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A pub with a view

Looking for a charming family-friendly pub and a wondersome walk? Look no further, than The Abingdon Arms, Beckley.

THE LOCATION

You’ll find the Abingdon Arms in the small village of Beckley, equidistant between Wheatley and Islip, and about 15 minutes to the East of Oxford. Beckley has a footnote in literary history as the home of Lewis Carroll and a regular visiting place of Richard Doddridge Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone.

The pub is in the heart of the village, and feels a lot of local love – in 2016 the entire population of Beckley and its surrounding villages came together to save this 17th-century gem from closure and bring it under community ownership. Residents genuinely love their pub – in a hands-on-donning-their-wellies-to-collectively-sort-out-the-garden-together kind of way – while the pub loves them back and has become a real community hub. And that garden is a major selling point: the views down the hill across the RSPB Otmoor Nature Reserve stretch uninterrupted for miles from this best-in-show beer garden.

There are two levels of decking overlooking the green patchwork of fields, plus a lawn for kids to run around while you sip a post-roast espresso. Deckchairs and garden games are planned as soon as the sun thinks about shining post-winter – and once you’ve thrown in the walking trail at the Nature Reserve itself, you’ve got the perfect country pub Sunday lunch scenario all sewn-up.

THE VIBE

So lovely that every village round these parts will want one. Pretty please. Would that be so hard? The team at The Abingdon Arms sure makes it look easy. There’s lots of exposed brick, wooden beams, comfy upholstery and easy-on-the-eye splashes of teal and duck egg blue paint.

Different zones cater for different moods: a nook at one end of the bar is for drinks only in front of a wood-burning stove and sports TV, down at the other end are seats for casual eats, plus there’s a separate side dining room for more formal meals. But it’s all pretty laidback.

Friendly, make-yourself-at-home gestures include shelves stocked with board games and paperbacks, plus kilner jars laden with nuts and sweets; you could drop in here for a pint or coffee and easily while away an hour or two, whether you’re eating a full meal or not.

Culture vultures sidenote: Evelyn Waugh once propped up the bar on hearing he’d got a third in his Oxford finals and Lewis Carroll drew inspiration from the view when penning Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s still an an arty and animated place to this day, with locals organising folk and jazz nights, poetry readings and pub quizzes.

SCOFF & QUAFF

The community feel continues on the menu, with local suppliers well supported: Otmoor charcuterie, fruit and veg from Rectory Farm in the next village along (check out its PYO and farm shop if you don’t know it), local Mayfield eggs and produce from Oxford’s Covered Market. It’s a neat, seasonally changing menu, with pub classics done well (f&c, ribeye grilled just-so, pie of the day, cheeseburgers) alongside confident, more ambitious Modern British cooking.

My seabass fillet was perfectly cooked and sat on a bed of truffled lentils, golden roasted cauliflower and cauli puree. Mr M went for shepherd’s pie which was on-point, filling and flanked by a portion of delicious winter greens.

We liked the option to go either straight-down-the-line with a decent plate of pub grub or to change things up with say, duck breast, beetroot, spelt and blackberries.  Vegetarians are well catered for – think gnudi with roast squash and pumpkin seed pesto or red wine and pearl barley risotto with taleggio and raddichio. For dessert, try the peerless warmed treacle tart with maple and pecan ice cream or poached rhubarb, set cream and sorbet. The kids’ menu got a thumbs-up from us on account of all its veggies: crudités with humous, plenty of broccoli and a fresh tomato-laden passata on my son’s penne. Full marks too for the skin-on, cut-above chips with my little girl’s battered fish. Crayons, ice-cream and Cluedo sealed the deal for the Mini Muddys.

AROUND AND ABOUT

The big draw is Otmoor, a lovely circular walk behind the pub where you can spy wigeons, teals, shovelers, pintails or starlings to your heart’s content. Give yourself an hour to stroll along and dip into the bird-watching hut.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Sunday lunchers, families, casual bar drinkers, dog-walkers. Twitchers rewarding a rare sighting of a lesser-spotted double-warbling chiffchaff at RSPB Oxmoor with a pint of Oxford Scholar.

Not for: Spur-of-the-moment Sunday lunch. You can drop in for a pint, a packet of peanuts and the paper, but if you’re planning to eat and there are a few of you, book ahead.

££: Starters in the £6.50-£9 range. Mains start at £12.50 for a burger, rising to £16.50 for my seabass or £24 for a sirloin. Kids’ mains are a fiver.

The Abingdon Arms, High St, Beckley, Oxford OX3 9UU. Tel: 01865 655667.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Bucks & Oxon