Sounds like the title of an improbable fable or fairy tale but here it all is and not far from London. Yes, there is more to Britain than just the tourist attractions of our Capital. It would be a shame to come here and just visit those well-publicised spots.
Churt is an old village even by Old World standards and here it sits in the western part of the county of Surrey. A narrow band of fertile soil in this area has enabled people to live here since prehistoric times. Within a small area archaeologists have discovered a mammoth tusk and bones, flint tools from the Neolithic period, burial mounds from the Bronze Age, and Roman settlements.
The village name can be found on documents as far back as 688 when King Cadwaella of Wessex gave some land in Churt to the church to celebrate his conversion to Christianity. As a result successive Bishops of Winchester became Churt’s Lords of the Manor and that state lasted for more than 1,000 years. The village was one of the 13 tithings or sections of the Bishop’s Great Manor of Farnham. Near the parish church, which was built in the 1860s, is the old forge built in about 1600. A barn nearby was built in the 16th century in wooden Tudor style on a brick plinth.
Surrounded by colourful legends
Its convenient proximity to London has made this the home of many a TV presenter and sports personality. Writer Jane Austen lived just over the border in Hampshire. David Lloyd George was Britain’s Prime Minister during part of the First World War (1914-18); when he retired from Parliament he had a house built in Churt and called it Bron y De, which is Welsh for ‘south hill’.
The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a large natural amphitheatre not far from Churt. It’s a place surrounded by colourful legends. The name Devil’s Punch Bowl is first referred to in 1768 in John Rocque’s map. Before that it was known as “ye Bottom”. The soil in this part of Surrey has two layers – an upper layer of sandstone, with clay underneath that. This deep depression of the Bowl is believed to be the result of erosion caused by spring water beneath the sandstone causing the upper level to collapse, creating the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Local legend has it that during the Middle Ages the Devil became so enraged by construction of churches in the neighbouring county of Sussex that he decided to dig a ditch from the English Channel, through the South Downs, in order to flood the area. He got as far as the village of Poynings, an area known as the Devil’s Dyke, when he was disturbed by a cock crowing. Assuming that dawn was about to break, he leapt across to Surrey, and where he landed became the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
All the best stories have dragons
But travellers will want to actually stay in Churt and have a handy home-from-home as a base from which to explore and in which to relax, eat and sleep. That’s where we encounter yet another legend. It’s about Bel and the Dragon and that tale gives its name to one of the most delightful hotels I have ever visited. But what of that story? It’s a combination of tales from the Bible and mythology, involving Daniel, the priests of a pagan god, and a dragon – because all the best stories have dragons!
Bel and The Dragon at Churt is a beautifully restored country inn and just the sort that overseas visitors seek but seldom find. It looks a typical chocolate-box old pub from the outside; but the inside is a picture of good taste, thoughtful design and cosy comfort.
Everything here reminds one of home. Well, not my home exactly, but the home of someone who has a degree in Interior Design and another one in Hospitality. One has the sense that the owner might walk in with a gun over one arm and a brace of hounds at his heels. He would warmly welcome the guest to his home and enquire if they might need anything. A glass of something reviving, perhaps? Another log for the fire? In truth it won’t be the local squire who will pamper the traveller but a team of staff members who will likely look after you so well that you won’t want to leave.
Batteries are recharged in delightful fashion
Bel and The Dragon relaxes the weary mind with its muted colours. Soft sofas beckon from every corner. Shelves groan under the weight of classic novels. Lamps shed restful light on pages describing by-gone days, and one’s batteries are recharged in delightful fashion. Is this really the 21st century? Yes, modern amenities and technology are installed but the service here is from an age when guests expected the best and got it. If one can tear oneself away from that good book then there is the private space of one’s bedroom.
Upstairs, the 14 bedrooms are each named after a Jane Austen character. Each is beautifully appointed with distressed furniture, Roberts radio, cast-iron radiators and real alarm clocks. Each is individually designed but I was impressed with mine to the point of amused laughter. The bed was huge and well-pillowed. The bathroom was of sufficient size to be considered a reasonable ballroom. The bath was classic with fittings to match and there were still more books over which to pore while relaxing in steamy tranquillity. There is plenty of wardrobe space and that closet didn’t have the usual safe attached to the wall and sufficient only for an iPhone and a pair of cufflinks. No, here it’s a gun safe – tall and narrow but one which has probably never seen a firearm in its life.
Visitors are treated as responsible adults here so there is a refreshment room with all the fixin’s for a cuppa tea or a cuppa Joe, as well as decanters of whisky from which to help oneself. Did I mention that each room is furnished with a bottle of damson vodka or sloe gin? Binge drinking isn’t expected and Bel and The Dragon seems to attract the class of guest that wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. This is accessible refinement.
Bel and The Dragon is part of a group and each one is a property of charm and character. The owners have taken a pride in their customer service and quality of hospitality. This inn offers travellers a glimpse of luxurious rustic charm, comfortable elegance and timeless warmth. It’s only 45 minutes from London and is surrounded by countryside and history. This is authentic England.
Bel and the Dragon
Phone: +44 1428 605799
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018