Locals will tell you, with well-placed pride, that nothing much has changed at the Bruce Arms in all of its 170 years. Slightly battered by life, with off-yellow walls, brothel-red bar stools and mismatching – yet stout – sofas and chairs, this is baggy chic rather than shabby.
The faint yeasty pong of stale ale, musty upholstery and licensed decadence is all around. But who cares? It is not about aesthetics here. It is the well-kept beer that counts and the atmosphere is as hale and hearty as the rather stronger smell of cow dung outside.
Unusually for a modern-day pub, “The Gammon” as locals call it, has only had three landlords since 1919. Legend has it that Rose Raisey, the longest serving, did not suffer fools and coined the phrase “Get outta my pub!” long before Barbara Windsor got hold of it. No matter: Matt, the current owner, could not be more genial and welcoming, whoever the guest and whatever the time of year.
Set in splendid isolation, a mile out from the nearest village, the pub is probably best visited in winter, as in summer it can be crowded with punters staying at the en suite campsite. But when the evenings are dark, the ground is hard and the air is flinty, there can be no better oasis for a brisk, sturdy pint than this dog-friendly (ankle-biters with bad breath rather than black labs) drinkers’ pub, graced with quiet old-fashioned bonhomie.
No glamour-seeking gastropub this. Rather, regulars mingle with visitors to thrash out local folklore over foaming pints of Stonehenge Pigswill – you can rest assured, this tastes a lot nicer than it sounds. Real ciders are on tap too, namely Merry Monkey and Fire Dancer. Even wine-lovers get a look-in: there’s a very decent picpoul de pinet on the list.
Don’t expect any food. Anyway, you don’t need it – one strong pint and an energetic game of Ringing the Bull around the back, and you’ll be zoned out by the piano in the parlour, happy as a pig in poop.