Top 5 West Berkshire Pubs

Top 5 West Berkshire Pubs

A royal selection
Elliot Wilson

So you know Berkshire do you? Think again. Many see this swelling-seacoaster-shaped block of land west of London as a mere geographical staging post: useful for London-portal commuter-living (Reading, Newbury) or smash-and-grab tourism (Highclere Castle, home to the unstoppable Downton Abbey clan).

But fewer know of the larger, western slab of the county, home to some of the prettiest country and the most alluring and eclectic pubs found anywhere in the south of England. I dare you to not find a watering hole here fine-tuned to your most particular needs. I double dare you.

Lets start with an outdoor pub in Frilsham, where the Pot Kiln is surrounded a quintessentially, beautifully English spot of land. All animal and human life is here, domesticated and wild: walkers and cyclists as well as Hereford cattle and roe, Fallow and Muntjac deer, many of which wind up (the animals, not the hikers) as the dish of the day. (If there is a criticism of the pub’s restaurant, other than the fact that it’s sheer size crowds out the smaller-but-far-cosier saloon bar, it’s the game-overload. Five deer-themed meals on one menu, noticed one cold Sunday afternoon, is, to excuse the pun, overkill, chaps.)

But on a blazing summer’s day, or a balmy evening, it’s hard to imagine anywhere better. The pub is surrounded by lovely woods, dark and deep: wander long enough and you can imagine the New England poet Robert Frost tramping these fields, marshes, woods and copses, happy as a spring lamb.

Not a mile from the Kiln lies Yattendon, a regular winner in loveliest-village competitions, and the pub that lies at its heart, the Royal Oak. This is more than ‘just’ a pub: it’s the beating heart of a very solid rural community. Inside you’ll find excellent fare – though the standard of food, which can vary, seems to rise on busy weekend and late-week evenings.

As with the Pot Kiln, you’ll find a revolving roster of ales from West Berkshire Brewery, located just around the corner: try the Brick Kiln ale or, or for session specialists, Good Old Boy or One Over the Eight. The Oak also offers an excellent line-up of new- and old-world wines, all washed down in the company of framed pictures of racing thoroughbreds (the surrounding area is riddled with first-class stables and gallops). For those seeking to do a spot of larder-stocking during working hours, a newsagent and an excellent butchers lies across the way.

But the Royal Oak’s real charm comes away from the main bar area, in the wonderfully herbaceous pub garden, laden with flowers and, in the summer, bedecked with trestle tables and lashings of the best sort of human life. Another highlight is the excellent accommodation, more hotel than bed-and-breakfast. If you stay, personal experience suggests snaring the Honeymoon suite.

A generous scattering of pot-luck pubs lie close by. In Stanford Dingley alone there are two – who said the rural tavern was dying out? The Old Boot has revived its fortunes in recent times and now offers a bang-tidy line in solid grub. Down the road, the Old Boot caters, quite literally, to a right Royal mix of customers: the Middletons were regulars here for decades before marrying up, and still pop in for the odd quiet one.

The Red Lion in Upper Basildon is a different type of pub: less rural, less immediately prepossessing than some of its best local peers, but retaining many of the key attractions offered by its best local peers: excellent food, a roaring fire in winter, a wide range of session ales and a good wine list, and a friendly landlord. The other distinct benefit is location: it’s a hop, skip and a jump here from Junction 12 of the M4, just off the Bath Road.

For something a little off-the-beaten track, head a few miles north, to the tiny village of Aldworth, and one of the greatest inns anywhere in the world, The Bell. Such praise is well-deserved: your reporter, a pub connoisseur, has travelled the world in search of the perfect alehouse, and hasn’t found anywhere better. (That said, he and his wife have managed to lose their directions on every visit, so a bit of advice: if you’re driving, remember to bring the sat-nav).

Genuinely unspoilt, utterly charming, and now in its seventh century as a watering hole, the Bell has been owned by the same family for 250 years and counting. Come in the evening to find a small gaggle of friendly hikers (the Ridgeway trail, linking the Home counties with the West country, lies a half-mile to the north) and, usually, some hale-and-hearty good-old-boys-and-girls, supping an ale or two.

Don’t come if you want wine or lager or fine dining; the Bell offers beer out of a 500-year-old hatch, and some of the best hoagies (enclosed sandwiches) you’ll find anywhere. After the light wanes the silence descends – there are no major roads or settlements for miles – and the stars come out. This is remote-but-welcoming life just an hour’s drive from London, and a pub you’ll remember on your death-bed.

In short, there is something here for everyone. This is one of the most beautiful and prepossessing spots in England: when the night comes and the world quiets down, it’s hard to believe that the greatest city in the English-speaking world is barely an hour away. Come, tell your friends, and come again. And bring your sat-nav.