The Eight Bells, Chipping Campden
Travellers and ale enthusiasts have been beating a path to the door of Eight Bells for over six hundred years. Local author, G. M. Ball, recently paid a visit to see what its enduring draw card is.
There's been the Black Plague, the Civil War, the Great War, rationing and Ted Heath, but none of that seems to have effected business at Eight Bells. Pub purists will love Chipping Campden's oldest inn; it's a real pub serving good food at reasonable prices, as opposed to the ever-growing crop of bistros inside pubs with young chefs from the West End, mood lighting and steaks for �19.10 (can the EU ban those odd ten pences please?).
Eight Bells is homely without being twee. It beckons you in the doorway, rather than yelling at you to come inside. It's as if the owners know there is something unique and special within its four walls and only the intrepid shall know it exists.
Open fires, wonky oak beams, a quarry of Cotswold stone and a fascinating history dating back to the 14th century greet patrons on arrival. It makes the mind wander back to yesteryear, and all the souls that must have enjoyed the snug surroundings and comforts of Ye Olde English Inn.
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Employ a driver for the day if you decide to visit as you will find a range of lip-smacking ales on offer, all fresh from the cask, varied and changed regularly. Heaven. For those who prefer wine, the list has been constructed thoughtfully with reasonable budgets in mind and there's a choice of five whites and six reds by the glass.
I must confess that because there is such a pub feel about this place I would recommend lunch in the bar, savouring a pint and reading the Sunday papers, as opposed to a more formal occasion in the adjoining dining room which seems a little less lived in by comparison.
Lunchtime diners also have more choices. There are freshly made sandwiches, but they're not cheap at �7 a round. On the main menu you will find things like pork and leek sausages with mash and onion gravy and home-cooked ham with egg, chips and peas, which seem more keenly priced at around a tenner. There are even omelettes.
I started with a hot smoked salmon and crab salad with capers, followed by a lamb burger with coriander and a Greek salad. Both were absolutely ravishing. I didn't have room for dessert, as the portions were hearty, but nearby diners were drooling over the white chocolate cheesecake with orange syrup.
Service is good, the female duo on the lunch shift being particularly friendly, knowledgeable and professional, perhaps lacking a little finesse; but then that's okay as this is a pub and not a fine dining restaurant.
There's a cobbled courtyard and garden at the rear that makes for a nice retreat on a summer's day or for al fresco dining on a starlit night. Parking is a drawback to visiting Campden but, if you have a chauffeur or are on foot or horseback, then Campden's oldest inn rang my bell and I humbly suggest it might ring yours too. Here's to the next six hundred years.
Typical Starters and Prices
Warm Goats' Cheese, Tomato and Red Onion Salad - �6.25
Grilled Sardines with Garlic and Parsley Butter - �6.50
Typical Main Courses
Pork and Leak Sausages with Mash and Onion Gravy - �10.75
Cold Home-Cooked Ham with Eggs, Chips and Peas - �9.95
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce - �5.50
Selection of Ice Cream - �4.75
Getting there: Just off the main High Street on the B4035 between Evesham and Shipston-on-Stour.
Serving times: Lunch: Mon-Thurs: 12-2.00pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs: 6.30-9.30pm
Bookings: 01386 840371
G. M. Ball's second edition of the best selling Forty Classic Cotswolds Pubs was released in May this year and is available at all good bookstores, price at 7.95.