Combining an interesting walk with a pit-stop at a pub that knows the meaning of hospitality is not always as easy as it sounds, particularly if you have a dog in your party. However, we really hit the jackpot last week when we met up with Matt Tucker a talented chef who ran the Lamb Inn in Crawley with his wife Lynne until quite recently. Before that, Matt worked for Steve Chick, who specialised in transforming Oxfordshire hostelries into trendy gastro pubs. Matt’s exceptional cooking skills helped Mr Chick establish The Boot at Barnard Gate, near Witney, The Hand and Shears, Church Hanborough, The Snooty Fox at Littleworth, and the New Inn, near Minster Lovell.

Now he and Lynne have taken over their dream pub, the Bird in Hand, an impressive 17th-century coaching inn just outside the small village of Hailey, near Witney. You can’t miss it if you are travelling the B4022, as it stands in glorious isolation amid corn fields and besides this busy little road that links with the Roman road Akeman Street. Behind the inn you will find Singe Wood (also known as St John’s Wood), which was the reason we were travelling in this area. My friend Liz wanted a short walk for the dog and a friendly pub where he would be welcome to place his paws under the table afterwards. I say a short walk as my beloved Border collie Pythius is now suffering from severe arthritis, making walking uncomfortable. Gone are the days when he could clamber over tall stiles, leap high fences and run faster than the rabbits he spotted the corner of a field. In dog terms the dear old chap is now 87 — which means short walks are the order of the day.

As Singe Wood stands behind the pub, the Bird in Hand proved the perfect stopping place after a walk through the woods, particularly when you are with an elderly dog who appreciates the easy terrain an ancient wood offers.

Matt is known for his tasty mushroom dish, for which mushrooms are cooked in a rich garlic sauce flavoured with white wine and Dijon mustard. He usually serves this on toasted olive bread with melted mozzarella. He is also known for his delicious shortcrust pastry which melts in the mouth. Not for him the commercially-made puff pastry toppings that so many pubs serve these days. He begins his day by preparing real shortcrust pastry which is used for his home-made pie of the day.

His pies, indeed most of the items on his menu, are tried and tested dishes that celebrate the many local suppliers and food producers he uses. If you want to know who they are, just read the plaques that decorate the bar. Matt is very proud of his association with local producers: he sees such links as an important part of running a country pub that is catering for the community. One of the fascinating things about this 17th-century pub is the number of rooms that interlink one with another. They remind me of the Rollright Stones, insomuch as it is almost impossible to count them correctly. Like the stones, their sizes differ enormously. Some are small intimate spaces; others offer the perfect enclosure for a business conference or small birthday party; the rest are general dining rooms. All boast Cotswold stone walls, heavy wooden beams and a convivial atmosphere. Matt thinks that the pub has a ghost too, who wanders through these rooms at night when the customers have gone. He knew the name of the ghost that haunted the Lamb Inn — it was Sebastian. So far he has no idea what this one is called, though he feels it might be one of the many Roman soldiers who would have walked Akeman Street centuries ago.

Until he and Lynne moved in last month I considered the Bird in Hand a rather depressing sort of pub which had endured too many changes of ownership over the years to establish a positive personality.

Now, thanks in part to Matt’s sense of humour, which he puts down to his Welsh origins, it’s turning into a fun place to visit and his cooking skills ensure a jolly good meal.