The downside of a mini-break with your little sister is that there is no sex. The upsides are that you can only pack one set of clothes (in my case, 3 jumpers, and no change of socks) and still have an absolutely lovely time. You can also finish your book in peace; steal all of the free mini shampoo and shower gel samples without fear of censure; not pretend that you are interested in taking a 'walk about the countryside', and forcibly insist upon playing scrabble before dinner.
And that's all before you get on to the dinner - which, at the Greyhound on the Test, 2014's Michelin Pub of the Year, makes reasonable claim to be the main event. The Greyhound, as the more discerning of you will have gathered, lies on the Test, a river which claims to be the 'Mecca' of fly fishing. (Avoiding fly fishing - another bonus point to the younger sister). Although the high street's proliferation of tackle and other hilarious-sounding outdoor shops suggests that the Test is, indeed, extremely popular with fishing enthusiasts, our stay at the Greyhound was utterly devoid of brash, corporate hospitality types, and a thorough examination of the pub and dining room showed not a single mounted catch. (I was unable to check inside the men's toilets - minus one point for the sister).
The Greyhound exists on two floors - the bottom devoted to the pub, dining room and kitchens; and the upstairs converted into luxury en-suite bedrooms. We stayed in room three, a fact which stays with me immutably, as the key was one of those old fashioned metal ones, the approximate weight and size of a doorstop. (Ability to bully younger sister into always lugging the key around sways things further in her favour). The room was cozy but comfortable; with an excellent bathroom, and an exceptionally large bed. My sister very much liked that there was an iPod speaker dock, and showed her enthusiasm for this by blasting Ke$ha at me while I was trying to read. (To be fair, all past boyfriends would have found this equally hilarious).
Tea and coffee were provided in the room, although one had to step at least 3 or 4 paces across the hall to reach the Honesty Bar; which was fully stocked with liquor, mixers and snacks. "There are no prices," my sister said, returning to disturb me empty-handed. "I don't know how much my honesty costs." We went instead downstairs to the pub, which is absurdly idyllic. A roaring fire blazes at one end, whilst the barman stands chatting happily to the locals behind a curved wooden bar, and beneath the slanted eaves. Board games are available, and my little sister would like it to be a matter of public record that, for the first time in 26 years, she beat me. She did, but in my defense I was distracted by the reflection of the candlelight in the pub's glowing windows, and equally concentrating on the muted argument the couple at the table next to us were having. (Zero need to pretend to be listening to what your companion is saying - little sister wins this one).
After drinks we went through into the dining room, which is a large, airy space, complete with exposed wooden beams and well-spaced wooden tables. (Personally, I am a big fan of wood. If you are not, the Greyhound is not for you). The menu is large, and helpfully divided up into different components: on toast, small plates, vegetarian, from the grill etc. We started with oysters, which were delicious: large, fresh and already cut, which ought to be unremarkable, but if you have ever been served an uncut oyster unawares, every single time the damn thing slips out of its shell unimpeded is a joy. The starters were equally good - a healthy serving of Dorset crab on homemade toast, and a gossamer thin Broughton Buffalo carpaccio, from buffalo raised 3 and a ½ miles up the road.
I was somewhat disappointed with my main, the monkfish and scallop ceviche, which although properly done - opaque, firm, and fresh, was insufficient. However, my little sister very much enjoyed her pressed lamb shank. I would like to comment on it more, but when I asked if I could try some, she encouraged me to "order better next time", and refused to share. (Feeling no compunction to share her food with me - little sister loses a point).
The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced - the restaurant works in collaboration with Wine Utopia, a local wine merchant only a few doors down the high street, and the waiting staff are happy to advise and recommend pairings. Probably a smaller, or less interesting wine selection would have been better, as, despite a very comfortable night's sleep (ability to eat everything in sight, and drink rather too much, and then be allowed to sleep unmolested, except for the odd duvet tussle - sister back on the scoreboard), I woke up feeling worse for wear. (Too young to suffer from truly dreadful hangovers - little sister slides back down the rankings).
Nevertheless, it was nothing a good breakfast couldn't sort out, and the Greyhound does a very good breakfast. Then, it was into the car for a jaunt up the road (little sister proudly appeared in hot pink trainers, despite me telling her to borrow a pair of wellies from the Greyhound) to Spitfire Shoot, a purpose-landscaped clay pigeon shoot. We were taken around by Peter, who found great amusement and satisfaction in both my little sister's ridiculous footwear and our incessant sniping at one another.
If Spitfire Shoot were in London, I very much doubt the West London Shooting School would continue to exist. Spitfire is the best managed, equipped and helpful clay pigeon shoot I've ever visited. It is run on automatic taps, which allows you to fill up a card with as many clays as you wish, and simply activate them at whichever peg you feel like shooting on. There are plenty of different types of stand, as well as varying clays, which banishes the repetition clay shooting can sometimes suffer from.
Run by the affable and knowledgeable Peter, who bore our very poor shooting with extreme patience, despite my continued insistence on ignoring his advice (for following Peter's advice, and therefore shooting better - minus one point for the sister), Spitfire Shoot shares the Greyhound's approach, offering first class hospitality in a relaxed and inviting setting. The lack of sex notwithstanding, a sisterly mini-break on the Test is hard to beat.