Oh yes. Mrs Budd. She’s definitely here. Furniture moves, things fall off shelves and late one night when I was in the loo the catch began to slide back. And you can only open the door from the inside.
There’s a slight chill in the air as our waitress recounts her ghostly tale.
Maybe that’s because, under COVID regulations, the restaurant area has to be well ventilated but maybe, just maybe…
In fact it was so well ventilated both Pork Belly and I kept our jackets on throughout our meal.
Early October with the leaves turning gold and the woodland paths crunchy with fallen acorns is the perfect time for a walk in the Sussex countryside. And the best part of a muddy walk is finding a snug little country pub to rest up afterwards.
We were drawn to the George and Dragon for two reasons:
Its proximity to the lovely, if somewhat dilapidated, Shipley Windmill.
Famous as the fictional home of Jonathan Creek and, for those of a more literary persuasion, also home for a short and sad time, to the writer Hilaire Belloc.
Well Belloc actually lived in Kingsland, the house next door, but owned the mill and had great plans for it until his wife, Elodie died and he lost interest.
The mill is private so you can’t go in but the bridlepath through the woods and across the River Arun runs right past it.
The curiosity of a pub with a memorial in its garden.
And that leads us back to Mrs Budd, who, according to the staff, still keeps an eye on the place.
A photo of Charlotte Budd, the original landlady, hangs over the bar. Stern-faced it’s clear she was a woman of note and not one to suffer fools gladly. But her face hides a terrible sorrow. Her beloved son Walter was albino and teased and tormented for his looks.
In 1893 he was accused of a petty crime and drowned himself. His mother swore he was innocent and never forgave the locals, even the vicar, for the way they behaved.
This rift led to her removing Walter’s tombstone from nearby Shipley Church and placing it in the front garden.
From here its damning words still burn with a righteous anger against those who committed what today would be called a hate crime.
So it’s no wonder staff and locals alike are convinced her spirit lives on.
And the George and Dragon has plenty of another type of spirit – one of survival.
A few years ago the pub was threatened with closure until two friends, regulars at the tiny bar, stepped in to save it. Slowly building a reputation for classic pub dishes with a twist and a live music venue with open mic nights, the pub began to thrive.
Then came the COVID challenge.
Turning the marquee in the pub garden into a cosy space, creating indoor/outdoor areas and using the outdoor bar for drink service was the first step back to normality.
And with reduced numbers of tables indoors they should be able to weather the winter storms.
Low beamed, even I felt tall, with uneven floors and walls and a huge open fireplace, it’s a typical English country pub. Small, welcoming with a real community feel.
Of course everything has to be pre-booked these days which gave me a chance to speak to the chef in advance about my allergies and for him to come up with a dairy-free version of one of their standards.
So what’s on the menu?
It’s not extensive but caters for pretty much every taste and everything is locally sourced, fresh and homecooked.
The light bites include calamari, whitebait and scampi alongside soup, sandwiches and chips.
Main meals are traditional pub fare – sausage and mash, pies, burgers, ham and eggs and fish and chips. But each dish has something a little different in its seasonings and sauces and everything comes with fresh-cooked veggies.
Pork Belly was after some comfort food so opted for the pie of the day – chicken, bacon and leek, served with al dente green beans and a generous scoop of mash.
Deep filled with slightly salty bacon and tender chicken it was hot, tasty and satisfying. Just what you need after a hike (well to be honest it was more of a leisurely ramble, but who’s keeping score?)
I had the lemon risotto – specially adapted for me. The rice was cooked to perfection, with a citrus tang that cut through the sweetness of the figs and sticky goats cheese.
The accompanying kale was piping hot and cooked just right – not soggy or stringy as it can so often be.
After that I had no room for dessert but Pork Belly couldn’t resist the sticky toffee pudding with ice-cream. More comfort food!
Rounding off with a couple of coffees it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday.
There are no dragons in Dragon’s Green, just a handful of houses and this single, tiny pub which makes the trip worthwhile.
Oh and when you go, please don’t remove any of the coins on the low beams near the bar. Mrs Budd doesn’t like it, and your day will be filled with bad luck!
How to find the George and Dragon, West Sussex
The pub stands at the corner of Dragons Lane in Dragon’s Green, near Shipley in West Sussex.
The nearest towns are Billingshurst (5 miles) and Horsham (7 miles)
You really need a car to get there unless you are a very keen walker or cyclist, but they do offer B&B for overnight stays.
For opening hours, menus and more see their website