Pub/Bar of the Month November 2013: The Fleece, Bretforton, UK
The Fleece, Bretforton, UK
Stone-flagged floors, heavy beams and a warren of small rooms: if you're looking for a country pub with character simply head to The Fleece.
This 17th-century building is so authentically a rural English pub – complete with part-timbered façade, small-paned windows and crooked tiled roof – that it may just have been fabricated as a feature in a theme park, but The Fleece, I assure you, is very much the real deal.
Tucked opposite the church in the beautifully preserved Cotswolds village of Bretforton, just outside Evesham, the pub is the sort of place you'd want to visit in summer or winter – but for different reasons.
In summer, the extensive garden – traffic free and scattered with mature apple trees – is fun for young and old, with plenty of space to noisily let off steam or quietly sit and sup.
In winter, with fires crackling and the rain lashing against the windows, it would need a team of horses to drag you away – particularly if you were cuddled up on the enormous settle that curves around the hearth of the snug.
Built originally in the 15th century as a farmer's home, the pub is today lovingly cared for by the National Trust, bequeathed to the organisation by the last private owner, Lola Taplin, who lived here for all of her 77 years and passed away in front of that snug fire.
The organisation's commitment to the place is evident in the fact that the building has been wholly and sympathetically refurbished after suffering a disastrous blaze in 2004.
Although locals raced to rescue the antique fittings, and firemen battled to contain the flames, the pub was left in a sorry state, its bare, blackened rafters pointing forlornly at the sky.
The reconstruction has been magnificent, not just restoring the pub to working life but also maintaining its historic integrity, now conserved within deep and solid, cream-painted walls and dark wood panelling.
Old sideboards and an ancient grandfather clock are part of the fittings.
There's a thatched barn for functions, folk music is scheduled for every Thursday and the pub plays a full role in the local community by hosting traditional festivals relating to the agricultural heritage of the area.
A spot of morris dancing and the Apple and Ale beer and cider festival every October draw in yet more customers.
Food, served at every session, combines old favourites such as faggots and home-made pies with adventurous modern cooking.
But, all this apart, you'd be very happy to pay a visit here just for the choice of cask beers. The sign outside reads 'Mitchells and Butlers Ales', but there is far more variety inside than that would suggest.
Seven handpumps are pressed into service, dispensing brews from the likes of Wye Valley, Hook Norton, Uley, Purity and other local and semi-local breweries, plus a few ciders.
So, order up a pint, take a pew in one of the rooms, contemplate the collections of china, brass and impressive 17th-century pewter, and just let time drift by.
There's even one letting room upstairs, if you simply can't tear yourself away.
The Fleece, The Cross, Bretforton, Worcestershire, WR11 7JE, UK
Tel. (01386) 831173
Opening Hours: 11–11; 11–3, 6–11 Monday & Tuesday September to May (bank holidays 11–11).