Monday 27 May 2024

Stepping back in time at Salisbury's Haunch of Venison

After leaving the Wig & Quill behind, along with piegate, I should have continued along New Street to check out the New Inn, the Hall & Woodhouse pub that I’d originally intended eating in.  The pub was further along New Street, so it would have made sense to call in their first. What I actually did was to head off in the direction I’d originally come from primarily because I’d spotted a Mountain Warehouse store, leading off from Catherine Street, and I was keen to call in there.

I’ve been looking, so far unsuccessfully, for a light-weight water-proof jacket, and whilst there are plenty of online offers out there at the moment, it makes sense to view the item, and try it on, if possible. It would perhaps, have made sense to double back there after the New Inn, but I wasn’t thinking straight that afternoon, so missed the opportunity. I actually missed visiting Mountain Warehouse as well because I couldn’t find it – too lazy to get my phone out, of course, and check its location on Google!

The long and the short of it was, I ended up back in the city centre, close to Market Square and the historic heart of Salisbury. And there, just a short distance away, was the Haunch of Venison, the oldest pub in the city, dating back to the 14th century. It also possesses an interior that’s in keeping with its historic origins, which beckons to visitors with a magnificent exterior of beams and plaster, and a similar interior of oak panels and yet more beams. With a three-star rating on CAMRA’s register of pubs with interiors of outstanding national, historic, importance, the Haunch is a must-visit destination on any visit to Salisbury, as well as anyone who loves old, and unspoilt pubs.

I stood outside for a while, waiting for the best photo opportunity, feeling slightly bemused at the confrontation unfolding between the driver of a double-deck bus, whose progress was impeded by a carelessly parked delivery vehicle, that was blocking the road. A few choice words were being exchanged, with neither party seemingly aware that the narrow streets in this historic part of the city, were not designed for 21st century traffic. White van man certainly caused quite a jam, inconveniencing bus passengers and local motorists alike, but once he had finished his delivery, and departed in a huff, my view of the pub exterior was uninterrupted and I was free to snap away to my heart’s content, with my phone.

Stepping inside, the Haunch of Venison certainly lived up to my expectations with plenty of oak beams and panelling, a pewter topped bar, and two rows of small brass taps which at one time were used to dispense spirits and fortified wines. 

According to What Pub, there are three small bars inside the pub, known locally as the “Horsebox”, “Death Row” and the “House of Lords”. I’m assuming that the tiny snug bar, at the front of the building and accessed by a door to the right of the main entrance, is the Horsebox.  The cosy, oak-panelled upstairs room, with its own fireplace, that I only discovered when I nipped upstairs to the Gents, must be the Lords. The rather stern portrait in the corner, of Sir Winston Churchill – complete with signature cigar, rather gives the game away! Meaning that Death Row, must be the main bar downstairs.

It was here that I based myself after purchasing a pint of Downton New Forest Ale. The latter is a new brewery for me, and this bronze-coloured 3.8% best bitter certainly hit the spot. I looked the brewery up online, because I knew that Hop Back also brew at Downton, but whilst the two companies are based on the same industrial site, they are not connected.

The bar was looked after by a very pleasant girl, who in between serving customers – there weren’t that many, busied herself clearing tables, and re-stocking various items behind the bar. There was a definite "bohemian" look about her which, if I’m allowed to say, I found quite attractive. I also warmed to her local accent, which had a soft west-country twang to it, without being over-done, like the Wurzels, for example. I noticed quite a few people out and about in the city, with a similar look and I was left with the distinctive impression that Salisbury has an “alternative” feel to it. This is probably not surprising, given the city’s proximity to Stonehenge, although it reminded me of Lewes as well.

When I arrived, the small, snug bar at the front - Horsebox? Was quite full, or as full as it could be. It reminded me of a number of old pubs from my younger days, when my introduction to the world of beer and pubs was just beginning. Following the departure of the group from there, I was almost on my own in the pub, until the arrival of a late, middle-aged couple, one of whom (the bloke), stood out immediately as an Australian. The leather, Indiana Jones hat was a dead giveaway. We soon got chatting, and it turned out the couple were on a five-week holiday in the UK, and had already been to Oxford and Edinburgh, along with the obligatory visit to London.

I wished them a pleasant time for the remainder of their stay in Britain and left them to enjoy their drinks. I was tempted to find another pub, but not before taking a look at Salisbury’s most famous landmark, the magnificent 13th century cathedral, with its crowning glory, the 405 ft high, spire. Set in an area of parkland, on the fringe of the old part of the city, the cathedral understandably attracts thousands of visitors each year.

I made my way back to the High Street, and then continued in a southerly direction, eventually passing through the ancient, and rather narrow, High-Street Gate. This opens up into Chorister’s Square, an area of grassland, flanked by a number of attractive houses, in the shadow of the cathedral itself. As expected, the area was thronged with visitors, and with an entrance fee of £11, I decided not to go inside. Instead, I had a wander through part of the cloisters, their sense of calm contrasting with the bustle of tourists outside.

I walked back along the other side of the square, spotting Arundells, an attractive house, described as one of the finest houses in Salisbury. From 1985, until his death in 2005, the property was the home of former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, although there were no clues as to where “Grocer Heath”, as Private Eye used to call him, acquired the money to purchase and maintain such a property.

Time was getting on by now, so I decided to head back to the station, treating myself to an ice-cream on the way. The train back to Waterloo was relatively busy, although once we reached Overton, most of the boisterous school kids had departed. I stopped off for another pint, once we reached London, and later on, you can read about the smashing pub I found in the quiet back streets, close to Waterloo station.

I really enjoyed Salisbury, finding it both attractive and appealing, which means I will definitely make a return visit to the city, and will take the lad with me as well. If we travel on a Saturday, we can take advantage of the much cheaper, cross-country route, via Redhill and Guildford, without being bound by the time restrictions that prohibit travelling during the peak rush-hour period.





Stafford Paul said...

"Death Row" in Bath's Star Inn is a bench seat.
It's an odd name for a room.

Paul Bailey said...

Paul, I thought "Death Row" was where all the elderly drinkers sat whilst awaiting the end of their days.

Similar to those Victorian era photos of a line of old boys, with the caption, "Lads of the village". 😀

Nick C said...

Great write-ups of your Salisbury trip, Paul.
Somewhere I need to head back to, as I was last there in 2020 when pandemic rules, regulations, and closures affected my visit.

I'd not seen the slightly morbid 'death row' name used for the room at the Haunch of Venison. My heritage book has the lower room as the 'House of Commons', the back room with mummified hand and Churchill, the 'House of Lords'.
Wonderful pub though, isn't it?

Paul Bailey said...

I'm glad you appreciated my write-ups on Salisbury, Nick. As you no doubt gathered I thoroughly enjoyed what was my first proper visit to the city, and the thing I really liked, was it not being over-run with tourists.

As mentioned, I shall take the boy with me next time, even if it is just an excuse for him to visit the local branch of the hardware chain (Robert Dyas), that he works for.

I might give the Wig & Quill a miss, though. At least for food!