Restaurant review: The Hog at Horsley
Katie Jarvis: From a fraught search for a parking space in Swindon to the free-range hippies, free thinkers and former Huguenots of Horsley...
The following is a completely factual account. Sadly.
Ellie is stressed. “I know what!” I say, super-gaily. “I’m going to London. Why not come too and have an utterly carefree shopping day?” This ‘highly relaxing’ idea is downgraded to ‘quite relaxing’ with news of engineering works at Kemble. “No problem!” I laugh, blithely. “I’ll drive to Swindon and we’ll catch the train from there.” Ellie is fine with this; the Sat-nav and car look panic-stricken.
We leave in loads of time for our 10.30am train. As we approach Swindon station, it waves cheerily, though the car park is less visible. I drive past, in uncertain fashion, into an uncompromisingly one-way system. The Sat-nav, which has never liked me, says, “Turn around where possible,” in a tone that suggests it senses trouble.
We manage, after an interesting series of frighteningly urban interchanges, to re-find the station and a car park. “See!” I say to Ellie, who looks tense, and we park the car.
“But these spaces are 20 minutes only,” Ellie points out. We get back into the car and drive past the station, which waves cheerily. “Oh, for god’s sake,” says the Sat-nav.
For some reason, we end up in a hinterland of backstreets, before emerging into a series of roundabouts so complex, no hitherto-known situation could justify them. I wheel round them in random fashion, at a speed that outruns the Sat-nav. “Turn around where possible!” it screams, missing the point that I couldn’t be turning round more if I tried.
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Eventually, we see Debenhams. Even though we don’t want Debenhams, I’m thrilled by its familiarity; even better, there’s a multi-storey car park beside it.
“Quick!” I yell to Ellie. “Phone dad and ask if Debenhams is near the station… But do it casually.” Ian thinks people who don’t understand Sat-navs are odd, possibly hippies. I swing into the car park regardless and take a ticket at the barrier.
“Dad says it’s quite a long way,” says Ellie, cautiously; I park anyway, in a really nice space.
“And,” adds Ellie, tersely. “It clearly says this car park closes an hour before our train back from London.”
“Right!” I snap, noting it’s now 10.12am, before reversing at speed and pulling up at the exit barrier, where a notice politely enquires Have you paid at the pay station?
I frantically grab the ticket and go to open the car door. The locking mechanism, which has been toying with the idea of not working, realises this is the perfect moment to fail. “I can’t get out! I CAN’T GET OUT!” I scream at Ellie.
“OH, FOR GOD’S SAKE,” she bellows, snatching the ticket. She hares off across the car park, while I cower in the hope that no car will pull up behind me. Three minutes later, Ellie hares back towards me, still brandishing the ticket. I try to open the door and remember I can’t. It’s now 10.18am.
She seems to be yelling, “Friday!” in a rage-filled voice. “Get in,” I scream through the closed door.
“FRIDAY!” she mouths through the windscreen.
“Give me the ticket!” I yell, gesturing at my watch.
“Turn around where possible!” screeches the Sat-nav.
I finally think of opening the window.
“You have given me,” Ellie finally annunciates, with condemnatory clarity, “YOUR TIMES NEWSPAPER TOKEN FOR FRIDAY!”
The low-fuel light comes on.
“How can you not follow a Sat-nav?” Ian asks, incredulously, as we sit in the Hog at Horsley. An image of myself dressed in overpowering florals, singing ‘Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship,” comes inexplicably to mind.
We differ considerably, Ian and me. I really like the Hog at Horsley; he’s not convinced. For a start, a family is sitting at the table we’ve reserved, even though it says ‘Reserved’. Rather than move them, the Hog puts us at a table Ian likes less. “Hippies,” he mutters, for no particular reason. For a second, I get an image of everyone in the Hog, wearing wooden beads and CND badges, singing, ‘Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail’. It’s not far off, to be honest. I love Horsley. So the story goes, lots of free-thinkers gravitated here (persecuted Huguenots, etc) to get jobs in the wool-trade and plan intellectual revolutions while weaving jolly nice billiard cloth; and that essential tradition of free-rangedness has remained. Wouldn’t suit everyone; suits me.
They couldn’t be more helpful at the Hog. The food is Mediterranean in spirit – loads of fish; but they’ll alter anything on request. So even though there aren’t really starters, as such, they rustle up an ad-hoc prawn dish for Ian, while I have crostini.
It is noisy, that’s true. But I enjoy this feeling of community; of life in a pub that nearly closed until this village got behind it; this multi-backgrounded clientele. There are four toffs braying; three ladies chatting; two turtle doves; families, kids, retirees. The whole caboodle. Busy. Fun.
Ian has a burger, which he doesn’t rate over his Weighbridge favourite, while I have some fantastic pollock from the blackboard – beautifully cooked, lovely flavours; and an apple crumble to follow. On a previous visit, I tried one of the hearty sausage and bean stews – real comfort food. Delicious.
So ask Ian, and he’d pick elsewhere. Ask me, and I’d be back like a shot. Maybe you just have to find your inner Sat-nav incomprehension.
• Ambience 6
• Service 7
• Food 7
• Value for money 7
The Hog, The Cross, Horsley GL6 0PR, 01453 833843; thehogathorsley.co.uk
Our restaurant reviews are completely independent. Katie arrives unannounced and pays for her meal.