The Woolpack, Totford
Muddy says: A rural Hampshire institution which nods to its traditional roots but offers a modern menu plus super-comfy rooms and glorious walks through Jane Austen country.
Big skies, swooping sight-lines, fields of oilseed yellow: The Candover Valley is high-wattage Hampshire.
It’s also Jane Austen country, and an open-top carriage would do very nicely as you process along the poplar-lined ridge before dropping down to The Woolpack; squat, settled, comfortably moulded into the valley floor.
The Woolie, as it’s known by affectionate locals, is clearly a place that celebrates its community; plaques running along the bar name local characters and families: some now perched on that barstool in the sky, other still very much extant.
There’s an air of ease, a nod to rural huntin’, shootin’ roots, washed down with a cheeky measure of English eccentricity. It goes without saying that dogs are very welcome throughout the pub and in the bedrooms.
So we have leather armchairs; foot puffs; black and white photos from the local shoot; gun butts for curtain tiebacks; a gloriously gnarled wooden table; and a boar’s head replete with pork-pie hat, scarf and chipped tooth (thanks to a late night tussle with an inebriated local).
Sounds like a random mish-mash? Not at all, thanks to the clever use of textures: wood, tartan-wool, worn leather and hessian, creating a sense of warm sophistication.
The bar extends into a snug, fire-side eating area then up some stairs into the dining-room proper.
There’s also a private dining area replete with antlers and sepia-tinged, family photo wallpaper.
There’s an emphasis on local: meat from South Hampshire, fish from Devon and game, well that’s in the hand of the regulars, always welcome at the back-door!
The Woolie’s burger is legendary and elsewhere you have pub classics presented with panache: 1/2 pint prawns with garlic aioli or smoked salmon charred cucumber and baby watercress, plus a curve-ball or two: goats cheese mousse, salt-baked hay beetroot and walnut granola being a fine example.
Sussex’s Nyetimber fizz flies the English flag and there’s a clear commitment to real ale with a pump dedicated to showcasing local breweries.
The winelist is balanced and reasonable, prices range from £19 to £55, and the knowledgeable Agne knew her stuff guiding us to Allegrini’s smooth, Italian Valpolicella. She’d been to the vineyard too, an interesting touch.
Children are very welcome here, in fact offspring of the locals are given their own bar-plaque, this time at toddler height! There’s a fenced in play-park and the outdoor pizza oven is fired-up on Sundays during summer.
There are 7 rooms all with either a shower an/or bath including the family suite, Golden Pheasant which has two good-size, warm rooms plus a large bath and shower area one with views across the valley.
That eye for texture comes into play again here: rustic-luxe, all exposed flint and brick, soft-as-down quails-feather quilts, metal lampshades and olive walls.
This is walking country so we took a brisk hour-long loop through fields of oilseed rape, hares, buzzards and the occasional sky lark. The Wayfarers trail passes through as well (read my review of the Kingsclere section here). There are stiles so you’ll need a carrier (or shoulders) if you’re bringing children.