Where to go when you have had your fill of city life? Where to find peace and rest, albeit briefly, with change of scenery? Welcome to The Jack Russell Inn. It is not so much the luxury you would be seeking although every aspect of this welcoming oasis in the serene Hampshire countryside measures up to what the most discerning customer, inclined towards a taste of country life, would expect. More importantly it is the welcoming, homely, dog-friendly feel you would be looking for including local food that celebrates great British produce with a focus on the conservation of the outstanding natural beauty and wildlife. Greeted by our Landlord Ross, his two trusty canine companions Barnie and Betty and the entire team, we felt we had made the right choice for our escape. And yes, indeed, this is a place where our four-legged friends have as high a priority as those who enjoy their company.
Although now somewhat off the beaten track of the modern day transport routes, the Roman village of Faccombe, once known as Faccan-Cumbe, was a vibrant farming community that profited culturally and economically from playing host to weary travellers on the busy trade route to and from London. Despite knowing about the curious history of some of the bygone villagers, The Jack Russell sits at the heart of a village we know very little about.
Technically a village, Faccombe once belonged to King John. It was made up of a church, a public house, a town hall and a manor house most notably owned by Cpt. The Hon. Eric Butler Henderson and his wife Sophia. Legend has it, in the years after Sophia’s death her ghost could be seen in the fields around Faccombe. When the current family in residence bought the house, sightings were limited to daffodil season, a beloved time of year for Sophia when she would plant daffodils for local orphans. The ritual planting of the Faccombe daffodil continues to this day, we are told, and come spring is quite the sight to behold… so long as the deer and rabbits don’t get to them first!
Ross tells us that he and his team are extremely proud of the Faccombe they live in today. And they should be. The water comes from a bore hole on the estate, electricity from a wind turbine on the hill and warmth from a wood pellet burning biomass boiler that provides all the heat to the pub, lodge and surrounding community. These wood pellets are a by-product of the waste from Faccombe Forestry who try to use 100% of each tree and replant three in place of each one felled.
This respectful approach to nature and sustainability is also witnessed in the restaurant. The Jack Russell boasts a broad variety of locally sourced farm to table produce and the kitchen uses seasonal ingredients, relying on the natural wildlife and fruits of the forest in the surrounding four thousand acres. Faccombe Farm & Estate provide an abundance of organic fruit and vegetables, Roe, Fallow and occasionally Muntjack venison, together with game birds such as pheasant, partridge and pigeon, and more seasonally duck and woodcock.
Enjoying one of the many hiking routes around the estate shortly after arrival, it doesn’t surprise us to learn that this land is rich with lush, aromatic carpets of wild garlic and that its vibrant bushes are weighed down with elderflower, sloe and blackberry. Many of the herbs on the menu are grown around the building and in the pub gardens, whilst sourcing rare breed Dexter Beef from just down the road at Hollington Farm in Highclere. We found the gorgonzola risotto with maple figs, ricotta, caramelised walnuts and crispy sage delicious and for those not shy to try game, the haunch of Faccombe venison was superb with pinenut crumb, fondant potato, purple sprouting broccoli, caramelised parsnip purée, plum, juniper & thyme jus.
After a hearty meal you might be inclined to succumbing to a restful siesta but for those more activity minded there are a number of attractions nearby, such as the world famous Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere containing Stanley Spencer's visionary paintings and Highclere Castle, one of England's most beautiful Victorian Castles set amidst 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland best known in recent times as the setting for Downton Abbey.
The Jack Russell Inn is popular for shooting parties for which the eight-bedroom lodge, The Dog House, is perfect or larger groups requiring some privacy. It boasts a private lounge as well as its own outdoor seating area with open firepit and fur covered seating made from carved oak-trunks that have been felled from the estate. And it is here we found our accommodation for our stay, The Great Dane. As its name suggests this is a room of ample proportions, located on the top floor, and features a cosy, fur-covered seating area and a large ensuite with roll top bath and digital shower and floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors leading to a glass balcony with unrestricted views of the countryside. There are of course many more canine rooms in The Dog House which we are all too eager make our home for brief while sometime soon.