The Royal Oak stands at the heart of the charming Berkshire village of Yattendon, and dominates the square which consists of less than a handful of shops including a retro-looking village store and post office which it’s easy to imagine the late resident Ruth Mott, presenter of the 1987 BBC series The Victorian Kitchen, stopping by at to collect her essentials. Cook-housekeeper at nearby Basildon Park for many years, Ruth couldn’t have observed much change to the village in the 95 years she lived here since her birth in 1917. Yattendon featured in the Domesday Book, and with the old well and beautiful ancient church still standing proudly and completing the rural idyll, there remains a wonderful sense of nostalgia about the place, promoted by the friendliness of the locals.
Whilst the current owners can’t be sure of the precise age of the Royal Oak, legend has it that King Charles I once dined here on his way to or from the battle of Newbury in 1643, so the inn is at least that old. Today it features a pretty cottage-style garden for the warmer months and roaring log fires come the winter, with ten bedrooms divided across the main building and cottages all offering a high standard of accommodation in a relaxed setting. A hearty free range breakfast goes without saying.
Enjoy a round of golf at Donnington Valley Golf Club (7.3 miles away), and just a 20 minute drive from Newbury Racecourse, the Royal Oak is an ideal place to stay during the flat-racing season. The fact that the Royal Oak is situated in the centre of the 9000 acre Yattendon estate and can arrange private shooting parties, also makes it a well kept secret among city types keen to make an annual pilgrimage to the country for the game season. For ladies and gents who fancy the idea of becoming a good shot but would risk being banged up for murder if left in charge of a loaded weapon, then the Royal Oak’s VIP shooting packages, including an hour’s tuition with the nearby Royal Berks Shooting School, could prove invaluable. And did I mention that all ten bedrooms feature gun cabinets? There aren’t many hotels you can say that about.
Ruth Mott’s nephew, Edgar, worked in the kitchen until recently, and whilst the acclaimed restaurant serves traditional British gastro-pub fare, the Oak’s three cosy private dining rooms give shooting or racing groups the chance to host their very own dinner party with banquet style feasting dishes available to order in advance such as a whole roast suckling pig, venison Wellington, or roast rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. Alas, we were only a party of two but you wouldn’t have thought so judging from the portion of the roast rack of pork to share, accompanied by crispy garlic and rosemary potatoes, green beans, a moorish quince jelly and a generous jug of gravy- and it wasn’t even Sunday.
Showcasing the finest local ingredients The Royal Oak isn’t your ordinary public house and are justifiably proud of their suppliers, with most of their meat supplied by Vicar’s Game in Ashampstead, chocolates from Gorvett & Stone of Henley (suppliers to Fortnum and Mason), cheese from Grey’s of Pangbourne and beer from the West Berks Brewery who happen to have a shop at Frilsham Home Farm in Yattendon where we purchased some gifts following our stay – consumable presents always going down well in our family!
Along with a Brewery Tour which might just be the ideal way to round off a day’s shooting, there’s a surprising amount to do in the local area, although unfortunately, Yattendon Castle, the one-time home of Sir Henry Norreys (the fellow accused of adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn and beheaded in 1536) was largely destroyed during the English Civil War. There are plenty of other historical sites nearby however, including Ruth Mott’s former place of work, Basildon Park, the 14th century Donnington Castle, and slightly further afield, Highclere Castle, the filming location of Downton Abbey.
Driving through torrential rain, feeling the absence of a chauffeur, we got horribly lost when our sat nav directed us to the estate’s private entrance, complete with high security warnings forbidding our entry, and had to resort to calling in at a local pub for directions (any excuse). With the kind help of the landlady, we managed to get back on track and it was well worth the effort, if like me you’re a die-hard fan and long to walk in the footsteps of Lord and Lady Grantham. Almost all the rooms in the show can be seen on the tour – apart from the kitchens which were filmed in a studio – and the story of the Carnarvon family, the real owners of Highclere, is almost as interesting as their fictional counterparts, not least the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who famously discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, in 1922, as related in the dedicated Egyptian exhibition.
On our last day the temperamental sun finally made an appearance and we took in a matinee performance of Oliver! at the Watermill Theatre in Bagnor, where a mill was recorded in the Domesday Book and now makes for one of the most unique theatre settings in the UK. With many of their own high quality productions regularly touring the country, when the weather is fine, they often treat audiences to a scene in the garden following the interval. Lunch was served prior to the show with cream teas following the performance, and a Pimms cart on the lawn ensured everyone left very merry and humming Oom Pah Pah all the way home.
The Royal Oak, The Square, Yattendon, Berkshire, RG18 0UF. Superior Rooms from £105 per night including a full English breakfast. For more information visit the website.