“ Address: East Chaldon / Dorchester DT2 8DN / Dorset „
Last Easter I spent a delightful weekend in the tiny village of Winfrith Newburgh in Dorset. Before we went we did a bit of research on the pubs in the surrounding area. We wanted to find some local pubs that accepted dogs and were within an easy walking or cycling distance of our holiday cottage, as our dog hates travelling in the car, so we try and minimise her distress as much as possible. The Sailor's Return in East Chaldon was about 2 miles from where we were staying so it would be easy enough to harness the beast (aka Monster Dog - Tattie) and cycle over the hill.
However, during our research we came across several disturbing articles about the pub. There were reports of an out-of-control mouse infestation resulting in a fine of £6,000 for the pub owners. Acting on an anonymous tip-off, local environmental health officers had inspected the pub in February this year and had found numerous live and dead mice along with the inevitable legions of mouse droppings. The article was reported in all the local papers complete with pictures of a dead mouse and numerous surfaces covered in mouse poo. To be fair the newspaper reports all concluded with the reassurance that the pub was now under new ownership...but even so...it does make you think twice.
~~~ ALL SHIP SHAPE AND BRISTOL FASHION? ~~~
The Sailor's Return is a charming looking thatched roof building which dates back to the 18th century. It's surrounded by lovely green hills so it's a popular haunt for ramblers and walkers. For sunny days it has a nice lawned area to one side, but there's plenty of room indoors as well for both eating and drinking. The building has been an inn since 1860, when it was converted from a pair of thatched cottages. The story goes that three brothers from the village left to join the navy, but only one of them was accepted. The two returning brothers had their adjoining cottages converted into an inn so they'd have a livelihood. When the third brother returned from his adventures at sea it was to find his unfaithful wife "entertaining" someone else. This scenario is reflected in the pub's signage, complete with the lover peeping out from his hiding place in the wardrobe. An interesting story to be sure, but I have no idea how much truth is behind it, or whether it's a story invented by locals to go with the pub signage!
The Sailor's Return is a large white painted building with a fringe of fresh thatching on top. It looks charming from the outside - the sort of country pub that Britain does so well - chocolate box perfect. Inside the building there is a large beamed bar at one end and a stone walled dining room at the other. Between the bar and the restaurant are a couple of "snugs" - smaller rooms where you can either eat or just drink. There is a flagstone floor throughout the whole building and a VERY nautical theme to the place. The bar is simply festooned with all manner of netting and ropes hanging from the beams. Also suspended from the ceiling are a dingy and a surfboard - I guess that's to give it a 21st century touch. Most of the walls are decorated with nautical pictures, seascapes or beach scenes, and I also spotted an RNLI display of nautical knots by the toilets.
~~~ LAND AHOY! ~~~
After reading the dodgy reports on the mice infestation, we decided to check the pub out before attempting to cycle there in the evening. We popped a head round the door just after Sunday lunch to see what sort of welcome we'd get, if they did food and whether they'd accept our dog on their premises. We also wanted assurance that most of mice had left the building by having a quick scratch and sniff of the place :o) All seemed well so we decided to cycle there later on that evening.
It took us about ten minutes to cycle from Winfrith Newburgh to the Sailor's Return although it was surprisingly uphill in places. The village of East Chaldon (also known as Chaldon Herring for some unfathomable reason) is very pretty and has lots of pretty thatched cottages surrounding a beautifully mown village green. The pub was fairly quiet when we got there, but it was Sunday night so that's to be expected. As we had the dog with us, we were limited to eating in the bar area only - the restaurant was out of bounds to us. Unfortunately, the bar area had a large wall mounted TV playing footie on it. Neither I nor my partner follow any sports, so we were a little perturbed by this. The only available table was right under the TV and we didn't fancy sitting under a loud commentary of Chelsea V Spurs (or seeing Harry Redknapp's increasingly ugly mug!) or being stared at by locals watching the TV above us. Though to be fair to the pub, the volume of the TV was surprisingly subtle compared to many places.
