Pub/Bar of the Month February 2014: The Royal Standard of England, Forty Green, UK
The businessman at the bar is talking on Skype to an American colleague. 'I'm in a pub,' he yells. 'You'd love it. Everyone would in Texas'.
That pretty much sums up the appeal of The Royal Standard of England, the foreigner's dream of an ancient English country inn.
The Royal Standard has been flying its flag for nine centuries in an otherwise unremarkable hamlet tucked between Beaconsfield and High Wycombe.
The sign outside welcomes 'pilgrims', declaring the place to be the oldest freehouse in England. It's the first indication that the management has no qualms about making the most of the pub's antiquity, and who can blame them?
Inside, the trend continues with every nook, cranny and exposed beam seemingly adorned with something quirky to emphasise the age of the property.
It begins in the book-filled porchway, after which two rooms lead off to the left. These are simply furnished and are the plainest in the whole pub, but they would still be the envy of many lesser establishments. One has a chapel feel, courtesy of its arched windows.
Beyond here the pub gathers interest quickly. The wall to the right billows into the corridor. It's actually the back of a huge settle that hogs the blackened fireplace in a busy little snug around the corner.
The serving counter now begins on the left and continues down a step into a baronial rear bar where beams soar high into the exposed roof space and candles smoke on each table.
Your feet clatter on the bare stone floor as you explore the cluttered décor: medieval tapestries and murals, chunky old church pews, big tables – rectangular and round – that call for you to share some space with strangers.
Small, leaded panes and stained glass sit in the lopsided windows, old pewter and ceramics keep the pub's cleaner on her toes, and pieces of armour, crests and coats of arms continue to exaggerate the antiquity of the building.
Another fire crackles in the hearth at the far end, warming a couple of leather sofas, and, above the entrance to a side lounge, a skeleton reclines, its erstwhile life taken, evidently, by the four arrows that pierce its gaping ribcage.
All this paraphernalia, while amusing and intriguing, perhaps diverts a little from the genuinely long history of the pub itself, from its origins as an alehouse in Saxon times, through the occasion when King Charles I fled here from Oxford, to the day his son, Charles II, bestowed the current name on the pub in return for the hospitality it lent to his father.
Or was it because the landlord allowed the second Charles to meet his mistresses in the rooms above?
The Royal Standard is not entirely living in the past, however. Its food prices are modern enough, verging on restaurant rates but seemingly well justified from the reactions of those dining.
More importantly, beerwise, too, there's a contemporary accent, and a genuine interest in what's on sale. Hops strewn liberally across the warped, blackened beams suggest that might be the case, as does the small Britannia brewery that has opened in the yard.
The cask ale selection shows an awareness of who to follow in the world of UK brewing today, with – on my visit – beers from Windsor & Eton joining Chiltern's ales on handpump.
The keg selection merits a mention, too, with W&E's Republika sharing the taps with Cotswold Lager and Lovibonds' Henley Gold wheat beer.
The small display of Marston's Owd Rodger bottles at the back of the bar may seem a little odd, until you learn that the pub is said to be the birthplace of this particular beer.
Back outside, I survey the slanting brick-and-flint walls and the twisted tiled roof, trying to work out where each of the internal rooms fits into the picture. Then I notice a chalkboard, removed from display, revealing that the pub had been closed one day recently 'for filming'.
There's a good chance that this was for an episode of Midsomer Murders, which, a few times already, has made good use of The Royal Standard to bolster its evocative portrayal of English rural life.
It's an idyll that appeals immensely to captivated viewers all around the world, including, no doubt, the envious Texan colleagues of our friend at the bar.
The Royal Standard of England, Forty Green, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire HP9 1XS.
Tel. (01494) 673382
Opening Hours: 11–11.30; 11–11 Sunday