Inn Profile: Helen Browning’s Royal Oak

Inn Places managing director David Hancock pays a visit.

Remote, country-rustic downland pub owned by local organic farmer, renowned for its relaxed and fun atmosphere, deli- cious organic food, and now for its smart new rooms.

The Personal Touch

You’ll find Helen Browning’s country-rustic Royal Oak in an isolated village high up on the North Wessex Downs, just a stone’s throw from the Ridgeway. The glorious rolling landscape is fabulous walking country and the far-reaching views from the ridge across swathes of Oxfordshire are stun- ning. Local organic farmer Helen Browning, who farms 1500 acres of downland close to Bishopstone, rescued the pub in 2005 and it has thrived ever since as a village local and a dining destination,the draw being with her delicious organic beef, pork and lamb and other local organic ingredients, all sourced locally. Helen owns Eastbrook Farm, which is entirely organic, and was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to farming. She is also Chief Executive of the Soil Association.

Do not disturb

Helen and Tim opened twelve spanking new rooms in 2017 having transformed the derelict village pub Arkell’s closed years ago into a smart accommodation annexe and it’s just a short stroll from the Royal Oak. They have done a fabulous job, all the rooms face a sunny shared courtyard and each room is named and themed after a field on Eastbrook Farm – it’s a truly peaceful spot, well away from hubbub of the pub.

In keeping with the pub, they are quirky and fun but stylish and contemporary too, so guests can expect to be very comfortable. Photos of fields and woodland have been blown up to create a statement wall covering, or they have striking floral or farm-related wallpaper, and they feature unusual wooden or metal storage units, wooden floors, crisp linen and cosy down on big beds (some have barn door or plank designed headboards), splashes of bold colour, Nespres- so machines, and swish tiled bathrooms with walk-in showers. Kate’s Folly, Cuckoo Pen and Eastbrook Valley rooms also have a roll-top bath.

Chill out, play games or spin some vinyl and share some drinks in ‘The Wallow’, a cool shared space with sofas, chairs, books, magazines and mini-kitchen with tea and coffee making facili- ties. A hearty breakfast will set you up for your day, whatever it holds, and high-speed wi-fi will keep you connected.

 

Mastering the menu

Head chef Paul Winch’s menu changes twice daily and reflects the changing seasons and the fresh, totally organic ingredients sourced from Eastbrook Farm, other surrounding farms and local artisan organic producers. Beef, lamb, pork and the bacon, sausages and eggs comes from Helen’s farm and milk delivered from nearby Berkeley Farm, who process the milk from Helen’s dairy herd. Westmill Organics down the road provide the vegetables and buffalo ice cream comes from Laverstoke Park in Hamp- shire. Local allotment produce is bartered for food and drink.

Inspired by all this fabulous organic food,  Paul delivers generous portions of simple, qual- ity pub food with oodles of flavour – a typical lunch menu may include a delicious chicken soup served with homemade bread, or deep- fried pig’s cheeks and coleslaw, beer battered hake with chips and aioli, a steaming bowl of moules marinière, and a cheese and bacon burger with pickles and hand-cut chips.

Evening extras could be local asparagus with butter and Parmesan, beef shin, cabbage mash and jus, and pig’s  cheek lasagne with garlic bread and salad. For pudding, try the rhubarb crumble or the baked cheesecake with summer fruits, or tuck into a platter of English cheeses. Behind the bar you’ll find four tip-top ales from Arkells, brewed down the road, organic soft drinks and cordials from Belvoir, and organic wines from Vintage Roots.

What’s the damage?

12 doubles/twin: £85-£135

Local, Local, Local

Bishopstone is signposted off the A417 east of Swindon, just north of the M4. Follow the rural road through Wanborough and Hinton Parva to reach the village and the Royal Oak. Swindon is just over eight miles away – should you wish to arrive by train, you can by prior arrangement be collected from the station in the pub’s old red Land Rover.

Highlights

  • Country-rustic downland pub
  • Quirky, relaxed and fun
  • Totally organic; food and drink
  • Owned by local organic farmer
  • Smart, individual rooms
  • Big welcome to kids and dogs

 

This profile was originally published inthe Nov/Dec 2018 issue of InnKeeper Magazine