The barman must have sensed our consternation, as he informed us that the table which was at the furthest possible point away from the TV would shortly be coming available as it was currently housing a couple of members of staff having their evening meal. This was more than a little reassuring, so we decided to wait at the bar until the table was vacated. The pub had a good mix of both drinkers and eaters that evening, which is always nice to see in this day and age. Far too many pubs are far too intent on turning themselves in restaurants nowadays and it's always good to find a place that offers an equal welcome to drinkers as well as diners.
~~~ THE CAPTAIN'S TABLE ~~~
The menu at the Sailor's Return is fairly predictable, there aren't many surprises to be found in the selection on offer. It's all fairly standard pub grub at fairly standard pub prices. However, the daily specials on the blackboard hinted at a little more imagination and innovation from the kitchen. On the night we ate there, there were perhaps 8 to 10 different choices on the blackboard and they certainly sounded a little more tempting than the contents of your average pub menu. From memory I can recall Homemade Faggots with Apple Sauce, Wild Boar Sausages with Mashed Potato and Rack of Barbecued Ribs with Hickory Sauce.
For those looking for just a snack, the Sailor's Return offer a good range filled baguettes and filled jacket potatoes. You can also have that perennial favourite of a Ploughmans if you so wish. The menu also offers more substantial fare in the form of pies, steaks, burgers or salads. Prices for main meals ranged from the £8 mark up to around £15 for steak.
~~~ OUR SHIPS' RATIONS ~~~
On the night we visited, we'd had an exhausting day sightseeing in Dorset - we'd taken in the White Horse chalk carving at Osmington, Durdle Door at Lulworth Cove, Swanage Railway and Corfe Castle...all with a very excitable dog who dislikes any car journeys (and after a trip on the Swanage steam train to Corfe we can now add train trips to that list too!). After an uphill cycle trip to the pub, we were rather tired and very hungry. Neither of us particularly fancied the small list of starters the pub offered, so we decided to plunge right in to the main course.
I was torn between the blackboard special of Rack of Ribs with Hickory Sauce or the Ham, Egg and Chips on the standard menu, but I'd had the latter the night before and I was concerned that the hickory sauce in the former might be a bit too sickly as it often can be. In the end I plumped for another blackboard special of Barbecue Glazed Rib-Eye Steak served with Salad and Potato Wedges at £14.95. The steak was of a reasonable size - it certainly wasn't the biggest I've ever seen, but it was perfectly acceptable. It was drizzled with a light coating of barbecue flavouring so it was definitely a glaze rather than a sauce, which I prefer as I wouldn't have wanted a plate swamped in barbecue sauce. The potato wedges were massive - like a large jacket potato cut into four; very nice but far too big a portion to finish. The side salad was nice and fresh and topped with a tangy French dressing. They rather overdid the raw red onion in the salad, but I simply pushed it to one side.
My partner had no hesitation in his choice and went straight for Sirloin Steak served with Peas, Homemade Onion Rings and Chunky Chips, also priced at £14.95. He was delighted with his choice and pronounced his steak as cooked just how he liked it - medium rare with plenty of juices still running when he cut into it. His steak was served with the full works - peas, a grilled tomato and mushrooms. There was also a jenga like tower of chunky chips to one side of the plate propping up a couple of homemade onion rings. I didn't try his chips as I was struggling with the huge portion of potato wedges on my plate, but I did nibble on one of the onion rings and they were very tasty indeed.
A member of the bar staff cleared our plates and asked if we were interested in desserts. There was a small chalk blackboard offering either homemade Apple and Blackberry Crumble or Sticky Toffee Pudding. I'm not so keen on stodgy desserts and in my opinion these puddings both fall in the stodgy camp. My partner loves stodge so he went right ahead with an order on the Sticky Toffee Pudding (£3.95). This was served with vanilla ice-cream and was a huge square of sponge liberally drizzled with sticky toffee sauce. He loved it and the portion was huge.
