The Killingworth Castle
Glympton Road
OX20 1EJ
01993 811401


An Englishman’s home has ever been his castle, and since Thomas Killingworth happened to live in a pub then a castle this became. Thus was summed up — rather elegantly I thought — the story behind the name of the 17th-century hostelry that stands on the edge of the delightful village of Wootton, near Woodstock.

Exactly 30 years before I wrote those words, my old friend and long-time colleague Don Chapman found that mystery shrouded the matter. He dropped in on the Killingworth Castle in 1961 while writing an Oxford Times feature on Wootton and found licensee Mrs Clarke (aka Auntie Cis) mystified by the name — after 27 years behind the pumps.

Don’s appeal for information attracted a letter from a gentleman in Woodstock who referred him to Miss AM Marshall’s Oxfordshire Byways. In the book she wrote: “A 17th-century parishioner, Thomas Killingworth, one-time owner of the Castle, has preserved his name from oblivion by means of a bequest which ensured that the inscription on his tombstone in the churchyard shall be continually renewed.”

And is it so renewed? I shall take a look — the perfect excuse for a return visit to a splendid pub which, since its reopening in December, is already emerging as one of the jewels of the county.

This revival – remarkable at a time of so many pub closures – owes everything to the business acumen of Jim and Claire Alexander, who already run the highly successful Ebrington Arms, near Chipping Campden, and their friend and business partner Dan Howson.  They recognised the potential of a property that had stood empty for 11 months, and bought the freehold from owners Greene King.

What they have achieved already is quite remarkable. The bar and adjoining snug have been tastefully revamped in rustic style and behind a new restaurant is taking shape, ensuring that the pubby atmosphere at the front of the building is not lost. The large garden has been revived and an Aunt Sally team recruited to use the throw there.

There are Sunday evening music and comedy nights. Go to the website to find out more — including lots about the history of the place.

Villagers, who had thought they might be losing the the last of their four pubs (and were themselves poised to do something about it), are delighted. Real ale fans love it for the excellence of its beers, including the local brews Shotover Prospect and the Compass Brewery’s Isis Pale.

Foodies are in their element as they enjoy the superb dishes emerging from chef Andrew Lipp’s kitchen. Award-winning Andrew was on top form when Rosemarie and I ate there a couple of weeks ago at one of the themed dinners hosted monthly at the pub.

Dishes were imaginatively conceived and elegantly presented in lavish quantity — this is a place for trenchers! They were served, what’s more, with charm and considerable foodie erudition by manager Lidia, her assistant Johan (both French) and the slightly unfortunately named waiter, Manuel. “We call him Manny,” joked Lidia.

The theme of this Food Night was fish which, as regular readers of this column will know, could hardly have found greater favour with me. There were three choices at each stage of the meal from which, rather sportingly I thought, we were allowed to make our choice on the night. That nothing observably ran out spoke volumes for the efficiency of the kitchen.

We ate at a candlelit table for two a yard or so from the bar and near the entrance to the loos. From this vantage point, like Brian Hanrahan in the Falklands, I counted them all in and out, delighted to find among fellow punters a number of people we knew, all enjoying themselves as much as we were.

To keep hunger pangs at bay while Rosemarie sipped at her pint of well-kept Isis Pale, from Carterton’s Compass Brewery (the driver was on Blenheim fizzy water), I set about a plate of excellent home-baked bread. There were three types — brown, white and focaccia with rosemary — with a pot of olive oil and balsamic vinegar which, for once, I kept away from my tie.

Appealing though the first course of hot and sour king prawn broth sounded, Rosemarie and I both had preferred alternatives. She chose cured Cornish mackerel, the fish whole and served hot with grilled lettuce and a crunchy beetroot and horseradish remoulade.

My starter was a stunner in which three seemingly ill-matched ingredients, brown crab meat, peas and chorizo, combined with a fourth, farfalle (the bow-tie-shaped pasta), to create a taste sensation. There was a similarly inspired teaming of tastes in my main course where two good-size pieces of shiny pan-roasted turbot, were served topped with a ham hock fritter, on a bed of risotto made with locally gathered wild garlic (they’re big on local here). So good was the risotto, with just the right bite to the rice, that I began to regret, as I pushed some aside, that earlier indulgence in bread.

Rosemarie went for the herb-crusted fish pie, whose filling consisted almost entirely of fish, chunks of smoked haddock, hake and salmon. Delicious though it was, it proved rather too salty (the smoked haddock was probably the culprit). The saltiness could be offset, though, by the accompanying pot of beautiful green vegetables – asparagus, spinach and calabrese.

After the pie, salted caramel and hazelnut tart hardly seemed the ideal pudding, so she went for the big chunk of excellent soggy lemon cake with passionfruit curd. I finished (it nearly finished me!) with a crunchy round crostini topped with layers of onion and lemon thyme marmalade and creamy Windrush Valley goats’ cheese. Wonderful. We drank, from the bottom end of the wine list (£20), a lightly oaked chardonnay from the Languedoc (La Vieille Capitelle, Gerard Bertrand). It proved ideal with everything.

The meal, at £26 a head, was excellent value. Food Nights on Greek, Spanish, Italian and French themes follow May’s Tasting Menu.

Can I make a block booking?


Opening times: Bar: 9am to 11pm. Lunch: Monday to Saturday noon to 2.30pm, Sunday noon to 3.30pm. Dinner: Monday to Thursday 6pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday 6pm to 9.30pm, Sunday 6pm to 8.30pm (pizzas only).
Parking: For up to 30 cars at the side of the pub.
Key personnel: Owners Jim and Claire Alexander, and live-in landlord Dan Howson. Head chef Andrew Lipp.
Make sure you try the... Starters of Gloucester Old Spot pork shoulder and black pudding rillette with poached prunes (£6) and garlic roasted prawn and eggs benedict (£6.50); main courses of feta, tomato and rocket risotto cakes (£11.50) and roasted loin of lamb with goats cheese mash and soft greens (£18); and desserts of chocolate and hazelnut brownie £6), vanilla crème caramel with honeycomb crumble (£6), and warm banana cake with banana and lime ice cream (£6).
In ten words:
Country classic with fabulous food, ace beers and happy staff.