Published with kind permission of the
Western Daily Press.
Watering Hole of the Week - by Ned Halley
THE Horseshoe makes an immediate impression. A picturesque red-brick pile of the 17th century, it has a quaint thatch and unusual red window shutters.
The Virginia creeper that covers much of the front is now turning to a seasonal red, too, giving the whole place a warmly rosy autumn glow.
It looks pretty rosy inside, too. The main bar area is an intriguing maze of spaces divided up by post-and beam timbers, with several snug little side-rooms. On this unusually fine day the front bar, with its long casement window, was bathed in sunlight, showing off the shine on the masses of horse brasses ornamenting the beams and numerous silver trophies that festoon mantelpieces and windowsills.
The cups mark the countless victories won by the greyhounds owned by the pub's licensees, John and Pam Desmond. As the trophies' legends testify, they are winners far and wide: Romford Greyhound Stadium 2006; Guys & Dolls Stakes, Crayford Stadium 2007; Coventry Greyhounds 2008.
But the Desmonds were very much at home on this jolly Saturday lunchtime, serving the numerous families who had descended on the pub's lawned, beech-shaded garden and paddock, plus a party of about 30 parishioners, vicar included, lunching in the secluded dining room. There was also a steady stream of regulars in and out of the chatty front bar, where there are comfy tub chairs for the more leisurely drinkers and a proper amount of standing room for the quick-pint customers.
Our little party, Mrs Halley and myself and our friend Mr S, visiting from London, grabbed the fine circular table in the window of the front bar in spite of landlord John's warnings that there would be a lot of noisy locals gathering at the counter.
He was right about this, and we were soon relishing all the latest village news and views.
But the Horseshoe is not just talk. There are good beers. Mr S and I were impressed with the freshness and ideal cool temperature of the Bass, which we chose over the Old Speckled Hen. And Mrs H, although pleased to see Stowford Press cider on draught, preferred a ginger beer, which turned out to be the brilliant Palmers, from the family brewery in Bridport, Dorset.
The pub food here really is pub food. None of your gastro pretention, but terrific value and served at remarkable speed given the number of lunchers in. The Wiltshire ham, eggs and chips at £6.95 was a bargain, and likewise the omelette and chips (with a choice of fillings) at £5.95.
We noticed there was nothing above £10 on the menu besides the steaks, that sandwiches started at £3.95 and that some of the specials on the blackboard had encouraging little flourishes. For example, the plaice came with 'herb-fried' potatoes. Sounds delicious.
It was Mrs H who had steered us to Mildenhall, because she wanted to see the renowned church of St John the Baptist. Founded in 804, beautifully restored inside in 1815 and left untouched by the Victorians, it was John Betjeman's favourite, and described by him as like 'walking into the church of a Jane Austen novel'. So while she went to retrace the poet's footsteps, Mr S and I had another half and joined in the chat at the bar.
Mildenhall, we heard, is also locally known as Minal - pronounced 'mine all' - and the Horseshoe is very much a village hub. We noticed a letter from the actor Sir Michael Caine displayed above the fireplace, thanking the Horseshoe for all the cash it has raised for leukaemia research. Do they do a lot of this sort of thing, we asked landlord John. 'Quite a bit,' he replied gleefully, 'but not a lot of people know that'.
What a wonderful pub this is. With warmly welcoming people both sides of the bar, it is outward-looking while still being very much a community centre.
For visitors to Marlborough, just a mile to the west, or walkers along the fabled routes through the Savernake Forest and the water meadows of the Kennet Valley, this will make an ideal refreshment stop.
And don't forget Mildenhall's church, just across the road. Mrs H returned from her visit misty-eyed, as much from all the cheery hellos she'd had from people en route as from viewing the famed box pews and Norman arches. Mr S and I promised faithfully to make the pilgrimage next time, which will probably be soon.
Contact: The Horseshoe Inn, Mildenhall, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 2LR. Tel 01672 514725
Open: 11am-3pm and 6pm-11pm daily. Snacks: Sandwiches from £3.95.
Disabled access: No steps at front, ramps inside; disabled WC.
Parking: Car park at rear. Service: Friendly and very fast.
Atmosphere: Good-humoured and convivial