This is one of the pubs that Mrs RM visited before me in the days when her globetrotting IT Career also allowed her to tick off countries I’ve still to visit. 20 years is a long time to hold a grudge against your wife for not letting you go to Switzerland.
The Bell has always been an acknowledged classic, but structurally impressive pubs aren’t always great boozers. The Bridge Inn at Topsham went downhill in the late ’90s when customers started coming in with Lord Lieutenants and corgis, asking for water.
When I did get to visit a decade, some years after Mrs RM, it was clearly still functioning as intended, with a food “offer” restricted to pub snacks, akin to Newton’s Queen’s Head.
I enjoyed a marvellous Arkells 3B then, and have been slightly surprised by the slagging off their beers have had since. With next to none of their pubs in the Beer Guide section for Wiltshire it’s hard to comment, though I had a decent Moonlight only last month in Cheltenham.
Well, the Bell obviously still rates it, and despite the call of the West Berks house beer, 3B it was. Going against the Arkells would have been like asking for a coke in the Dyffryn Arms, or a guest beer in the Oxford Bar. Traditions are there for a reason.
It was the right choice, enjoyed in the left hand room in the company of delivery men and well-dressed pensioners. Discussion centred on those pub classics of MCC memberships and rheumatology appointments. Aldworth left the UK, let alone the EU, some decades ago. EU debate is what Wetherspoons are for.
At 2pm on Friday there were no “diners” to annoy drinkers with their requests for condiments or leave food residue on the floor. It was perfect. As was the village green and Aldworth itself, a different world from the smart country hotels of Goring a few miles east.
The best feature is saved till last. In true Simon Everitt style, I failed to find a Gents that any fool would have know to be outside. Classic blue and green styling, no idea about the Health Visitor.
Of course, no great pub is complete without proper reading matter, and there is no finer magazine south of Stoke than Ullage, sitting proudly alongside the Cup for the biggest potato 1997. (that’s a pint you owe me Tim).