The Castle at Great Leighs may be famous for being entwined with a spooky legend about a witch, as well as other ghostly tales, but more recently the country pub restaurant has been earning a good reputation for its hearty, seasonal menu and friendly service.
“Good, quality, home-cooked British food is obviously paramount but we concentrate on giving good service and a warm welcome too.
“Our staff are a friendly bunch, with great personalities. We believe everyone should be made to feel at home while they’re here,” said General Manager William Crighton.
A notice on the inglenook fireplace suggests the pub is the oldest recorded inn in England, dating to about 1171. The building has certainly seen some changes in its time. It was used as a hermitage by pilgrims on their way to the shrines of St Thomas a Becket in Canterbury and Walsingham in Norfolk. In the eighteenth century The Castle was a coaching inn and stop-off for the London to Norwich stagecoach.
More recently, about a year ago, the pub, formerly St Anne’s Castle, underwent a full refurbishment under the ownership of Pie and Pint Inns, which also runs The Hare at Roxwell. Reassuringly, The Castle’s rural charm, rustic character and, of course, its famous stone, remain.
“In the pub garden is the Witch’s Stone, which is said to have been placed on top of the burial site of the Witch of Scrap Faggot’s Green.
“We know it was moved to make life convenient to build a road and the stone has ended up at the pub as a sort of memorial.
“It’s supposed to stop her from being able to crawl out again,” said William.
With the Witch’s Stone keeping evil spirits at bay outside, within The Castle there are only fine spirits and wines along with quality, craft, cask ales to be found. The house beer, Golden Crust Cask Ale 3.7% ABV, is brewed to Pie and Pint Inns’ requirements at Brentwood Brewery. An additional Brentwood-brewed bitter is available on tap depending upon the season – now it’s Royal Bulldog premium ale 3.9% ABV.
William said: “We are a community based pub as well as a restaurant. We have a bar area and quite a few locals come in for drinks rather than a meal.”
In fine weather, al fresco drinking and dining is an option on the patio or in the beer garden.
Menus change every six months depending on the season, winter or summer. There are five regular menus: breakfast, lunch and seasonal main (currently winter). Also Sunday. And a Gluten Free menu.
Deliberately, there is no separate children’s menu. It’s the pub’s philosophy to serve children the same range of food as adults – just in smaller portions. These smaller plates equate to half an adult portion. Hearty appetites are well catered for as standard portion sizes are generous.
From 1st – 30th December the Christmas Party Menu is available Monday to Saturday. (Two courses, £20, three, £25 per person.)
All dishes are freshly made in-house except cakes which are bought in from Tiptree Patisserie in Witham and Perfect Pudding Company, based in Chelmsford. Just as it is at The Hare, the allure of the cheesecake and cake display means, once spied, dessert is not an option but a certainty.
In charge of the kitchen is Head Chef, Gustavo Braun who previously worked at The Castle’s sister pub, The Hare. Gustavo is creating some special Hallowe’en treats.
William added: “I’ll be carving some pumpkins, looking into recipes for pumpkin lattes and we’ll have a bowl of trick or treat sweets for the children. The kitchen will be doing some themed specials too.”
General Manager William admits The Castle has a former reputation for ghostly goings on, particularly spooky sightings of a black cat that walks through walls and a gentlemanly figure sitting at the bar, smoking a pipe – the aroma of pipe tobacco filling the air.
Although the pub gardens contain The Witch’s Stone, linked to the legend of a local witch burned at the stake and buried at Scrap Faggot’s Green, since the refurbishment, William is certain the pub is no longer haunted. He should know. He lives and works there. That said, he tends to keep an open mind, especially as Hallowe’en approaches.
Golden Crust Beer & Food Match Suggestion:
A refreshing pint of Golden Crust cask ale 3.7% ABV or a pint of Royal Bulldog premium ale 3.9% ABV with The Castle’s Golden Crust Rarebit, a toasted slice of bloomer loaf with creamy cheese sauce made with Golden Crust ale and a dash of Worcestershire sauce and royally crowned with a fried egg on top £7.50.
The Castle, Main Road, Great Leighs, Chelmsford, CM3 1NE
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