Photo of Museum Inn, Dorset

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th June 2010.

If you're a Pitt (like the Elder or the Younger), a Lane Fox (like Martha) or a Fox-Pitt (like William, the equestrian), chances are you are all related to each other and all are related to the splendidly accoutred General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, late of this lovely corner of Dorset, where his spirit lives on.

After a successful military career, the General inherited, in 1880, the Rushmore Estate on glorious Cranborne Chase. Here he set up his museum, now the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, for he was not just a soldier, but the founder of modern archaeology. He also created the Larmer Tree Gardens as hugely popular pleasure grounds for music and entertainment. And, for visitors, he opened the Museum Inn.

Today the Museum Inn forms the heart of Farnham, a charmingly quirky estate village. There are four attractive, newly decorated bedrooms in the inn, and four older "shabby chic" ones in an annexe. All are thoughtfully equipped, as is so often the case with modernised inns, with cafetières, chocolates, fresh flowers and Roberts radios. Best is The Generals (sic), a large, light-filled corner room with four-poster. Niggle: I could have done with a picture to alleviate the blank wall opposite the bed.

Not, however, one of the awful new pictures in The Shed dining room or the smart but uncosy residents' sitting room. Each to his own, but boy are they garish. No such problems in the bar, with its old prints, flagstone floor and conservatory extension. Here you'll find plenty of local characters, as well as jovial shooting parties, some for Guy Ritchie's neighbouring estate, Ashcombe. Madonna downed pints here in the good old days.

The good old days, some locals say, have retreated. The Museum has fairly recently changed hands and the new owner has gone for a less rural, more cosmopolitan approach. Previous landlords have been characters, including the Fawltyesque figure who would demand of strangers when they entered: "What are you doing here?" "Er, well, isn't this a pub?" came the nervous replies. "Oh I suppose it is. Sit down if you must."

Today's Museum is cheerfully managed by Bruno MacGowan, as excited as many of his regulars (opinions are divided) by the arrival of new chef Owen Sullivan, who creates bold, complex dishes with swirls and flourishes aplenty. A lively debate ensues during our dinner as to what kind of cooking is appropriate for a place like the Museum: comforting ''gastropub'' fare or ''destination'' food. "I'm all for surprises and unusual combinations," asserts one enamoured local. "I don't want steak and chips and chicken and ham pies, however excellent, that I could have at home."

She has a point, of course, but I'm in the other camp, and not alone: surprises are all very well, but they need to be top notch, and personally I'd rather chat with my friends in this historic, rural, endearing village hub while tucking into the best chicken and ham pie I ever tasted – locally sourced, of course.

  • Farnham, near Blandford Forum (01725 516261; Doubles from £110 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities.