Thu, 17 Oct 2019
NEVER was the adage ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ more apt than when talking about The Bell Inn in Aldworth.
It is precisely this ethos that is at the heart of the quintessential rural pub’s success and it was named West Berkshire CAMRA’s Pub of the Year in June.
When you come to the inn, you might think you’re going past yet another period house in the village, but the buzz of chatter, the punters basking in the garden sunshine and other customers spilling out on the lane, says otherwise.
It is particularly busy at weekends, when bikes are propped up against the wall outside as thirsty cyclists stop for a quick pint and Ridgeway hikers too find it a good resting point.
The Bell Inn is a traditional pub in its purest form – the matriarch Heather Macaulay is the fifth generation of her family (the McQuhaes) to have owned and run the pub.
At the age of 83, Mrs Macaulay might be forgiven for taking it easy as she lets her son, landlord Hugh, take over the reins. But she loves the atmosphere of the small intimate bar and chatting with the regulars, as well as newcomers.
Wooden tables and chairs from a bygone era line the bar and taproom and it is surprising, says Heather, how many people manage to squeeze in.
“People sometimes ring up and ask if they can book a table, but we just tell them, there’s always room for everyone.”
The notion of booking a table, is another indication of the popularity of the pub. It is a no-frills establishment that serves good local beers - West Berkshire Brewery, Arkells, Rebellion in Marlow and Loose Cannons from Abingdon are among the suppliers - and if you are in need of sustenance there is an extensive list of warm rolls and ploughmans freshly made to order.
“Back in the day all the workers from the surrounding farms would come in here after a long day in the fields and down a few pints,” explains Heather.
“The farmhands may have gone, but the main ethos of the pub remains the same. Come in, have a chat make new friends and down a good beer.
“I know the trend these days is for artisan gins and the like, but we have stuck to our roots. We don’t have a phone signal and we have traditional pub games, like dominoes, available for people to use.”
The bar area is a small part of the room with the beer engine ebony-handled pumps, which Heather’s grandmother had fitted more than 100 years ago, still in use.
“A renowned chef was visiting one day and suggested we knock a wall down to get more tables in. But why would we get rid of the inglenook fireplace in order to squeeze in a few more people?”
Customers will also be entertained by Heather’s tales of village life over the last 80 years. As a young girl she watched the soldiers visiting the pub before they went to war. “I vividly remember a group of French Canadian soldiers standing in the garden one time singing Alouette, gentille alouette (Lark, gentle lark) the night before they were all billeted to France,” she says.
Her store of anecdotes is endless.
When we visited the pub she was surrounded by a group of regulars, reading out a series of general knowledge questions just for fun and you know they are all set for a happy few hours nursing their pints and having a good chat.
The Bell Inn, Aldworth, RG8 9TL
Phone: (01635) 578272
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-3pm, 6pm-11pm, Sunday, noon-3pm, 7pm-10.30pm