“ Address: Blacknoll Lane / East Knighton / Dorchester DT2 8LL / Dorset „
Last year I spent a long weekend in Dorset with my partner and our dog. We rented a lovely holiday cottage in the village of Winfrith Newburgh, which is equidistant between the towns of Wareham and Dorchester. We were lucky enough to find a selection of pubs within easy cycling distance of Winfrith Newburgh...which made our lives so much easier. You aren't allowed to leave pets unattended in most holiday homes so you're forced to take them with you everywhere you go. That's a bit of a problem for us as Tattie gets very distressed on any car journey be it long or short. Therefore we try and minimise her anguish by travelling on bikes for shorter journeys and her daily walks. The Countryman Inn can be found in the tiny village of East Knighton, which was about 2 miles from our holiday let and thus ideal for a cycle ride.
We pulled up outside the Countryman Inn earlier in the day just to double-check they allowed dogs in the pub, and also to see if they were serving food that evening. The outside of the Countryman (and their website) makes much of their renowned carvery, but we were hoping there would be more than this option on offer. The landlord informed us he had only just taken over running the pub that very day, but it was business as usual and the kitchen was fully open. He apologised that the advertised carvery was not on offer that night, but that he hoped it would be up and running soon. This wasn't a problem for us, as neither of us is a huge fan of a carvery dinners - we just wanted simple pub grub.
~~~ A VERY BIG HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY ~~~
The Countryman Inn looks rather French from the outside - I put that down to the fact that all the windows are shuttered. However, it has to be said that the building looks more than a little rundown and unloved from the outside. The yellow painted walls are peeling in places, and the signage is a little too sun-bleached. All the windows are decorated with some rather French looking shutters, but they're painted brown which just makes the place look dreadfully old-fashioned and dated. However, don't let the outside put you off going inside, as it's a rather nice place if you venture over the threshold.
The Countryman Inn is like a tardis inside - it's a huge barn of a place. There's one massive bar area running the length of the room and various different snugs, lounges, seating areas in all different directions. The décor inside the Countryman is nothing to write home about, but it's comfortable and mostly functional. There's a lot of brickwork inside - to the front of the bar and on the fireplaces, but all the floors were carpeted throughout. As it was a Monday evening when we went there, the place was rather quiet and it felt a bit mausoleum like.
~~~ IN A BIG COUNTRY(MAN) ~~~
It took us about ten minutes to cycle from Winfrith Newburgh to East Knighton and the Countryman Inn. It looked like most of the journey would involve cycling along a very busy main road, but we found there was a footpath to one side of the road, so luckily we could cycle slightly away from the traffic (always best with a skittish dog like Tattster). The village of East Knighton consists of a handful of houses, a petrol station and the pub. If you blink you'll miss the place! The pub was very quiet when we got there but it was a Monday night after all. We understood from overhearing various conversations at the bar from the new landlord and his clientele, that the pub used to be very popular, but the previous owners had let it go somewhat, and he was planning on getting it back on track soon.
Our welcome was warm and we were directed to a choice of about three different areas where we would be able to sit and eat dinner with the hound. There was one area with lots of sofas and low tables, but we didn't think that would be very comfortable to eat in. By the front entrance were two areas, both with plenty of tables and chairs for eating and drinking. We decided to sit in the right-hand one so we could keep an eye on the bikes out of the window. There was also a lovely looking fireplace in this section, and we were a little bit chilled after our cycle ride as there was a very fresh April wind in the air. Sadly the fireplace wasn't lit so we moved to the opposite side of the building where there was a wood burning stove. Unfortunately this wasn't lit either, so I was rather reluctant to remove my coat. I suspect that the landlord and staff had been so busy moving into the pub that day and getting things ready for the evening that they'd all been rushing about so much they just didn't feel the need for the heating to be on. Sadly, it was quite chilly in there and rather too vast to be unheated.
~~~ COUNTRYMAN FARE ~~~
The menu at the Countryman Inn is typical pub grub but at a good, reasonable price. There are no surprises on the menu, but it's all good, hearty fare. There were no daily specials on offer - or at least we didn't spot any, or have our attention drawn to them on the night we visited. Orders are placed at the bar and you then find a table to eat at - it's all very casual and informal.
