THE journey along the old Roman road from Calne, over the Wiltshire downs, is particularly eerie and beautiful this October evening, when the earth of the newly ploughed fields is chalk white, and the leaves on the trees are shades of lemon and copper.

In the gathering dusk, the pub windows glow out a warming gold. With its grey walls and assortment of bays, some thatched, some tiled, the Waggon and Horses at Beckhampton promises comfort and character.

We have arrived early in the evening, and a chef is sitting at the bar before the evening rush. He and the bar staff greet us warmly, and we find a table by the window, with a view through the mullions onto the road – though as the darkness deepens, that view disappears fast. The little room has a fireplace, and the wallpaper is designed with pictures of Victorian horses, like those painted by George Stubbs. The atmosphere is traditional but relaxed.

The pub has a very long history. Situated on the main route from London to Bath, it must have witnessed centuries of traffic, and hosted many interesting characters. It was built in 1669, from Sarcen stone, which a sign in the porch tells us was quarried in Avebury. Once a coaching inn, it used to have accommodation, stables and a smithy.

Charles Dickens himself probably stayed at the pub because in his Pickwick Papers, he mentions the pub, describing it as, “a strange old place – built of a kind of shingle, inlaid, as it were, with cross beams, with gable-topped windows projecting completely over the pathway, and a low door with a dark porch… It was a comfortable-looking place though, for there was a strong cheerful light in the bar window, which shed a bright ray across the road… and there was a red, flickering light in the opposite window… which intimated that a rousing fire was blazing within”.

That bright ray across the road has not changed and I like the idea of following in Dickens’ footsteps. Perhaps the place will give me some literary inspiration. Certainly, the menu looks inspiring, with nearly a dozen starters and main courses.

Vegetarian options abound, and traditional favourites like fish, chips and mushy peas (the fish battered in 6X Gold beer) are lined up with more adventurous fare, such as the wild boar and chorizo burger, quinoa salad and garlic and herb gnocchi.

We opt for the shared mezze board to start (£11.95) – and swiftly a wooden platter arrives, laden with delicious treats. We have stuffed vine leaves, plump olives, fresh, tart-tasting feta, sweet sun-dried tomatoes and creamy houmous, tzatziki and strips of warm, golden pitta bread – along with a handful of rocket.

Even between two this tempting starter would probably have served as a nice lunch, for there is plenty of it, and the variety of tastes and textures make it a very pleasing way to start the meal.

For the main course, my partner chooses the bacon and cheese beefburger on a toasted pretzel bun, with onion relish, baby gem, tomato, onion rings and chips (£11.95) and I have the cumin and saffron spiced vegetables, lentils and basmati rice, served with a carrot and cashew salad, chota nan and poppadum (£10.95).

The burger is cooked just as my partner likes (slightly rare) and he loves the pretzel bun. The onion rings are as large as any I have seen – certainly big enough to be worn as a bangle, though perhaps not recommended as a fashion accessory.

My spiced vegetables are delicious – tender, spicy without being hot, and full of flavour. With the extras, we are both pushed to finish our meals despite the quality of the food.

The menu offers half a dozen desserts, as well as ice cream. These include vanilla crème brulee, chocolate and pistachio brandy truffle torte and warm chocolate brownie – all at £5.95. To avoid the pain of having to choose between these tantalising options, we go for the chef’s homemade sharing plate of puddings – a kind of dessert mezze board (£11.95 for two to share).

This full house of puddings arrives on another wooden board, a treasury of colour and texture. The perfume of the warm chocolate brownie seems to drift from it in tempting ribbons. The heat of the brownie contrasts with the cold dish of vanilla and caramel ice cream. Ground pistachio nuts crown the brandy truffle tort, giving it crunch, and an edge to the rich, smooth taste.

Despite the delights, it is too much to finish. By now the pub is full of happy diners. The staff are remarkably friendly, helpful and welcoming – from the moment we stepped into the pub until the time we paid the bill and bade them farewell. I am sure Dickens himself would have approved of the meal and the good cheer. With two glasses of red wine, the meal came to £54.80.

The Waggon and Horses
Beckhampton, Marlborough, SN8 1QJ
Tel: 01672 539418

Parking: Yes, across the road.
Disabled access: The pub has a ramp, but no toilet for disabled customers.
Adver ratings:
Food: 9/10
Choice: 9/10
Décor: 9/10
Customer service: 10/10
Main course prices: £9.50 - £18.95
Trip Advisor rating: 4/5