Goodness me, England is doing splendidly for itself. This may not ring true for all corners of the country, of course. But head down Hampshire way and, my oh my – you can basically smell the well-offness. Like cream skimmed from gold-top milk, the village of Stockbridge could be an upmarket London neighbourhood, filleted out from the grubby, grey capital and plopped into a most bucolic of settings.
A stroll through town on a sunny Sunday reveals the English at rest. A man polishes a bright red vintage MG. A woman trims the pink roses that cover her neatly-kept cottage. In the low-ceilinged shade of The Three Cups Inn, four septuagenarians in cricket whites sup ale from tankards. And in pride of place on the handsome, well-furnished high street is The Greyhound on the Test.
Having won Michelin Pub of the Year 2014, the Greyhound has added three very well-appointed bedrooms to the operation, bringing the total to 10. It is furnished with impeccably good taste. My room is cool and cloistered with a low window that looks out on to the high street. The gun-metal grey walls make a virtue of the low ceiling. There's a luxurious, well-made sturdiness to everything: the cut-stone basin, the thick white towels, the needle-point scatter cushions on the bed.
The marbled and tiled bathroom is almost as large as the bedroom, and is decked out with a stand-alone roll-top bath and a walk-in shower. On the landing, there's an honesty bar – leave a few quid and help yourself to that most delicious of weekend-away indulgences: one last drink.
Downstairs, there's an open fire, high-backed armchairs and the daily papers. The dining room is decorated with an endearing hotch-potch of rugged wooden tables and chairs. And the long garden, which abuts the river, is a delightful place to spend the day.
My friend and I had breakfast in the homely pub dining room. There's a buffet table heaving with all manner of breads, cereals, yoghurts and pastries, but we opted for the à la carte full English. The sausages, bacon and black pudding – all from nearby Greenfields Pork – are exemplary. The only shame was that by the time we were up for breakfast, the kitchen had run out of the trout that the nearby River Test is famous for. Usually, it is served with scrambled eggs.
The Greyhound was set up in 2013 by Lucy Townsend who, starting off as a pastry chef, cut her teeth under Marco Pierre White and at the Hotel du Vin group. Townsend remains involved on a day-to-day basis, keeping her main office at the Greyhound.
The weekend hordes are lured down the M3 in large part by the smell of fish. Trout, to be exact. The River Test plays host to some of the best trout fishing in the world – and the Greyhound has a private riverbank at the end of its garden. A great asset, I imagine, if you fancy yourself a rodsman. Neither my travelling partner nor I did, but we were happy to watch from over the rim of a G&T. There are also a handful of nearby estates on which guests can arrange to shoot.
As well as the fishing and hunting, you're a stone's through from a number of decent walks. We took a delightful afternoon stroll a little way up the river and back down through the woods. If you do set out on a fishing or hunting trip, the kitchen at the Greyhound will make you up a packed lunch to take with you – something tells me you can expect more than cling-filmed ham sandwiches and a packet of crisps.
Stockbridge High Street won a "Best Foodie Street" award from Google a few years back. The strip boasts half a dozen restaurants including an Indian, a Chinese and a tearoom. There's a posh butcher's, a continental deli hawking locally caught smoked fish and a scattering of adorable little period inns designed, presumably, with the express intention to melt the heart of jaded city-folk such as I.
We opted for dinner at the Greyhound, which offers staple cornerstones – a fish platter, beef carpaccio – with nods to local produce such as Storebridge mushrooms on toast. We took all three, and a rack of lamb for mains. The fish platter included a rich mackerel rillette and crisp tempura mussels, while the carpaccio was served with a balsamic reduction, tart but not cloying. The mushrooms were meaty and the lamb was cooked just right and served with a nice selection of vegetables. Everything was near-flawless, with a slight overuse of butter our only gripe.
The Greyhound on the Test, 31 High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire SO20 6EY (01264 810833; thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk). Doubles from £140, B&B.Reuse content