The Star has not been designed by marketing consultants and long may it remain thus.

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The Star is a free-house which is rare in the heart of Adnams country. Not that DonQui has anything against Adnams beers, which are brewed down the road in Southwold. It is just that every once in a while he enjoys trying something else and most pubs in the area are tied to the Adnams brewery.

beer bar.jpgFor some reason, DonQui does not enquire why, all the beers on offer at the beer festival are from Yorkshire rather than Suffolk. Taking a half pint glass he samples several of them and is pleased by the variety of tastes from citrusy pale ales to more malty darker ones. One of his favourites, from Kelham Island Brewery is ‘London Calling’ — an odd name perhaps for a Yorkshire beer, complete with a cameo of The Clash on the barrel. Dark, full of deep flavour and good hoppy bitterness DonQui thinks it makes a great beer to sip and savour. A close runner up is Atlantic Crossing which apparently was originally a joint venture between York’s Rudgate Brewery and the Hogshead Brewery of Colorado USA —hence the name.

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The sun is shining, the music is good (mostly) with a variety of performers playing an eclectic mix of folk, blues, jazz and rock.

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The barbecue provides a steady supply of burgers, sausages or steaks during the lunch and supper hours.

Goulash cooked in a large pot over an open fire provides sustenance in-between.

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Sampling yet another beer, DonQui decides that there are worse ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

England’s Atlantis

DonQui is relieved to arrive back in England to crisp, sunny, autumn weather. Although it certainly feels cold after Tanzania’s mid 30° temperatures, at least it is not grey and rainy.
It being that day of the week, DonQui decides to partake in the English ritual of a walk in the country followed by a Sunday roast at a suitable pub.

One of his favourite places to do this is Dunwich.

Dunwich beachNow not many people have heard of Dunwich and with good reason… Like Atlantis, most of it lies under the sea.

Yet back in medieval times Dunwich was one of England’s most important towns. It was in the top ten listed in the Doomsday Book of 1086, growing in size and prosperity over the next 300 years. Trade with Flanders and the royal shipyards made Dunwich the most important port on the East coast, second only to London. It was here that King Edward III’s fleet was built for the invasion of France in the Hundred Years War.

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However, the sand cliffs on which Dunwich is built are highly vulnerable to erosion. A great storm in 1347 swept away 400 houses as the cliffs crumbled and fell into the sea. In the years that followed the once great port silted up and the Blyth River changed its course. By the beginning of the 17th century Dunwich had lost 3/4 of its original size and the erosion continues still.

Dunwich greyfriarsToday all that remains of the once great medieval city are the ruins of the Greyfriars monastery and St James’ chapel which once administered to a leper colony. Both of these buildings were inland from the original city walls. All that was once inside the walls is now under the sea.

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The more than 5000 inhabitants of medieval times has shrunk to a modern population of less than 200. A rather good little museum tells the story

Dunwich Ship

Tucked in amongst the cottages of modern Dunwich is the Ship Inn — one of DonQui’s favourite pubs in the area. After a circular walk over the cliffs, through Greyfriars’ Wood and around the monastery DonQui is ready for a pint and some roast beast with all the trimmings.

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The Ship is a free house serving an ever changing selection of local beers and ciders. This is a rarity in these parts where most pubs are tied to Southwold’s Adnams’ brewery. Now in the past there was no love lost between Dunwich and Southwold so it is perhaps not surprising to find the Ship maintaining its independence. Although DonQui is a great fan of Adnams’ beers he finds it refreshing to have a wider choice every once in a while.

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He samples the Jenny Morgan, and finds it quite refreshing with a light hoppy taste. Brewed by Green Jack of Lowestoft it is apparently named after a girl in an old mariners’ song who waits at home for her sweetheart who is out at sea.

Dunwich menu

Unlike many pubs on Sunday, The Ship offers other options in addition to the traditional Sunday Roast. However it is roast than DonQui wants, choosing the beef while Duchess goes for the pork. They also decide to share the watermelon, feta, pumpkin seed and basil salad as a starter. It simply sounded too interesting to pass up and DonQui was glad he didn’t — it was utterly delicious.

The Ship always does an excellent roast and this time was no exception. Both were very good but DonQui thought that the pork possible had the edge on the beef. Unfortunately he tucked into the food right away rather than taking photographs.

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However he did remember to capture the image of the rather spectacular knickerbocker glory which served as an excellent shared desert.

Chateaubriand for Two

DonQui felt like it was time to get reacquainted with some of his local food haunts. The Anchor in Walberswick is one of his favourites.

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Now Walberswick is an odd sort of place. Once a thriving small port it is now mostly a holiday destination which rather resembles the set of an Agatha Christie film. Known as “Notting Hill on Sea” for the number of film and TV celebrities who have taken up residence, it can be pretty crowded in summer but off-season it starts to regain its quiet charm again.

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Just across the Blythe river from Southwold the crossing to Walberswick is by ferry — if you can call it that.

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It is actually just a small boat. There is a foot bridge a bit further up river but if you want to go by car from Southwold to Walberswick you have to make a detour of over 8 miles to get around the Blythe.

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Named amongst the 50 best gastropubs in Britain, the Anchor has managed to maintain a good balance between top-end food and a relaxed country atmosphere. Prices are on the steep side but the food and drink are well above average.

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DonQui prefers sitting in the bar area when he can get a spot there. There is a table reserved for locals (on the right of the photo) which has caused some consternation amongst the many tourists. DonQui, however, supports the idea which is very similar to the Stammtisch found in many German Gasthäuser. Although not exactly a local himself, DonQui now has a standing invitation to join the table.

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On a warm day the back terrace is very nice and some weekends they have entertainment. There is, however, one side room by the toilets which if you sit there feels a bit as if you have been ‘Sent to Coventry’ (non British readers may need to look up the meaning).

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As the hectic summer season had come to an end DonQui manages to bag a table in the bar and settles down to enjoy the local Adnams’ Ghost Ship while contemplating the food options. It turns out to be “steak night” and what is more a chateaubriand is on offer.

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Chateaubriand is perhaps slightly out of fashion these days but DonQui always finds it a rather special treat. Cut from the centre of the beef filet it is cooked whole and then divided up between two of you. From local Red Poll beef (a Suffolk breed) the Anchor’s chateaubriand was perfectly cooked and served with both Béarnaise and peppercorn sauces on the side. Alongside were grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, beans, carrots and a choice of dauphinoise potatoes or chips.

Washed down with an Argentinian Malbec it was a most enjoyable meal in a great atmosphere.

Ale and Hops

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DonQui’s step quickened as he approached the shop in Tarragona. This is my sort of place, he thought.…an emporium dedicated to ale, hops and the joy of the fermented grain. Maybe it would be as good as the Adnams store in Southwold — one of his favourite shops anywhere.

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He couldn’t work out what the cow was doing in the entrance, nor why so many women seemed to be heading inside, leaving their men to wait impatiently on the street. In his experience men seemed to get much more excited about beer than women. Perhaps in Spain things were different.

Imagine DonQui’s huge disappointment when he went inside and there was not a single bottle of beer to be seen—just lots of girly Stuff and nothing of any use to DonQui at all.

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Duchess was happy though. She bought Stuff while DonQui sat on a step opposite feeling more than a little dejected and wondering when beer time would come around again.