Pub/Bar of the Month February 2013: Square & Compass, Worth Matravers, UK
Square & Compass, Worth Matravers
And then there were seven.
After 40 years of publication, pubs that have made it into every edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide have dwindled to that tiny number.
When I edited the silver anniversary edition of the Guide in 1998, there were still 22 pubs that had claimed a place in all 25 editions.
The fact that 15 have lost their appearance record in the last 15 years is testimony to the upheaval the pub sector has experienced in recent times.
I congratulated representatives of the magnificent seven at a celebration in London last September. They are remarkable survivors, beacons of quality cask ale that have kept their heads while all about them have lost theirs.
But seeing the number diminishing almost yearly, the occasion prompted me to ensure that I get around them all sooner rather than later and I began my odyssey with the Square & Compass in Dorset.*
The village of Worth Matravers sits high above the sea just outside Swanage. The views are glorious, making the lawn at the front of its pub perennially popular in summer.
Roughly-hewn log benches and rubble-like stone slabs offer primitive seating here but who needs greater comfort when you can gaze over the majestic English Channel, catch your breath after an exhilarating coastal ramble, or simply admire the rural-cottage simplicity of the pub itself, all neat in white-washed walls and Oxford blue woodwork?
In winter, the inside of the pub can be similarly congested. A stone-floored entrance corridor leads to rooms left and right.
The room to the left is dominated by a vast fireplace, filled with stone jugs, old wooden casks and a strange-looking stove. A few well-worn tables and hard bench seating provide basic comforts beneath framed newspaper cuttings on walls yellowed by years of tobacco use.
To the right, the main bar is more spacious, warmed by a crackling fire. Exposed stone walls, parquet flooring and old beams are brightened up by a generous scattering of portraits.
Throughout, the atmosphere is down-to-earth and homely. This is where local societies meet. You may be there when the book club is in residence, or eavesdrop on the gossip from the 'Stitch & Bitch' knitting group.
Otherwise, with the addition of hot pasties for sustenance, regular live bands in the folk/country vein and occasional open-air theatre performances, conversation leads the entertainment.
Beer comes from the local regional, Palmers, with guests from other notable breweries further afield. They are racked down low in the cellar/servery and handed out over a half-door or through a hatch.
The other thing that the pub is famous for is its fossil collection. They call this part of Dorset the Jurassic Coast, partly on account of the fossil finds the area yields. At the end of the corridor, the pub has a museum where you can witness the imprints of bizarre marine reptiles and other prehistoric creatures.
No doubt some flash suits in the pub business would label pubs like the Square & Compass dinosaurs, given that there's no attempt to squeeze every last penny out of the customers with electronic distractions or over-priced food.
But this is how many of us like our pubs, thank you very much. It's a credit to the Newman family that has run the place for more than a century, latterly with manager Kevin Hunt in place.
I will now continue my journey around the Good Beer Guide's seven survivors. If they're all as good as the Square & Compass, it will be a magnificent seven indeed.
Square & Compass, Worth Matravers, Dorset, BH19 3LF, UK
Tel. (01929) 439229
Opening Hours: 12–3, 6–11; 12–11 Friday, Saturday & Sunday
*The other pubs featured in every edition of the Good Beer Guide are:
Buckingham Arms, London SW1
New Inn, Kilmington, Devon
Queen's Head, Newton, Cambridgeshire
Roscoe Head, Liverpool
Star, Netherton, Northumberland
Star Tavern, Belgravia, London SW1