The Star Inn, Lessingham

Tony CooperA traditional free house with an inglenook fireplace lying in the heart of east Norfolk proved to be a very welcome call when I came upon The Star Inn at Lessingham after moseying about in such old haunts as Sea Palling and Walcott.Tony Cooper

A traditional free house with an inglenook fireplace lying in the heart of east Norfolk proved to be a very welcome call when I came upon The Star Inn at Lessingham after moseying about in such old haunts as Sea Palling and Walcott. It's a treasure of a place dating from the 16th century and situated just inland from Happisburgh with that wonderful red-and-white striped lighthouse never out of sight while the parish church of St Mary's towers above the rugged landscape in all its glory.

The churchyard, by the way, is where the English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper - who resided for a major part of his life in Dereham - was inspired to write the words to that well-loved hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, after watching a storm at sea. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing about everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. In many ways, he was one of the forerunners of romantic poetry. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him 'the best modern poet' while William Wordsworth particularly admired his poem Yardley-Oak. Life seemed tough for him, though, and he suffered from manic depression but found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind so many of his hymns. He often experienced doubt and feared he was doomed to eternal damnation.

I like to think that if he'd ventured forth to The Star he would have found refuge over a pint and pie to ease his pain and conscience. It certainly proved to be a good refuge for me on a bitterly cold winter's day. But with a Sunday roast of tasty Norfolk-reared pork served with a host of appetising steamed vegetables harvested from local fields just over the road from the pub - plus that Yorkshire with spoons of apple sauce - it did the trick and more than satisfied the inner man while the blazing inglenook kept me and my guests, who went for beef and turkey respectfully, thoroughly warm and comfy throughout the meal. The prices here will not break the bank either.

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A single course costs about �8.95, two courses �11.95 and three, �13.95. Desserts come in at �4.75. And I can truthfully say that The Star's jam sponge and custard is the best I've ever had. What more could one want apart from more. And that's what I had - more! I returned but this time round I selected from the blackboard (above the inglenook) and had Miss X in tow. She likes a jaunt in the country followed by a nicely-prepared meal. I know how to treat a girl. So did Paul the chef. He served her a delicious and succulent liver and bacon casserole with traditional Norfolk dumplings and mash which got the thumbs-up while I went for brie and cranberry wellington stuffed with pine nuts after enjoying a large bowl of piping hot vegetable soup. Miss X got going with a nicely-presented dish of vegetable tempura decorated with chives with a selection of dip-in sauces. The devil got me in the end. I had another helping of that jam sponge. Irresistible! In addition to the main menu a good selection of pizzas are also available either to eat in (�8.95) or takeaway (�7.95); no deliveries though. That's for another time.

The ambience of The Star bears out its ageold legacy. It's cosy, intimate and boasts a low-beamed ceiling bar area that creates its own atmosphere. The present owners, Sue Winter and Mick Yaxley, are former customers so they know the pub inside out. They only took over in August but possess a good philosophy on what a 'local' should be. They want it to remain a 'local' in the way it has served the community over generations as well as a fine and comfortable eating place. For my money they have exceeded their expectations. The night I was there smart diners happily rubbed shoulders with the locals swapping stories at the bar while the pub's cribbage team were winners on the night. Sadly, I narrowly missed out on the weekly raffle.

Drinks on offer include two main real ales - Greene King IPA, Buffy's bitter - complemented by a variety of guest ales which are changed on a weekly basis. The bar also stocks two lagers, a mild, Speckled Hen, Old Rosie cider, Stowford press cider, Guinness and Adnams bitter plus the usual range of spirits and soft drinks.

It seems impossible to imagine during the worst winter for three decades but summer will come round sooner than you expect and then The Star's spacious beer garden comes into its own. You'll find a variety of seating areas where you can eat if you so desire or just kick back and relax over a beer (maybe a steak frites or pizza) while enjoying the views of the gardens and the coastal scenery. And if you want to make a weekend of it The Star has accommodation converted from an old stable block. On offer are two double/twin ground-floor rooms with en-suite shower rooms plus tea-and coffee-making facilities and colour television. The cost is �55 per night based on two people sharing or �35 for single occupancy. A discount of 10 per cent is offered for stays of three or more nights.

In the morning a full English breakfast promises to get you off to a good start to the day to explore the area. On your doorstep you've got the Broads Museum, East Ruston Vicarage Gardens, Waxham Barn and, of course, that iconic lighthouse, which Miss X is always so keen to point out. That's an itinerary that should keep you more than busy and ready for a fine repast (apologies to Parson Woodforde) at The Star.


Need to know:

- Where is it? The Star Inn is on School Road, Lessingham NR12 0DN. Tel 01692 580510.

- When is it open? Mon no food; Tues-Fri: food served 12 noon- 2.30pm and 6-9pm); Sat: 12 noon-2.30pm and 6-9pm; Sun: 12 noon-3pm only - no food in the evening.

- Do I need to book? It's advisable for Fri/Sat evenings and Sunday lunch.

- Are veggies catered for? Yes and if anyone has any special dietary needs the chef will do his best to accommodate them but with prior notice.

- Is there car parking? Heaps! Just pull up.

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