There were a selection of brought-in ice-cream puddings on a laminated menu card on each table complete with photos. Evidently these are handmade by a Devonshire company called Vanier and they did look a step up from the laminated dessert card you often see in your local Indian. These desserts looked a little more innovative and unusual so I was tempted to part with a fiver and try one. All these desserts are built in a layered tower arrangement and they all looked most tempting. There was a choice between Iced White Chocolate and Blackcurrant Floretta, Chocolate Coronet Pavlova, Iced Lemon Pavlova or Raspberry Pavlova - all priced at £4.95 each. I plumped for the Raspberry Pavlova Ice-cream Dessert and it was tasty enough, even though the picture in the menu card looked much nicer than the reality on the plate. It was a small tower of meringue, raspberry sorbet, cream, vanilla ice-cream with a raspberry sauce drizzled over the top. The meringue and ice-cream worked well together, but I didn't like the frozen layer of cream at all - it was tasteless and a bit lumpy. I must say that bought in frozen desserts are hardly very imaginative of the Sailor's Return, but at least they were offering a couple of homemade puds to redeem themselves, and they were more competitively priced than the frozen offerings.
We were tempted to linger for coffee, but the skies outside were darkening and we wanted to be able to cycle back to our accommodation whilst there was still some fading light in the sky. With the pub being in the middle of nowhere and the village of East Chaldon being so small there was no street lighting at all, and we were reliant on guidance from our bike lights and one rather stupid dog (we love Tattie dearly, but she was definitely elsewhere when she should have been in the queue for doggie brains).
Our meal came to a quite expensive £47.55 for two main courses, two desserts, 2½ pints of lager and a packet of crisps. We left a small tip on the table as they barman had been good at sorting out a table for us initially and then waiting on us with main courses and desserts.
~~~ YO HO HO AND A BOTTLE OF RUM ~~~
The Sailor's Return is a free house so there were a good range of various different lagers and beers, some of which were guest ales. We both drank Fosters Lager (£3.20 a pint), but if you like ale rather than the fizzy stuff I recall there being Palmers Dorset Gold and Ringwood Forty Niner - both from local Dorset breweries. They also had some local ciders, but I cannot for the life of me recall their names.
The welcome at the Sailor's Return was good from both the staff and locals in there either watching the footie or simply having a drink. Our dog received a lot of attention and a warm welcome from everyone and that's always reassuring (she is less likely to cause a disruption if she gets plenty of attention).
The toilets were a little "tired" décor-wise but they'd made an effort to make them slightly more user-friendly by placing thoughtful items like a soap dispenser and some hand-cream by the sinks. However, the overwhelming colour was pink and it was bit like being in Barbie's bog (if she has such a thing). Even the wall tiles were pink and it was all a bit too much.
As it's rather in the middle of nowhere and takes a bit of a drive to get to, most of those visiting the Sailor's Return are likely to be in a car. The car park is of a reasonable size, but has a steep incline to one side so a handbrake definitely needs to be applied. There's a good sized garden to one side of the pub as well as plenty of chairs and tables to the front of the building. It's the sort of pub that would be worth making a run out on a summer's day, and then having a walk in the countryside or along the coast nearby.
~~~ SAIL AWAY OR DROP ANCHOR? ~~~
The Sailor's Return gets four stars from me. The welcome was warm and the service good throughout the evening. We were slightly put off by the football on the TV in the bar area when we arrived, but this was switched off as soon as the match ended and replaced by subtle music. Whilst it isn't the cheapest of pubs in the area, we thought that the portions were reasonable and the food well cooked and tasty. I do think it's pretty sad that their dessert section is rather limited and they rely on bought in puddings. The kitchen staff are obviously talented and it's a shame they don't expand their repertoire with a few more homemade puddings. The homemade Sticky Toffee pudding was great so they're obviously not lacking dessert expertise.
Recommended...now that those mice seem to have left the building...
~~~ FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
The Sailor's Return is to be found down a long winding lane off the A352, the main road between the towns of Dorchester and Wareham. The pub is in East Chaldon and you can either reach it by driving through the village of Winfrith Newburgh or alternatively through the village of West Chaldon. Just to confuse things further East Chaldon is sometimes referred to as Chaldon Herring.
The Sailor's Return
Telephone No: 01305-854571