The best places to eat, stay, shop and visit in the South West

The Acorn Inn, Evershot

Thomas Hardy’s literary fingerprints are all over this village inn which specialises in quintessential rustic charm and scrumptious local food, discovers Rosanna Rothery

Dorset’s most famous novelist would, no doubt, still recognise The Acorn Inn which featured (as The Sow and Acorn) in his tragic yarn, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Roaring fires, exposed beams, oak panelling and a bar reverberating with the laughter of locals can scarcely have changed since Hardy’s time.

Five hundred years of history ooze from every uneven floor and wonky-shaped room of the characterful inn, and it’s a credit to its current owners, the Tollman family, that more recent comfort-led renovations are sympathetic to its fascinating past.

VISIT for elegant creative cooking: locals may guzzle Durdle Door ale and knock down ninepins in the traditional skittle alley, but it’s in the dining room (with its pretty stone fireplace carved with oak leaves and acorns) that the magic really happens.

Those wanting a sophisticated take on pub classics won’t be disappointed (the piri piri-marinated chicken burger has garnered its own legion of fans), while those looking for a more elaborate feast should start with the gorgeously light twice-baked crab and Cornish Yarg soufflé. The dish’s rich flavour (likely to cause a considerable rush of euphoria) is perfectly cut through with pickled samphire and a saffron velouté.

Mains are equally gratifying. Tender Dorset pork loin perched on black pudding and apple hash is a particular high point, its pickled fennel offsetting the earthy richness, while a broad bean and apricot velouté adds depth and fruitiness.

To follow, a ditch-the-diet collection of desserts includes Bea Tollman’s famous vanilla cheesecake (as featured in her cookbook A Life in Food) and a wicked pairing of chocolate crèmeux and coffee sorbet.

DON’T VISIT if you crave urban stimulation. Not only is the bucolic village of Evershot Far From the Madding Crowd, it’s also far from the metropolitan crowd.

Embrace the secluded rural location and get stuck in to that Hardy novel you’ve always meant to read (you’ll find the appropriate tale in each of the themed bedrooms), take a stroll (the lanes surrounding this trad village are truly idyllic) or pass the time in the cosy lounge with its collection of games.

WE LIKED the tiny details which make a stay here memorable: four-poster beds, an excellent drinks list, the warm and attentive staff led by GMs Natalie and Richard Legg, the concerted effort to use local produce (there’s even a map of local butchers and farmers in the bar) and the very welcome early-morning waft of warm bread, fresh from the ovens of the village bakery.

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