SARAH SINGLETON finds out what makes a 300-year-old inn a cut above the rest

A PICTURESQUE coaching inn in Ramsbury has won this year’s coveted AA Best Pub in England Award.

The 300-year-old pub The Bell has beaten more than 2,000 other entrants from across the country to win the accolade. And according to manager Matt Saxton, the secret to their success is a genuine team effort.

“It’s passion, that’s what it is,” he said. “The Bell won it, but my feeling is, absolutely everyone on the estate contributed to that.

“From the lady who puts the flowers picked from our garden on our tables, the fantastic gardeners, all our friendly staff, the guys on the farm who look after our cattle – everyone.”

The AA inspectors rate pubs on their all-round performances, for well-kept beers and ciders, excellent food, a convivial atmosphere and a warm welcome from the staff. With restaurants and accommodation, the pub also serves spirits and beer distilled and brewed on the 19,000-acre Ramsbury Estate, of which the pub is a cornerstone.

When The Bell became part of the estate in 2010, it was extensively refurbished, in the restaurant, bar and coffee shop, as well as nine luxurious rooms. The estate engaged talented local craftsmen to create a welcoming and refined pub, for locals as well as visitors from further afield looking for somewhere special to dine.

“We have a real mix of customers,” Matt explained. “Lots of lovely local people come to the pub, and that has built up over the years.

"We also have the destination diners, who may come from around a 30-mile radius at the weekends. Local businesses are also among our customers, as well as country weekenders, and people coming down from London.”

The kitchen team at the pub strive to source as much of their food as possible from the estate or the local area. Fruit and vegetables are hand selected by head chef Jonas Lodge and his brigade, from the acre of walled kitchen garden.

Sausages and dry cured bacon come from The Bell's own smokehouse, dry aged beef from the estate's heard of beautiful south and north Devon cattle and water meadow lamb is reared on the banks of the Kennet on the Estate.

During the winter months, venison and game birds from the estate's sustainable woodland, feature on the menu. They even use the estate's own extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil.

The pub’s local beverages include the award-winning Ramsbury single estate spirits. Grain vodka and gin are made a stone’s throw from The Bell, using the estate's own wheat, water from their own source together with local botanical herbs.

And to celebrate the pub’s success, the Ramsbury Distillery is producing a limited edition gin, called The Bell Reserve, flavoured with hyssop and bergamot flowers. You can also try a variety of craft beers produced by the Ramsbury Brewery.

Management and staff at The Bell are overjoyed at winning this prestigious award.

Matt said: "To receive the AA Award for the Best Pub in England is an amazing achievement. It is a great honour to be recognised by the AA as the Best Pub in England for 2017/18, as there have been some fantastic previous winners in this category.”

He said that over the last couple of years staff have been working hard with the gardening team to create a planting and harvesting schedule which made the most of the yield and the length of the seasons. This often involves the chefs and the front of house team going to pick fruit and vegetables from the garden together, so that they understand where food comes from.

“I reckon about 80 per cent of the produce comes from our garden in the summer months,” he said.

Sustainability is a priority for the pub. As well as using local produce, when the rape seed oil has been pressed, the remains are used to make feed pellets for livestock. The distillery is powered using biomass, made up of trees harvested from the estate.

Matt, who has been manager for four and a half years, said sustainability was an important element of the project for him. He worked previously at Daylesford Organics, which was part of his inspiration.

“It is part of my ethos to push towards that,” he said.

“We are not just a country pub serving our local community, but a small window to our great estate,” Matt added.

“We have the great opportunity that we are able to harvest so much from our own estate, but also are allowed the input into the growing of the vegetables, the rearing of the livestock and creation of new recipes, whether it be the botanicals that go into the gin, to charcuterie and smoked products the smokehouse are developing.”

To find out more about The Bell visit Further information about the Ramsbury Estate can be found at