The Watership Down Inn
Epic country vibes, Muddy Awards and super cute cotton-tailed bunnies - Muddy's Clover hopped to The Watership Down Inn to burrow down for the night and try some stonking gastropub grub.
It’s quite a thing to take the name of one of the nations most beloved novels as the name of your pub. The fact that The Watership Down Inn in is located a couple of miles outside Whitchurch, which was home to Richard Adams, who wrote the story of a band of rabbits escaping to a new warren after their home was destroyed by property developers (of course), provides the inspiration.
Nestled in the bosom of green and verdant Hampshire, deep in the Test Valley, and close to Watership Down itself, the pub has had something of a facelift recently, with 4 garden rooms added with wonderful views of the valley.
Arriving on a hot summer evening in early August, the garden looked spectacular, with the distinctive, huge mural of a rabbit covering one wall of the pub peeping out above lavender, roses and jasmine plants. Named as Muddy’s Destination Pub of both 2018 and 2019, I was curious to see if the pub lived up to its reputation, and from the lovely garden to the pretty, red-brick building twinkling with a welcoming looking bar, first impressions where favourable.
Whitchurch is close enough to the big smoke to be a commuter destination, yet far enough to ensure that not all the rural romance has been lost from the area, the pub retaining a distinctly, pleasingly rural vibe.
There might be glamorous white sheepskins over the back of most chairs in the restaurant and a touch of Scandi-inspired, stripped white wood interiors, but there’s also a cosy wood-burning stove for winter, dogs in the bar and one customer who rocked up on a quad bike wearing wellies was clearly a popular local who drank there regularly.
There are a lot of bunny-style touches which pop up, like little surprises, around the building, from the gorgeous rabbit wallpaper in the lavatories to rabbit prints on the wall, to the wifi code, which takes its inspiration from the name of one of Adam’s original bunnies.
It’s a very relaxed and friendly pub. There were children playing as their parents enjoyed dinner in the garden, and a few couples enjoying what Bridget Jones definitely would have called a ‘romantic mini-break’. There was an all-girl serving squad on duty the night I visited, and service was excellent, attentive and well informed.
This is a cosy little pub, with just 7 rooms in total. Three rooms are inside, above the bar, and have kept some of the original character of the building, with cottage style doors and beams.
All are ensuite, of course, and generously stocked with as much body balm as you could possibly want to slather on yourself in the course of one night.
An extra touch for the inside room is a cute communal sitting room at the top of the stairs, with a sofa and newspapers as an extra place to relax. Four, generous modern garden rooms were added in earlier this year, including a large family room which sleeps 4.
These external rooms are lovely, with stone floors, a huge bathroom with an excellent power shower, and very comfortable beds. There are some sweet details, like a pretty W monogrammed on the sheets, and the excellent tea and coffee making facilities, with a proper teapot and biscuits in rabbit themed tins.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu isn’t overly long, but there are a few surprises alongside the pub classics to keep it interesting. Nacho crusted Tex Mex Chicken and Cheese Bonbons, for example, were a little more than I could face on a Tuesday night, so instead I plumped for those excellent crowd-pleasers, prawn and crab Thai fishcakes (pictured above), which came with chilli dipping sauce: they where excellent, combining the right degree of spiciness with a sharpness of lime.
My husband, who had joined me from the rat race in London, taking a train directly to Whitchurch from the big smoke, had a delicious pea soup.
Main courses included rib-eye steaks, Barbary duck breast and real ale beer batter haddock fillet, but I had a really good, fresh chargrilled tuna loin with a caper sauce and a mountain of green local veg. It was excellent. My husband was playing it safe that night, not his normal style, and plumped for a burger. I stole half of his triple cooked chips, which were tasty.
There’s a handful of extra sides on the menu like olives, mini chorizo and roasted mixed vegetables, but I wanted to try the puddings, not out of greed, you understand, but in the name of serious journalistic research.
It wasn’t greedy to eat an entire raspberry pavlova with lemon curd to myself, you see, I was doing it in the name of work.
Sitting on the terrace outside the pub, enjoying a couple of glasses of dry, chilled Sauvignon Blanc on a very hot evening, bees lazily buzzing in the lavender bushes around us, it was almost possible to believe we really had got away from it all and were actually on holiday.
OUT & ABOUT
It would be rude, really, to visit the Watership Down Inn without exploring a bit of the pretty countryside around it. The next day we ventured to Beacons Hill to look for rabbits and were rewarded with the sight of a few fluffy, cotton-tail bunnies hopping around in the sunshine, straight out of the novel.
For more adult entertainment, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is just up the road and is a very big draw locally. Popular with hen nights (I wonder why?!), you can even get married near there at The Clock Barn, which explains the increasing popularity of The Watership Down as a venue for wedding guests. All the delights of Winchester are only a stone’s throw away too, so there’s plenty to do locally to keep you amused when you get tired of rabbits.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: A cheeky away night for a frazzled couple looking for some R&R in a lovely garden setting
NOT FOR: Anyone wanting to splash out on uber-luxury. The pub is charming, comfortable and clean, with welcoming rooms, but it’s not pretending to be a five-star hotel, either.
Rooms start at £110 for a double with a generous and excellent breakfast. Our dinner, with starters, mains, pudding and a couple of drinks each came to £106, which is on the higher end of average, but is what you would expect from this part of the world.
www.watershipdowninn.com The Watership Down Inn, Freefolk Priors, Freefolk, Whitchurch, Hampshire, RG28 7NJ. Tel:01256 892 254