The Bell Inn, Berkshire, named Camra’s pub of the year
A no-frills village pub unashamedly stuck in a timewarp and run by the same family for 250 years has been named the best in the UK.
The Bell Inn in Aldworth, Berkshire, was named pub of the year by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), after judges hailed its strong community focus, relaxed atmosphere and top-quality beer.
The only pub in Berkshire with a Grade II listed interior, it last won the coveted pub of the year title nearly 30 years ago. It is one of 8,320 listed by Historic England, and beat off competition from an estimated 47,500 others in the rest of the UK.
The friendly pub serves local beers, from brewers including West Berkshire Brewery in Yattendon, Arkell’s in Swindon, Rebellion Brewery based in Marlow, and Loose Cannon in Abingdon, and its food includes homemade soup and fresh filled rolls.
Known for its unspoiled interiors including gravy-coloured paint, the Bell Inn nestles in the tiny Berkshire hollow of Aldworth. A free house that has been in the hands of the Hunt, McQuhae and Macaulay family since the 18th century, it has two separate public rooms strikingly different in character.
Off the central corridor is the tap room with vast inglenook fireplace, panelling, wall seating round three sides, scrubbed tables and benches, quarry-tiled floor and – bizarrely – a one-handed clock.
The smaller bar area boasts ebony-handled pumps, which the great-grandmother of the present owner, Hugh Macaulay, had fitted in 1902, and which are still in use. The outside gents’ toilet is known – for obvious reasons after a few beers on a dark evening – as “the planetarium”, and was added in 1933 when mains water was installed.
The Bell Inn last scooped the top award three decades ago, when it was run by Hugh’s parents, Heather and Ian Macaulay.
Macaulay said: “The Bell Inn has been in my family for 250 years and my mother and father were running it when we last won the award. It’s a wonderful thing to be recognised for driving quality year after year. Not much has changed because we have kept our interior unspoilt all this time – and intend to keep it that way.”
Pubs are selected for the competition by Camra volunteers and judged on their atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, community focus and beer quality. Runners-up this year include the Swan With Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire, the George & Dragon in Hudswell, North Yorkshire and the Red Lion in Preston, Hertfordshire.
Camra’s pub of the year organiser, Ben Wilkinson, said of the winner: “The judges were impressed with how a stranger entering the pub was treated like a regular straight away. It’s clear that the local customers use the pub as a community centre as well as a place to drink, and the warm welcome and knowledgable staff made us feel right at home. Nothing can beat the combination of good beer, great food and a warm heritage pub.”
Heather Macaulay recalled how the pub booked one of the first private charter trips on Concorde for 100 of its customers in 1978. “We keep things plain and simple and we just tick along,” she said.