The Running Horses hotel on Old London Rd, Mickleham, Surrey, has great potential to share with shooting parties.
American TV is a wonderful thing, but do you ever wince when an interpretation of the traditional English pub appears on screen? I’d rather pedal a unicycle along Hadrian’s Wall draped in a St. George’s Cross than watch the Frasier episode featuring Daphne Moon’s ‘local’ the Fox & Whistle. For all the scriptwriter’s best intentions, possibly borne from time spent on these shores, you can’t buy eccentricity or create an authentic representation of our behaviour in our hostelries from scratch.
We found a strong helping of curiosities in and around the Running Horses, a recently refurbished 16th century coaching inn renamed following the Dead Heat Derby at Epsom in 1828. Exhibit A were the highly polished Wellington boots to the side of the front door, both of which were overflowing with lush purple flowers.
Inside, at the wood-panelled bar, men supped frothy ale from tankards, everyone surrounded by yellowing photographical and pictorial salutes to race horses, shooting parties and even to Bill, a bespectacled former waiter. Our room’s furniture was a mixture of the contemporary and the reclaimed, and while the ceilings bowed and the floorboards dipped, given the hotel’s age it would have felt artificial if we hadn’t heard the odd groan and squeak.
The five bedrooms at the Running Horses are all named after racecourses, their keys attached to little tweed horses that we couldn’t resist playing with between sips of something or other as we watched innumerable cyclists, walkers and red buses pass by on their way between Kingston on Thames and Dorking. Everyone’s business was conducted under the watchful eye of St. Michael’s Church, its broad Norman tower basking in the glow of early July sunshine. Had my editor been here in my place he would surely have wandered the 100 yards to watch the cricket match at Box Hill School far earlier than we did. The afternoon couldn’t have been more English if it had tried.
The bill of fare at the Running Horses would go down extremely well with any guns seeking lasting nourishment, but prepare to go in ravenous if you want to get through three courses and a bottle of Merlot without a tinge of regret. A well-presented Isle of Man devilled crab and Bramley apple and rhubarb crumble were delicious bookends to our chateaubriand main, and Farid, who deserves a special mention in this review for his flawless manners, served everything with wit and discretion – if you can guess his nationality within four attempts you have done well.
Service, catering and accommodation aside, the Running Horses is not without its blemishes. Being so popular with race goers, cyclists and walkers, the specialist needs of shooting parties are a little thin on the ground. That’s not to say their needs won’t rise up the pecking order in future, and if you can get past the lack of gun storage options, the absence of a secure car park and the no-dogs policy, you’ll still find a hotel that has a lot to offer – not least a close proximity to the M25 and panoramic views of Surrey from Box Hill.
Cost: From £110
Shoots nearby: Bury Hill and Sloughbrook
Scores for the Running Horses
Catering: The food is reason to return alone. 8/10
Accommodation: Modern and traditional combined. 8/10
Atmosphere: A mixture of ages and dialects seeking Surrey tranquility. 8/10
Service: Always polite and efficient, and never without a smile. 8/10
Suitability for shooters: Lacking in some key areas but nevertheless has a great deal to offer to shooting parties. 7/10