The menu at the Countryman is rather big, but I understand from the landlord that it is going to be updated shortly. I would hope they are going to streamline it into something a little snappier and 21st century, as it's currently rather peppered with 101 different pub grub meals, and there are few surprises at all within its pages. People need to be tempted out of their homes of an evening to spend their hard-earned credit crunched pounds....and offering them the "same old, same old" fare ain't going to do it. They can buy a steak and kidney pie in Marks and Spencer or Tesco for half the price, so if they're going to venture further afield there needs to be plenty of tempting dishes on offer that they won't find elsewhere. Currently the menu is rather vast and sprawling and seems to be trying to please too many people with too many options.
There are plenty of lighter options on offer at the Countryman Inn with a good array of sandwiches (£5.95), omelettes (c£6.25), filled jacket potatoes (£6.95), ploughmans (c£6.95) and paninis (£6.25) on offer. Conversely, if you're after a proper sit-down meal rather than a snack then the menu offers plenty of choice for everyone. There are a range a starters from £3.95 to £6.25 consisting of things like soup, pâté, garlic mushrooms, whitebait or that old favourite prawn cocktail. I was quite tempted by the Thai fish cakes, but suspected they were likely to have come from either Brake Brothers or Iceland so I passed on that particular choice.
Main courses at the Countryman are divided up into sections - Choice Fish (c£8.95), Famous Countryman Pies (c£9.75), Country Curries (c£8.50), Chicken (c£10.50), From the Grill, Vegetarian or Chef's Recommendations (where they shove all the dishes they cannot categorise in the former!). Fish is of the deep fried variety (i.e. battered cod or scampi), but the pies selection sounded more interesting. I was tempted by the curries (korma, madras or tikka masala), but you never really know how spicy they're going to be so I stuck to a safer option. The Grill section is Rump, Sirloin or Rib-Eye steak and all the trimmings - competitively priced at under £15, or you could stick to a simple Burger and Chips for less than £9. Of all the sections, I found the Chef's Recommendations the most tempting as they had items on it that were a little more unusual than the rest of the menu...which so far had offered nothing out of the ordinary. The Chef's Recommendations had Minted Lamb Shank (£13.95) and Local Butcher's Faggots (£10.25) both of which were just slightly different from the run of the mill pub grub.
If you are dining with your family, the Countryman caters nicely for children even if the menu is rather naffly called "Kiddies Korner". They offer a choice of main course and ice cream for £5.25, with dishes like Fish Fingers, Burgers, Pizza or Sausages alongside fries, peas or beans.
The Countryman website makes much of their famous carvery, but that was not on offer on the night we ate there. However, I understand that the landlord is planning on reintroducing the carvery meals in the near future, as they used to be a popular choice in the pub's heyday. The cost used to be £8.95 for a choice of two meats (hand carved by the chef), vegetables, potatoes and real gravy. Children are offered smaller portions at £5.25 per head.
~~~ OUR DINNER ~~~
On the evening we cycled there, we were pretty tired. Although it was only a two mile cycle ride, we'd had a busy day sightseeing in Dorset. We'd been to Bournemouth to visit the mother -in-law, we'd tried to visit the village of Tyneham (this is a "ghost" village closed by the MOD in 1942 and they never allowed the former residents to move back after peace was declared) and we'd been to see the Rude Man of Cerne Abbas.
The list of starters on offer at the Countryman Inn weren't particularly inspiring so we just ordered a couple of main courses. I was torn between a couple of dishes from the Chef's Recommendation section Local Old English Sausages with Onion Gravy, Creamed Mashed Potato and Peas (£8.95) or Homemade Beef Lasagne served with Garlic Bread and Salad (£9.50). In the end I chose the Lasagne as I fancied some garlic bread. As soon as we placed our order at the bar, the barmaid said I could help myself to salad from the salad bar on the other side of the bar. This was a nice selection of freshly chopped ingredients as well as various different dressings and accompaniments. Although it wasn't the most innovative selection of salad items, it was all fresh and clean - which was good enough for me. As well as the ubiquitous selection of sliced tomatoes, cucumber and celery there was shredded lettuce, picked beetroot, coleslaw and potato salad on offer. I filled my bowl and added a tiny bit of vinaigrette to flavour the items. It was all very crunchy and tasty, and I managed to scoff most of it before my lasagne made an appearance. The lasagne was served in an oval shaped dish straight from the oven and piping hot. It was a simply massive portion and all topped with freshly melted cheddar cheese - I really did struggle to finish it all. Inside the dish were plenty of layers of pasta with lots of beef and tomato flavoured mince too. The garlic bread was nicely crispy and slightly burned to the edges as I like it. The only slight criticism I could make of this meal was that the beef and tomato filling in the lasagne was slightly too sloppy and sauce like; I prefer the beef element of a lasagne to be slightly drier and meatier, but that's purely a personal preference. All in all it was a good value tasty meal for less than a tenner.
