The White Horse, Hert­ing­ford­bury, Herts

The Guardian - Travel - - Travel | Uk - Liz Boul­ter

Aquaint vil­lage in pos­ses­sion of an an­cient church and sev­eral fine houses must be in want of a hostelry. But how­ever uni­ver­sally that truth is ac­knowl­edged, com­mer­cial re­al­ity sees many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Bri­tain lan­guish­ing pub­less. That fate be­fell Hert­ing­ford­bury, near Hertford, in 2014 when the Prince of Wales closed, fol­lowed in 2016 by the White Horse.

“The vil­lage had lost its heart: we no longer saw our neigh­bours,” one lo­cal tells me. “We were so de­lighted when Alas­tair took over this place.”

Built in 1557, the White Horse had a proud his­tory as a coach­ing inn on the Read­ing to Cam­bridge route but by the 1970s had be­come a business ho­tel, with a charm­less 42-bed­room ex­ten­sion. Alas­tair and Anna Bram­ley, who also run pubs in nearby Ware and Wat­ton-at-Stone, had the ex­ten­sion de­mol­ished and gut­ted the in­te­rior, pre­serv­ing those orig­i­nal fea­tures that had not rot­ted away. The pints started flow­ing in Au­gust this year, and seven bed­rooms opened in Novem­ber.

The “truth uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged” adage is fit­ting for Hert­ing­ford­bury, which is said to be the model for Long­bourn in Pride and Prej­u­dice. Like the Ben­nets’ vil­lage, it is just a mile from town, in this case Hertford, which ex­perts say could be fic­tional Mery­ton, which the sis­ters walk to reg­u­larly. Some res­i­dents claim Jane Austen wrote early chap­ters while stay­ing with friends at Ep­combs, an 18th-cen­tury red-brick house on the edge of Hert­ing­ford­bury.

On a Satur­day af­ter­noon we find the pub buzzing. Up­stairs, in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed bed­rooms have 16th-cen­tury beams but are themed not on pe­riod Eng­land but south­ern Africa, where Alas­tair lived un­til he was 11. There are masks, an­i­mals and other arte­facts, plus – the best bit – Cole & Son wall­pa­pers in de­signs by women from a so­cial en­ter­prise pot­tery in KwaZu­luNatal: ours is Leopard Walk, beasts glow­ing or­ange on a taupe back­ground.

The res­tau­rant, in a new ex­ten­sion, keeps the colo­nial feel: dark wood, emer­ald up­hol­stery, cane seat­ing and green­ery. It’s busy but not loudly so. Alas­tair tells us he wanted the place to stay grounded as a pub, so there are pies, fish and chips, and sausage and mash on chef John Beardsworth’s menu, along­side veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan dishes. A shared veg­e­tar­ian plate (£11.95) is tasty, with bal­samic onions and freshly roasted pep­per, and a kedgeree starter is topped with a per­fect runny-yolked egg. A punchy

The best bit – Cole & Son wall­pa­pers in de­signs by women from a so­cial en­ter­prise in KwaZulu -Natal

ve­gan main of but­ter bean stew comes with a de­li­cious crispy dumpling, and a fish pie is el­e­gant, if un­der­sized. Hus­band’s hal­ibut is a dis­ap­point­ment, though: beau­ti­ful look­ing, with a squid-ink “wafer” but oddly dry and flavour­less. Our main quib­ble is small por­tions and toppy prices: a tiny side salad is £4. Pud­ding op­tions are cold mousses and sor­bets – no hot stuff with cus­tard, sadly.

There’s no lack of gen­eros­ity in the bed­room, how­ever. The bed is huge and, snug­gled up to our leop­ards, we sleep well in deep coun­try­side quiet.

The White Horse is open for break­fast from 8.30am and it’s pop­u­lar with school-run mums. We join in for cof­fee, smoked had­dock, and a brioche bun with great ba­con.

A spit from com­muter­land but among woods, mead­ows and 1,000acre Pan­shanger Park, with its lakes, ospreys and great oaks, the White Horse would make a great car-free break for Lon­don­ers: train to Hertford, then a walk or cy­cle along the

Cole Green Way dis­used rail­way line. Mr Darcy, of course, would just tell the ser­vants to pre­pare the barouche.

• Ac­com­mo­da­tion was pro­vided by the White Horse (dou­bles from £90 B&B, 01992 586791, white­horse­hert­ing­ford­bury.co.uk)

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