Though it has many plus points, ‘easy access’ is not one of the Bel and The Dragon’s strengths. In its defense, any idiot with map reading skills and a car would probably manage, but we had neither and it proved a problem.
To be fair, no member of the charming restaurant with rooms situated in the tucked-away town of Churt, told us to spend the afternoon exploring its (hilly) surrounds. We certainly weren’t forced to walk up and down one side of the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ (a ravine and area of natural beauty which, as the name suggests, is pretty steep). And, perhaps if we’d called ahead to check that walking the additional three miles from Hindhead when it was nearing dark was a good idea, things may have turned out differently.
As we failed to ask advice on any of the above… it’s fair to say we ended up arriving at the Bel and The Dragon a little fraught.
Hindsight. What a useful thing. As it turned out, turning up aching from head to toe with tempers shorter than the Minogue sisters was a good thing – because it gave the Bel and The Dragon the opportunity to soothe our weary (and slightly sheepish) souls.
They started by motioning us to our room at the mere mutter of a surname. Then listened sympathetically to our travelling woes as they pointed out the honesty snug a few doors down with a selection of rare whiskeys. The complimentary bottle of Sipsmith sloe gin flanked by a duo of cut glass goblets on our artfully distressed writing desk didn’t hurt. Neither did the offer (and quick arrival) of a pack of plasters for our ravaged feet.
Once we’d sprawled out on the huge double bed, propping ourselves up with natty printed cushions we started to feel a little better. (We were even able to admire the cool grey walls, bookshelf of leather-bound classics, mismatched lamps and black and white wall prints.) And, after a long, Cowshed bubble-assisted bath in the pristine white bathroom – we even started to find our foolish lack of planning funny.
The walk had obviously done us good, we decided, once we were sat in the packed dining room, a couple of Elderbubble cocktails in hand. We’d certainly worked up an appetite, diving into three seared scallops on a slick of sweet cauliflower puree scattered with pink shards of crisp bacon and an un-showy basket of gold-burnished whitebait. Had it not been for our trek – the faultless rib of beef, served blushing on a wooden board surrounded by soft violet blooms of artichoke, a tangled bunch of slow-roasted garlic bulbs and ruby red tomatoes sweetened with lingering heat – would surely have defeated us. We wouldn’t have managed the fluffy fat chips with a salty outer crunch. Or the glossy lemon tart with thick clotted cream. And definitely not the excellent lemon sorbet: citrus sharp with a boozy hit of Sipsmith vodka to give it extra welly.
By the next day, after a lazy breakfast (toasted slabs of homemade bread topped with sunny scrambled eggs, buttery mushrooms and more of that crisp bacon from the night before) and a poke around the peaceful garden – we were patting ourselves on the back. If we hadn’t elevated our stress levels getting to the Bel and The Dragon, we doubt we would have appreciated how effective they are at lowering them. And that would have been extremely foolish.