The King John Inn at Tollard Royal in Dorset is one of the growing numbers of gastro, or bistro pubs with enough rooms to accommodate a shooting party, and good enough food and wines to make a team of guns and guests want to have dinner and stay there on the night before a shoot. The King John Inn is just one of many such pubs.
Tollard Royal is a charming village with a 14th Century Church in the middle of what must surely be one of the largest concentrations of good shoots in a small area anywhere in the south of England.
Other ‘gastro’ pubs and notable establishments along the Dorset Wiltshire border include the Beckford Arms, near Tisbury, the Lamb Inn at Hindon, Howard’s House Hotel at Teffont Evias, and the Museum at Farnham. All these pubs have created comfortable and stylish accommodation and provide superb food and friendly service for frequent shooting parties during the season.
For instance the King John Inn at Tollard Royal has no fewer than 70 shooting parties per season thus providing a very welcome and substantial contribution to its turnover and profits.
Assuming an average spend of £200 per head, for dinner, bed and breakfast with an average of 10 guests per party, this creates income of £2000 per shooting party, which multiplied by 70 shooting parties per annum generates a staggering £140,000 of income that otherwise would not exist.
It is therefore easy to understand why an increasing number of local Pubs are ‘raising their game’ and improving and upgrading their facilities to attract this lucrative market, creating a welcome source of income for the trades people engaged in these ‘up-grades’.
A Report on the economic, environmental and social contribution of shooting sports to the UK by Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) identified the following:
- 480,000 people shoot live quarry in the UK
- shooting supports the equivalent of 70,000 full time jobs
- Shooters spend £2 billion each year on goods and services
- Shooting is worth £1.6 billion to the UK economy
- Shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the rural land area
- Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting
- Shooting providers spend £250 million a year on conservation
- Shooters spend 2.7 million work days on conservation.
Historically the larger and longer established shoots are on estates that often had houses designed, or extended, to accommodate the large shooting parties of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and in some cases these are reserved for the exclusive use of their owners and their guests.
However, roving syndicates are more likely to stay in the local pub or small hotel where they receive a warm welcome and good service, and this all adds to the camaraderie of dinner the night before a shoot and at breakfast the next morning, and the anticipation of a great day ahead.
As far as the owners of these shoots are concerned the visiting guns provide much needed income for the estate but also for the teams of loaders and beaters who are crucial to a successful days shooting.
There are few things more appealing to a sociable soul than the shared experience of a friendly shoot in beautiful countryside on a beautiful day, but the first impression of the pub or hotel where you have arrived after a long journey is dictated by the warmth of the welcome you receive.
When we arrived at the King John Inn, it was nearing the end of its Sunday Lunch session, and the place was crowded with tables demanding their bills, but the efficient staff, led by Paolo Corgiolu, ably supported by Kate took good care of us, and made us very welcome, despite the other pressures on them. They quickly found us a table for a late lunch, and we ordered two ‘starters’ from the main menu, chosen since we were saving our appetites for supper,. Two glasses of wine appeared without delay and we could begin to relax and take in our surroundings.
The simple wooden tables in the dining and bar area
The place had a good ‘vibe’ or dare I say, ‘trendy’ feel similar to that found in London. I struck up a conversation with a couple on an adjoining table by admiring their Cocker Spaniel and I asked if he shot with it, only to discover that he had a gun on an Army Shoot at the Central Ammunition Depot at Bramley, near the Duke of Wellintgon’s home at Stratfield Saye which my late father ran for several years in the late fifties, and on which I know another current member, namely Andrew Speed. ‘Speedy’ to his friends, was the Adjutant at Sandhurst, and is now living in a ‘grace and favour’ house in Horse Guard’s Parade from whence he organises all the ceremonial events, including the Trooping of the Colour at Her Majesty’s Birthday parade.
This is proof, if it were needed, of the small world the shooting fraternity inhabit!
Anyway, after our modest but excellent lunch, we retired to our very spacious double room with a King-size bed and a beautiful marble floored ‘en-suite’ bathroom with free standing roll top tub and separate shower with enormous rose. This is the largest of the eight bedrooms available at The King John Inn, five of which are in the main building and three others in a converted barn opposite. All are beautifully decorated with antique pieces mixed with modern touches to create rooms in which you just want to linger.
