Staycation: The Acorn Inn, Dorset
Make like Tess of the d’Urbervilles (minus all the tragedy) with a visit to this charming 16th-century inn in the heart of Thomas Hardy land
In Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess stops in a village called Evershed, where she breakfasts in a small cottage near the church and just beside a coaching inn, the ‘Sow and Acorn’. As Dorset’s most famous writer, Hardy set many of his novels in local settings, and in this case, ‘Evershed’ was a barely fictionalised version of the village of Evershot, where the real model for the inn – actually called The Acorn – still stands, with a shining reputation as a favourite place for locals and visitors alike.
The moment I walk through its doors, my shoulders drop, my pace slows and I beam at the friendly receptionist as if we are old friends reunited. The Acorn has been delighting its guests for more than 400 years, and doesn’t need to bow to the vagaries of fashion.
It’s a wonderfully comfortable place with old beams, oak panelling, crooked walls and odd corridors and corners. There’s a big old open fire, flagstones underfoot, and piles of newspapers and magazines next to the leather sofas and club chairs. The décor is delightful, but it’s not knowingly fashionable or ‘designed’.
Instead, it looks as if its style has evolved naturally, like someone’s house, with a mix of older and more recent additions: funny old pub-style mirrors and antique prints on the walls, fine ceramics on the breakfast tables; traditional florals and tartans in the bedrooms, REN toiletries and power showers in the bathrooms; cosy traditional bar inside, sunny terrace and pretty garden outside.
Dinner at The Acorn is best described as ‘gastropub’ in the best sense of the word. There is a nice line in the kind of crowd-pleasing pub favourites that everyone wants to see on a menu after a day exploring the local countryside, including homemade burgers, line-caught fish and chips, and garlic prawns (suppliers – all local – are listed on the menu).
Or you can go upscale with the à la carte menu – a selection that, like The Acorn itself, stays comfortably in the ‘classics’ category, but with its own personality and a big focus on flavour and local ingredients.
I start with pea and mint soup served with local breads and butter. My husband, David, chooses twicebaked coastal cheddar soufflé with mushroom velouté, and guards each mouthful so possessively that I don’t even get to try it.
I follow with the day’s fish special, salmon on a mix of seasonal vegetables and herbs with wilted greens and pomegranate seeds – a plate so delicious and fresh nobody is silly enough to mess around with it. I don’t get to try much of David’s beer-battered fish, chunky chips and mushy peas, either, but I do manage to steal one perfect chip.
The Acorn sits on the edge of the nearby Melbury Estate parkland, where you can easily walk for five miles and see Dorset much as Tess would have done in the 1800s. The nearest town is Beaminster, with its beautiful Georgian houses, famous historic gardens (Mapperton House and Gardens is a major draw), galleries and award-winning restaurants.
A short drive from Beaminster is groovy, bohemian Bridport. From there it’s just 15 minutes to West Bay on the Jurassic Coast. We stopped at Dorchester on our way down from London, and found an outstanding museum, with amazing local history and natural-world exhibits as well as a large section devoted to the work of Thomas Hardy (you can’t escape him in Dorset, but why would you want to?), some first-class art and an excellent café. This part of Dorset, slightly off the beaten track and not as touristy as some of the coast, is a crown with many jewels. And The Acorn, timeless and welcoming, is one of its brightest.
How to book
Rooms at The Acorn Inn cost from £140 per night on a B&B basis (based on two people sharing). For more info and to book, visit acorn-inn.co.uk.