Meet the owner: Welcome drinks, helicopters and scientists in Dorset

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

Ashley Stewart is the host, chief storyteller, car restorer, forester and farmer, among other things, at West Compton Manor, a bizarre and beautiful B&B in Dorset. We caught up with him about some of his favourite guests, how to support the local community when you’re out on a big hurrah, and the importance of a good welcome cocktail.

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Engaging with the community 

I always encourage people to explore the area, not just with activities, but with food too. It helps support local businesses, as well as giving you much more of a sense of having travelled somewhere. We send a lot of people to Thyme after Time, a brilliant local café, as well as sourcing from four local butchers. A literal taste of Dorset, although I do sneak over the border to Devon to get our coffee. 

We work with other locals in a lot of ways. We’ve got Highland cows moving in soon. A local farmer needs somewhere for his to live when they aren’t maintaining the grounds at Eggardon Hill. He’s had terrible trouble with people letting their dogs off the leads and attacking livestock. It’s something that comes up a lot round here. It’s great to have footpaths, but people need to be careful with their dogs, it can end in tragedy in several ways.  

The all-important welcome drink  

As long as the sun’s past the yardarm, we like to welcome guests with a cocktail. It’s a great way to set the tone of an occasion. We know the guys at Black Cow [vodka makers] and we use a lot of their stuff. We love a sours at the moment, made with duck egg white because Samantha, our Indian Runner, just won’t stop laying. We’ve made some fruity ones in the past, but I love a “Sour Duck”, so here’s the recipe: 

Sour Duck


3 parts Amaretto 

2 parts Black Cow Vodka 

1 part Black Cow Christmas Spirit 

Juice of 2 lemons 

1 duck egg white 

Dash of good quality Maple Syrup 


Shake vigorously over ice for 30 secs minimum 

Pour over oversized ice cube 

Garnish with cherries soaked in Kirsch, or Grillotines cherries, with a teaspoon of their jus 

Use the egg yolks in scrambled eggs the following morning!  

For the morning after the night before…

Brave souls might also have a Bloody Mary with their breakfast, which is a very varied art. My personal recipe: Black Cow Vodka, tomato juice, Henderson’s Relish, Chilli sherry, horseradish, whole grain mustard, squeezed ½ lemon, shaken over ice, celery and celery salt. Punchy! 

A few of Ashley’s favourite guests

I had an enquiry from a lady in America, who asked if she could pay by cheque as she didn’t do any kind of internet banking. I said we could give it a try, so a while later a cheque turns up from an American bank, made out in English pounds. I took it into a branch and asked the cashier “how valid is this?” and she just smiled this massive smile at me. So I told the lady that she could turn up and pay cash on the day, which I don’t normally do. When she arrived, we got talking and it turned out the lady who had nothing to do with the internet had worked on the Apollo space program, doing computing and calculation! 

I took a booking from a gentleman who asked me where he could park his helicopter, which isn’t a very standard request. He thought the lawn looked big enough, but I steered him towards a clearer patch of land. When the day came he duly arrived and landed where I’d indicated and I asked him what line of work he was in. Turns out he was very high up in the Mercedes Formula One team. I ended up talking him and a few of his colleagues through some of my rebuilding projects.   

I’ve got a flintlock on the wall in the hall, which people think is ornamental but in fact fires perfectly well. I keep all the paperwork up to date. We had a Texan chap come to stay and he was very keen to fire a gun that was older than his country, so we prepped it. The thing about those flintlocks is that the hammer goes down and there’s a flash before the powder properly ignites, so the recoil is huge and late and the gun is heavy. It’s knocked a few people off their feet and gave the Texan a serious thump. 

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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