The King’s Room Suite
All of the rooms are dog friendly at a modest extra charge of £15.00
Tollard Royal ‘s 14th Century Church, St. Peter ad Vincula
However, it was such a beautiful afternoon and evening that I decided to explore the village which boasts some very pretty houses, and a 14th century Church.
One of the neighbouring Estates is Ashcombe, where I shot before it was acquired by Madonna and Guy Ritchie following their ill-feted marriage in December 2000, and retained by Guy Ritchie when they divorced eight years later. It is now run as a commercial shoot, with guests staying at either The Museum or the King John Inn.
Guy Ritchie is a keen shot and entertains his shooting friends in his beautiful house at Ashcombe which in the past was leased for many years by Cecil Beaton, and frequented by his ‘artistic’ friends.
Shooting parties used to be accommodated in a large, converted stable block and a Conservatory with a full-sized snooker table, but this accommodation is now reserved for Guy Ritchie’s personal friends, whilst the visiting teams of guns are happy to stay at one of the many local pubs, who like The King John Inn go out of their way to give guns what they want. This business model is being successfully employed throughout the UK, and serves the new generation of roving syndicates admirably.
It also provides a solution to selling individual guns to the many subscribers of Guns on Pegs which has revolutionised the selling and buying of shooting on an individual basis, and has found a highly lucrative market in arranging teams of guns wanting to take such shooting.
Returning to the King John Inn, the noise and buzz of the lunchtime crowd had dispersed and peace returned to the inn, so we enjoyed our supper in front of the roaring fire in relative peace. The menu like so many good establishments is seasonal, relying strongy on local produce from quality suppliers in particular taking full advantage of the local shoots but seafood is not neglected – every Friday a team set off at the crack of dawn with containers chock full of ice and drive down to Poole Harbour to select the catch, be it Dover or lemon sole, turbot and scallops. So the freshest fish and seafood is ready for the busy weekends.
For our supper we had a celeriac veloute with wild mushroom ravioli and a coarse pork liver pate with piccalilli and toast followed by pan fired whole lemon sole with purple sprouting broccoli, crushed potatoes an caper butter and a flat iron steak with béarnaise sauce and fries. All our choices were superb and generously portioned – so much so I could not finish my steak and certainly did not have room for a pudding.
This we made up for on the following day at lunch when we both had the twice baked westcombe cheddar cheese soufflé with a green salad and fries followed by rhubarb and custard, with vanilla cream, poached rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet – a perfect lunch!
The King John Inn’s Outside Kitchen housed in a Victorian Style Pavilion will be a popular attraction for customers in the summer
and makes a striking setting for private parties
Although I have emphasised the attractions of The King John Inn for shooting parties, this is also a pub that has something special to offer all year round. The inn is ideally situated as a base from which to take long walks through the beautiful countryside or for the less energetic there is the Rushmore Estate on the edge of Tollard Royal which contains the original King John’s House, or more precisely his hunting box, after which the Inn is named. Also on the Rushmore Estate is the Larmer Tree Victorian pleasure gardens, which if you time your stay to coincide with one of their summer festivals, a weekend of internationally renowned music in a friendly family setting, is assured. At other times of the year when the gardens are open, just a visit to the gardens to encounter the magnificent tail displays of the resident peacocks is a sight to behold.
And on your return to the delightful King John Inn a more leisurely pursuit of celeb spotting can be undertaken – it has been noticed that some well known faces can be seen frequenting the inn, the aforementioned Guy Richie and the Radio 2 DJ, Johnnie Walker, have been spotted!
This review of the King John Inn will be the first in a series of articles which we will cover on sporting pubs and hotels and any recommendations from readers would be very welcome so if you have stayed in any place that you have loved please let us know.
Robert Jarman has spent a lifetime observing and commenting on the habits and habitats of that endangered species, the British Aristocracy, including their houses, art collections, sports and pastimes.
He was a part-owner and Managing Director of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, which he acquired and rescued from near extinction in 1976, and built into an international publishing company.
He published the catalogues for a number of major Exhibitions at the V&A and the Royal Academy in the UK, the Cooper Hewitt and MOMA in New York, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
He also conceived and created an important contemporary reference book called, ‘People of Today’, first published in 1981which is the ultimate study of the UK’s most successful and influential people.
He is therefore well-qualified to publish and edit The Vintage Magazine, an on-line publication aimed at, but not limited to, the affluent and active, over 50s who number over 23 million in the UK, and control 80% of the wealth of the country.