FOR the third time in less than two-and-a-half years, The Bottle Inn has shut.

Landlords Simon and Shelly Dumper told customers last week that the Marshwood pub was due to close on Sunday, January 9.

They thanked their customers but said the writing was on the wall for many pubs.

Mrs Dumper said: “People cannot afford to come out.

“All pubs are in the same boat.

“They are all empty.”

The couple began trading in May last year after the pub had been unoccupied.

They refurbished the interior and the gardens and in June held the traditional nettle-eating competition, which attracts many hundreds of enthusiasts. Mrs Dumper added: “The pub is not sustaining itself.

“That cold spell over Christmas killed us.”

She said they had to take their family into account when considering their future at the pub.

The family expect to stay on for some weeks, hoping to be re-housed eventually by West Dorset District Council.

They are bitterly disappointed at the failure of the enterprise and face having to sell the fittings and furniture.

Mrs Dumper added: “But we have made some really good friends.

“We also sponsored a football team, in Hawkchurch, and that has been great. We have had some fantastic Saturday afternoons.”

The couple fear that a delay in repairing and re-thatching the exterior of the pub has not helped.

The pub is owned by Michael and Pauline Brookes who live in Australia.

They were unavailable for comment.

Mrs Dumper said Mr and Mrs Brookes were looking for a new tenant as soon as possible. The building has been a pub since at least 1720.

It appears there are plans to re-open it around Easter time after re-thatching and renovations have been done, according to the pub’s updated website.

The Bottle Inn’s nettle-eating competition began in 1986 to resolve a dispute over who had the longest nettles.

Alex Williams brought in a nettle over 15 feet long, and challenged anyone to beat his record, promising to eat his if anyone found a bigger weed.

The rest is history – Alex ate his nettle and the championships were born.

Competitors over the years have included Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and comedian Rory McGrath who filmed the event for a TV show.