Monday, 25 February 2013

Square and Compass, Worth Matravers

Although the drizzle, dark winter nights, and the time I seem to spend stuck on the M25 may sometime get me down, I do still love this Sceptred Isle. While the idea of Old England may seem like rose tinted nostalgia, the prospect of walking through a beech forest in autumn, or a bluebell wood in the spring - or knowing that your only two hours on the Eurostar from some Continental chic when it all gets too much - means I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

One of my very favourite corners of this green and pleasant land is the Isle of Purbeck, a glorious part of Dorset that includes such delights as Swanage, Studland Bay, Corfe Castle and Poole Harbour. Fortunately we now have a home from home in Bournemouth - originally when my sister lived down there, and now with our friends the lovely ladies, AKA Leo and Jo G - meaning the charms of this little Peninsular are merely a short drive away when we go to visit.

What seems like a very long while ago, Jo promised to take us to 'the pub with the stones', a fabled hostelry she told us served only pies, cider and ale through a small hatch. We spoke about it so often, without ever being organised enough to actually get there, that I sometimes wondered if this mystical place actually existed. Luckily it did, and finally we managed to coordinate a trip to see the ladies where a visit to the Square and Compass would be top of our itinerary.

I recently wrote about the wonderful Royal Standard of England, and the Square and Compass is hewn from the same stone. It's located in Worth Matravers, one of those idyllic picture postcard English villages that seems to be preserved in aspic, complete with the Swanage Steam Railway passing to the north and chocolate box limestone cottages clustered around a duck pond.

The pub itself is perched up upon a hill side, with gorgeous views out to the sea. The roads around are very narrow and winding, but there's a large public car park available to the right as you drive down into the village (or save yourself a couple of quid and try and nab a spot down by the pond). Walkers may feel smug as they can indulge in an extra pint or two, but there's still that hilly hike home to consider, which always seems twice as far when you're inebriated. 

Luckily for us Jo had drawn the short straw and was in charge of ferrying everyone about for the day, so I headed straight for the bar.

Like the Royal Standard, The Square and Compass has a veritable history, dating right back to 1776, and not much seems to have changed. Customers are still served through two small service hatches, separated by a blackboard listing the ciders, including home pressed by the owners, spirits, soft drinks and real ales that are available. 

There was a constant bottleneck of people jostling to chose their tipple of choice and passing condiments up and down the corridor on our visit, so I can only imagine the crush on a busy summer's day. My advice: make your choice and get out the way smartish. Or, even better, do as Leona and the Ewing did, and find someone to do your bidding while you scarper find a spot in one of the pub's rooms or spacious beer garden.

Service was clearly well oiled and ran with a brisk efficiency, despite our accidental attempts to infuriate the barman by requesting additional pasties every time he thought we had finally finished ordering. As well as three different types of pasty (veg, cheese and meat) there were also some exciting looking pies, which we saw both advertised on the board and being eaten by other patrons, but which the barman seemed reluctant to proffer any further information about (probably a deliberate attempt to be rid of us after the third visit to the kitchen to fetch us more pasties).

Whatever you decide on, the baked goods are home cooked every morning and once there gone there gone. So get down here in good time if you don't want to be subsisting solely on crisps and cider (not that I'm sure that idea sounds all bad...).

Taking the opportunity to soak up some of the, seldom seen, winter sun we sat on the stones, admiring this family of wooden deer while the local flock of hens pecked around our feet for company. Should the weather be a little more inclement then there are a warren of cosy rooms inside, complete with wooden benches, flagstone floors, and roaring log fires that are lit on chilly days.

A pint and a pasty in a sunny beer garden overlooking the sea is surely one of life's greatest pleasures. The pasties were piping hot and hefty, with a proper glossy pastry crust cradling the traditional, thinly sliced, potato swede, onion and steak filling. One of the very best examples I have tasted (despite being two county borders from their original home) and needing nothing more than a glass of the local Palmers Copper ale for accompaniment.

Despite a detour past the petrol station on the way down for a much needed crisp and coke stop (Leona had been at her leaving do the night before), our pasties were soon quickly demolished, save for a scattering of errant crumbs on the grass. Luckily there were plenty of spare dogs around happy to hoover up any stray morsels.

It was also a chance for the lovely Jo G to finally make her, long overdue, first proper appearance on the blog. And, as you can see, she was clearly as enamoured with the home made pastry products as I was. Smoking hot, and the pasties were a pretty scalding temperature, too....

If Palaeolithic objects are your bag, then there is an adjoining Museum with 'fossils and local finds' - started by Ray Newman and now curated by his son, and the pub's owner, Charlie -  featuring examples collected from the surrounding Jussrasic Coast area. I did try and offer up these three unwanted artefacts, but sadly they were rejected and had to return home with me.

As if the pub wasn't already popular enough just from slaking the thirst of locals and walkers alike for more than two centuries, they have also gained a reputation for live music in more recent years. It's also the site of a two week stone cutting festival in the summer, a jazz festival in September, the host of a heaviest pumpkin competition in the autumn, and a bottled beer festival to close the year. A truly eclectic mix of English eccentricities are catered for.

There seems little more to say about the Square and Compass, other than a few apt words from Dorset's most famous son, Thomas Hardy: 'Where we are would be Paradise to me, if you would only make it so'. 

A fabulous part of this country, crowned by this fabulous place.

1 comment:

  1. There's nothing like a fine pint and a fine pasty in the heart of the countryside. Great review. Here I am in my office in London, pining for pasty land!