In a desperate bid to reinvent themselves for a contemporary audience, some pubs have abandoned all that makes them uniquely special.
But the Wyman family that has run Fittleworth’s fabulous Swan Inn for the past eight months knows that being a true village pub is the real secret of success.
Roughly chopped logs stacked by the huge fireplace in the ancient, historic bar signals a relaxed and comfortable welcome for all visitors.
The food – prepared by head chef Stuart Taylor with a kitchen team that includes his son James – is simply excellent.
Ten of the fifteen guest rooms have already been refurbished to provide accommodation that is as charming as it is good value.
And Anthony Wyman, who is partner in the business with his son Charlie, has extensive knowledge of what makes a village pub special having run the Anchor in Storrington up to 11 years ago.
Anthony was tempted to return to the trade and restore the Swan to a traditional village pub after the previous management shut up shop abruptly at the start of the year.
Since then, he and his team have worked tirelessly to reconnect the pub to its historic roots of superb, traditional hospitality within the rolling Sussex countryside.
It’s a custom of service and welcome that has endured for more than 600 years since it was built in 1382.
Since then the building has matured like a great oak tree, imbued with a history that is as artistic as it is eclectic.
Edward Elgar, Rudyard Kipling and Lady Hamilton have all stayed at the Swan.
In the 19th century it was one of three hostelries in Britain that welcomed some of the finest artists of the age – who paid for their lodgings with samples of their works.
A collection of their paintings – which includes one by Constable’s brother – can still be seen in the bar and a number of the bedrooms such as Cole, Stretton, Watson, Litchfield, and Weeden are named after them.
In 1924 the Ancient Order of Froth Blowers – whose motto was ‘Lubrication in Moderation’ – was founded here.
The guild was created to ‘to foster the noble art and gentle and healthy pastime of froth blowing amongst Gentlemen of-leisure and ex-Soldiers’ and it attracted half a million members. Its friends still visit the Swan each year.
E.V. Lucas, Lamb’s biographer, thought it the most ingeniously-placed inn in the world. “It seems to be at the end of all things. The miles of road that one has travelled apparently have been leading nowhere but the Swan.”
Our verdict: The menu offers a great range of food, clearly sourced locally whenever possible like the excellent pheasant.
Head chef Taylor has struck just the right balance between excellent presentation on the plate and menus that are entirely appropriate to the Swan’s ethos of homely, quality food.
The standards are exceptionally high. The salmon is smoked locally. The scallops were cooked to perfection. The jus infused with port, rosemary, and mint complement the free range lamb shank perfectly.
The accompanying vegetables are fresh and slightly crisp. Perfect.
The chocolate brownie dessert served with vanilla ice cream is one of the best we have ever tasted – soft and warm.
Starters range in price from £5.25-£7.95. There are a number of traditional mains in the £10-£12 range with the top price of £24.50 reserved for the fillet steak.
There’s a good selection of specials on the board – with some great, fresh fish on the day of our visit.
For those looking for mid-week value, the fixed lunch price menu from Monday to Friday of £11.95 for two courses or £14.95 for three is especially good.
We left determined to return. The Swan is back where it belongs. A real village pub, true to its history and committed to quality. We wish the Wyman’s well in their continuing endeavours.