There were giant strawberries in the bathroom, and a recipe for summer pudding on the door. A sign on the wardrobe said ‘Pick Your Own’ and there were birds and bees all over the walls. We were in the Summer Pudding Room, one of several themed rooms at the Three Ways House Hotel, home of the Pudding Club, in Mickleton near Chipping Campden. We loved our room, though I was curious about the décor in the Spotted Dick Room.
The Pudding Club meets at least twice a month, all year round, about sixty people at a time, to celebrate and preserve the Great British Pudding, mainly by the eminently sensible method of scoffing seven of them at a sitting. They then vote for the Pudding of the Night. Such is the demand for places that they’re booked up about six months ahead. However, you can jump the custard queue by joining one of the hotel’s walking weekends. Held in spring and autumn, these reserve you a place at the Friday night pud-fest provided you’re prepared to pound off the calories by walking in the Cotswolds the next two days.
I was slightly apprehensive about the Pudding Club. While it seems perfectly sensible to me to want to eat seven puddings at the end of a meal, who else would be attracted by the prospect? I’d feared finding myself in a kind of Beryl Cook painting, surrounded by fat ladies with fearsome bosoms, and rosy-faced men with moustaches, and with Union Jack waistcoats stretched taut across pud-filled tummies.
In fact, almost everyone was of a normal size, perfectly pleasant, and a good time was being had by all before we even got to the puddings (preceded by one light main course, no starter, no bread). Our host Simon Coombe had us drooling over the descriptions of the night’s puddings, and we were soon in line for as much or as little of each pudding as we wanted: syrup sponge, Eton mess, passionfruit charlotte, summer pudding, chocolate mousse bombe. As Simon pointed out, someone had left the ‘e’ off bombe on the blackboard menu, but whether this was a weapon of mass destruction remained to be seen.
In the event, not everyone sampled all seven puddings, and you could try as little as a spoonful if you wanted… or go back for more at the end of the night. Tactics were discussed in-depth: ‘I’m having the chocolate first in case I don’t make it to the end.’ ‘No, I’m saving the best till the last, definitely.’ And voting reached fever pitch: ‘It still has swiss roll in it, which is its downfall. No, only 5/10.’ ‘Oh look, she’s introducing half marks, hark at Professor Pudding here.’
The prince of puddings proved to be the syrup sponge, and my only regret was that I ignored Simon’s tactical advice to take it easy, and was too stuffed to go back for more. Simon wished us all a good night’s sleep: ‘And for those of you staying at the hotel tonight, we do of course have black pudding for breakfast.’
And they did, and delicious it was, despite the fact that I’d woken up feeling I couldn’t possibly eat any breakfast at all. A tempting breakfast buffet does that to you. But about twenty of us had a rendezvous with Elizabeth and Colin, our two Cotswold wardens, who led us out in blazing sunshine through the streets of Mickleton, which if this was the USA would have signs on the M40 proclaiming it the Pudding Capital of Britain.
Within minutes we’re passing through fields of sheep, and watching a green woodpecker rat-tat-tat against a telegraph pole. A field in front of us has a path cut through the crop, as if instead of the Red Sea, Moses had parted the broad beans. Elizabeth and Colin are amiable and knowledgeable guides, pausing from time to time and telling us about the history and topography of the area. I’m walking at the back, chatting to Elizabeth, when she sees a buzzard in the sky above us. It circles slowly on the hot thermals, coming lower and closer, giving us a wonderful close look at its size and grace.
We pass bulrushes and badger setts, and the house of Burnt Norton which inspired one of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. We climb Dover’s Hill, only 600ft but one of the highest points in the Cotswolds. It seems like the Alps, as we look down on seas of green towards the Shropshire Hills, the Malverns and even the Black Mountains.
Dropping down into Chipping Campden we stop for a picnic lunch, before tramping on back towards Mickleton via Hidcote Manor Farm, where we pick our own raspberries, tayberries and gooseberries. Alas, the strawberries have gone, early in this hot summer, but someone from the hotel has driven out to meet us bringing strawberries and cream. What bliss.
Back at the hotel there’s time for a shower before we head for the restaurant and my reward for the day’s walking: a full helping of syrup sponge. But disaster! It’s not on the menu. Never mind, a word to the waitress produces some from the kitchen. And lashings of custard? But of course. Custard and the Cotswolds – it’s a pretty good combination.
The Pudding Club: www.puddingclub.com