By George Dailey

Twenty million people visit England every year and apart from a trip to the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, a very large number express a long held wish to visit an English pub. The only people who do not seem to give a fig about the existence of their pubs are the English themselves.

Gone are the days when one took on a pub for a nice gentle way of life. Indeed filling a pub in the middle of nowhere or where there is competition all around, requires real entrepreneurial skill, a lot of hard work and long hours.

These destination pubs usually fall into three groups.

The first group are specialists. They will offer a good range of beers and wines and a limited number of food dishes and do them well. I offer two old favourites by way of illustration.

Personally I will travel a long way for a well kept pint and to eat really good fish and chips. Not every day but there are times when my addled tastebuds scream for a piece of crispy battered cod or haddock, chips of whichever persuasion thin or thick, and ‘bye bye sauce’. I am not alone and any pub prepared to buy good fish and invest in proper professional equipment in the kitchen is still assured of a tidy living from serving this simple dish in house and probably supplying the burgeoning takeaway market.

And we all love a pie don’t we? Even our plant-eating brethren will rarely forego tucking into a pie. Melt-in-the-mouth pastry encasing your filling of choice is hard to knock. And specialising in pies is a winning formula.

The second group are top-end pub restaurants or gastropubs as they are still known. For these pubs to succeed they must offer comfort and warmth, a welcoming atmosphere and serve food to suit most palates and pockets. And, above all, provide a standard of service that will if any of the aforementioned are not up to snuff for any reason, do a sufficiently good job that customers will at least return to give the pub another go!

Over the years I have been asked quite a few times well, what makes a great pub and my reply is always, atmosphere!

The test of a great pub is that it must have a good feel from the moment one enters. In short, a feeling of coming home!

However, the final group are the pubs that defy all logic but have been doing the same thing for generations.

The Bell at Aldworth is a totally isolated pub just off the Ridgeway near Newbury and a classic example. There has been a pub here for 500 years and the family that run it now first took control shortly after the Napoleonic wars and subsequent generations have maintained stewardship of this rural gem ever since.

There is no central heating and no bar as such, just a servery. No LED lighting, no TV, no music and the men’s lavatories are outside! There are four local draught beers on sale and no draught lager.

If you manage to find the pub after a walk along the Ridgeway and are looking forward to a slap-up lunch, you will find there is a noticeable absence of confit duck on the menu, and the only olive used to be a barmaid between the Great Wars.

But they will lift your spirits with a really good crusty cheese or ham roll and the hot food is a bowl of hearty soup. They are always full!

If you have a great pub near where you live, treasure it and use it.

For this prophesy issued a century ago is coming home to roost faster than any of us ever imagined:

From the towns all Inns have been driven: from the villages most.... Change your hearts or you will lose your Inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.

Hilaire Belloc, This and That

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