What more could you ask for after a bustling, busy week? A teal-coloured panelled room, dark wood floorboards, a vast, divinely comfortable bed with perfect linen, in a coaching inn, The White Horse, where Charles Dickens was once a resident. Head for Dorking, just a hop skip and jump from London to find such a refuge. You’ll be WOW’d by the sense of history that pervades there. It’s far from small and pokey, although the ceilings are low and the wood almost black, aged back to 1278 in places. There are velvety nooks and snuggle-into sofa crannies, great for a quiet chat and cosy drink, fireplaces, rooms for private dining or meetings and an unpretentious, jolly good restaurant, The Dozen which has the bonus of its own deli too, for coffees and pastries, eat in or take away. It’s spot on for an easy country getaway, set beside the dramatic North Downs, just an hour from London by car or on the train, which trundles through the capital’s suburbs to suddenly reach the country, through a station whimsically named Box Hill and Westhumble, steep hills, inviting you to climb on one side of the track and vineyards on the other, softer slopes, inviting you to taste award-winning wine.
The White Horse is one of Bespoke Hotels portfolio of properties and has undergone a total refurbishment to the tune of £4M over the last couple of years, which has enhanced and complimented its age and unique history. There’s been no attempt to create a bland hostelry: the corridors to the bedrooms still turn around corners that appear to go nowhere and then you spy a small door marked Room 22. There’s a tucked away staircase, narrow and steep, I thought of child servants in centuries past, that is now inaccessible and leads who knows where. You could happily describe the upstairs as a warren but oh, what a welcoming and very congenial one.
I easily imagined Dickens writing part of The Pickwick Papers here, the ambiance is positively perfect for his style. There’s no false modesty in mentioning this connection and why not, with a couple of cocktails referencing his work. Local wines and produce are truly celebrated too, with pairing menus offering Greyfrairs wines: I wholeheartedly recommend their Pinot Noir Rosé. He with whom I travel was rather taken, at lunchtime, by a fish goujon sandwich from an imaginative brunch menu and a pint of Dorking Brewery’s DB One. Splendidly down to earth and very tasty. The Dozen offers a varied dinner menu: I liked the small sharing plates, a perfect Scotch egg and Reigate Royal mini sausages with Bloody Mary ketchup (now on the menu chez nous) set us up well for the main course. The camembert, wild mushroom & thyme wellington with wilted spinach was subtly flavoursome, and himself enjoyed crispy beer battered fish with mushy peas, tartare sauce, triple cooked chips. There was no room for pudding I’m afraid, although the summer berry Eton mess looked tempting. All in all, the meal was excellent – very good fare with old favourites and imaginative new dishes.
What’s good about The White Horse is its friendly atmosphere and confident, competent service: warm without being ingratiating. The General Manager, jovial Beccy Gunn, has a good team and it’s a busy inn but runs efficiently. Staff are obvious in their uniforms, tweedy jackets or aprons and jeans. It’s worth mentioning that this is a pet friendly property, headed up in the dog department by Beccy’s own delightful canine, Womble, a large water-dog, who trots about behind her.
We’d happily go back for a relaxed weekend, or even just a chilled-out Sunday lunch with the papers, following a walk around Ranmore Common or Box Hill. There are great offers too – combinations of cocktails, meals and stays to suit most of us. I do rather fancy one or two of the quirky evening events as well: they hint at the fact that this is not in any way an ordinary place to stay. Try the Theatre Dinner with five characters, an author and music, plus food of course. Or an evening’s diverse discussion in verse with wine, where could that end up? Without doubt, it sounds lots of fun. And Dickens surely would approve most heartily! The tradition of wit, words, wine and warm food continues.
Dorking is most wonderfully situated, surrounded by excellent walking country, historic houses such as Polesden Lacey and Chartwell, and a mere 15 miles from Hampton Court Palace, along with the RHS garden at Wiseley and Winkworth Arboretum close by. For the energetic cyclist, the North Downs Way passes just behind the town. And for those who like a local tipple, The Gin Kitchen, Silent Pool Gin and the Dorking Brewery are within easy reach. Denbies Wine Estate and Greyfriars Vineyard are making their mark in English viniculture and well worth a visit. The town itself is full of interest, The White Horse sits on the main thoroughfare, a short walk from the antiques quarter with vintage specialist and antique shops vying for attention.
The White Horse
01306 881 138
Jennie visited as a guest of Bespoke Hotels.