My partner stampeded to the Countryman Pies section of the menu as he is more than a little fond of a pie and a pint (....prompting me to burst into a chorus of "Who Ate All the Pies? You Fat B$%^*!, You Fat B$%^*!"...which earned me a glare). Of the pies on offer (Steak and Ale, Steak and Kidney, Chicken and Ham or Cheese, Onion and Potato), he was torn between Steak and Kidney or Steak and Ale. In the end he chose the Steak and Ale Pie for £9.75. The pie was a good sized triangular shaped wedge accompanied by a generous portion of peas and chips. The dish was also served with a small spoonful of fresh vegetables which consisted of mostly cabbage and a few carrots. The pie was coated in a lovely rich and buttery short crust pastry which was very tasty indeed - the perfect foil for the rich steak and ale filling. The pie was not served with any gravy, which was slightly remiss of the chef, but to fair the pie's filling was moist enough to get away without any gravy. It wasn't one of those dry and crumbly pies where you need plenty of juice in order to help you swallow.
Neither of us spotted any mention of desserts on either the menu nor on a stray blackboard at the Countryman. We didn't enquire about the possibilities of pudding nor was any suggestion offered. Besides which I was too chilled from sitting in an unheated pub to even contemplate a chilled dessert! Maybe if there had been a warm fruity pie or a crumble with custard we may have lingered longer.
~~~ ANYTHING ELSE? ~~~
The Countryman is a free house so there were a good range of various different lagers and beers on offer. I had a J20 and himself had a pint of Fosters Lager (£3.40 a pint). You could also partake of Kronenbourg 1664, John Smiths or Carling Black Label. If you like real ale, they had a full range from local brewery Ringwoods - Best Bitter, Ringwood Forty Niner and Old Thumper.
The welcome at the Countryman was very friendly from both the staff and the new landlord. Our dog was welcomed too and given a biscuit (so she's a fan of the place for life). We were served with drinks as soon as we arrived and offered menus as soon as we expressed an interest in eating there. Once we'd placed our food order, there was only a short wait of ten or so minutes before she brought our food to the table. She brought us cutlery and asked if we'd like any condiments such as ketchup or mustard. Our night out came to a rather reasonable £28.55, which we felt was quite good value for two main courses, two pints of lager, a packet of crisps and a J20.
The toilets were once again very pink at the Countryman. All the pub toilets I visited in Dorset that weekend were pink - it must a décor top tip in that part of the world. They were perfectly serviceable and clean, but in need of a lick of paint and a re-tile / re-grout. Unfortunately the chilly air in the pub was worse in the toilets so it wasn't a place to linger and freshen up - more of a slash and dash scenario
The pub is situated just a short way down a country lane just off a busy main road (the A352 - the main road between the towns of Dorchester and Wareham). There's a massive car park to the front of the pub...but it's rather pitted with pot holes so it's best to take care when parking. For sunnier days than we experienced in mid-April last year there is a good sized garden with outside seating to the back of the building.
~~ RECOMMENDED? ~~~
The Countryman would get four stars from me had it been warmer internally. Unfortunately I'm going to have to deduct a star due to the fact that it was just too chilly in there to be completely comfortable. They're got a very nice fireplace, plenty of logs AND a wood burning stove...so why not use them!? April in the UK can be unpredictable and chilly at the best of times and it was certainly not the warmest of weekends weather-wise. The Countryman wasn't a place to linger as it just wasn't warm enough. The thought of cycling back to our accommodation on a cold April evening was not a pleasant one as we just hadn't been warmed though in the inn as we should have been.
Our meals were very nice and the portions more than generous. The prices seemed pretty reasonable compared to other pubs in the area. I wish the new landlord and his team the best of luck in turning the fortunes of the pub around. It has plenty of potential but I fear they have a hard road ahead of them. It's a big pub to fill so they need to get the word out there fast that it's under new ownership, and then prove their intention to change things for the better. And they could start by putting the heating on!
Recommended...if you're sporting several layers of clothing....
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
The Countryman Inn is a hop, skip and a jump off the A352 (the main road between the towns of Dorchester and Wareham in Dorset). The pub is in East Knighton which is so tiny a village that you could blink and miss it.
The Countryman Inn
Telephone No: 01305 852666