Pub/Bar of the Month May 2016: The Swan Inn, Inkpen, UK
The Swan Inn, Inkpen, UK
Recent figures issued by CAMRA show that pubs are still closing at an alarming rate.
According to the consumer organisation, twenty-nine pubs call time every week, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for over a decade.
It’s a depressing scenario but there are pubs that refuse to lie down.
In the middle of the 1990s, The Swan Inn at Inkpen, just south of Hungerford, Berkshire, appeared to have served its last pint.
This rambling old country pub was on the market with planning permission in place for conversion to a private residence.
This is a prosperous part of the country and it seemed only a matter of time before a buyer in search of a spacious rural retreat administered the last rites.
Instead, it was local farmers Bernard and Mary Harris who acquired the pub, committing themselves to retaining the place as a community local but also seeing it as an opportunity to showcase their own high-quality farm produce.
The couple spent a small fortune bringing the seventeenth-century premises up to scratch, building new toilets, ramping the whole place for wheelchair use and adding on ten en-suite letting rooms and a function suite without destroying in any way its traditional character. What had deteriorated into an ugly duckling became an elegant swan once more.
The Harrises are organic farmers so they added an organic food shop and began serving their own beef and other products as bar meals and in the smart restaurant that was created in one side of the pub.
What they didn’t do was to turn the pub into a snooty country ‘bar and kitchen’ at the expense of local drinkers.
The building is so spacious that there is always a cosy corner in which to sit with a pint and just chat, with tables on the terrace outside providing country views.
The interior displays original beams, collections of banknotes and a scattering of old agricultural implements, a real fire ensures an instant welcome in the small bar area and, on the lower level of the pub, there’s a dedicated, stone-flagged games area with a dartboard. Entertainments include quizzes and darts nights that alternate on Thursdays.
Considering the farming background, food is understandably a focus. The Swan has been runner-up in a national sausage and mash competition and on one occasion it won the independent restaurant section of the RSPCA’s Good Business Award, which recognises high standards for animal welfare.
It has also been twice local CAMRA Pub of the Year, which says a lot about its beer provision. On the bar, four handpumps dispense local ales.
The pub is the unofficial tap for Butts brewery, ten miles up the road in Great Shefford, and organic beers such as Jester, Traditional and Barbus Barbus are usually on sale. A mild may also be available.
Twenty years after its near-death experience, The Swan is alive and kicking – proving yet again that a pub that fails under one management should not automatically be allowed to close for ever.
*Picture (by Tim Thomas) shows Bernard and Mary Harris receiving a certificate from local CAMRA chairman Richard Scullion (right) on the occasion of their twentieth anniversary at the pub.
The Swan Inn, Craven Road, Lower Green, Inkpen, Berkshire RG17 9DX.
Tel. (01488) 668326
Opening Hours: 12–2.30, 6–11; 12–11 Saturday; 12–4 Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday (winter hours vary and the pub may be closed in January)