It was mid March, we were fully booked for Mother's Day on Sunday 22 and we had just started to see the first wave of early holiday makers for the season joining us for meals as they enjoyed their stay in the local area. There were some worrying stories in the news about how quickly a novel Coronavirus was spreading and that you should stay home if you had symptoms. We had started to increase our cleaning regime at the pub, and people were elbow bumping rather than shaking hands, or standing just that bit further away when they stopped for a chat. But otherwise, we entered a normal, busy weekend.
Little did we know that Friday would be the last meat raffle for over a year. That Saturday would be the last one where we'd have people stood or sat chatting at the bar, sharing a story or joke over a pint. That Sunday we'd be serving our last 'normal' carvery, with a full pub, people helping themselves to their veg and chatting as they waited their turn!
Come Monday 16 March, Boris addressed the nation and asked people to start cutting their social contact and avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues. We stayed open that week, but it was somewhat quiet! And come Friday, before we could open for our usual Friday night service (always a brilliant evening), Boris ordered us to shut completely.
The rest, as the cliché says, is history. But every cloud has a sliver lining. A year on and we have been able to achieve a goal we hoped to reach ever since we took over in 2019. One of the biggest selling points for us when we chose The Bell Inn was the beer garden. The south-facing aspect, the fabulous views, the decent-sized car park and the fact our deeds still had allowance for a structure where the old shop was situated, all lent itself to offering a proper out-door dining experience in the summer months.
So this more recent lockdown has meant we've been able to realise that dream. We have installed an outside kitchen area, complete with a fabulous BBQ and wood-fired pizza oven! So, when we open in April, our beer garden will become a place you can come and enjoy fantastic, freshly cooked fare (just like the muscles and oysters in the pictures below - recently taken during a practice run with the new kit!), alongside a pint of our lovely real ales, or perhaps a local cider or one of our new organic wines? And all this whilst sitting with friends and family you may not have been out with for more than 12 months.
We'll have the roof of our marquee up, to provide some weather cover (sadly we won't be able to put the sides up until May). According to the current guidance, you'll be able to sit in groups of six from any household, or up to two households can form a larger group on one table. You will not be able to come inside the pub until May, apart from using the toilets, so we'll bring your drinks and food over to you.
We plan to open on Friday 16 April - not the much-anticipated 12 April! This is because we have a few finishing touches being added to the space over the course of that week and we want to be sure we're all done and ready to serve you lovely people before then.
Of course the Great British weather could also throw a spanner in the works in that first month of opening, whilst we're only allowed to sit you outside. If a serious storm comes our way, we may need to temporarily close, as your safety comes first and our marquee will only withstand so much of those south-westerly winds that screech across our garden. Living on top of a hill is never dull!
However, weather (and Covid) withstanding, we will do our utmost to be open for our regular hours (Wednesday to Sunday), so you can finally get out and enjoy some much needed down time. We literally can't wait!
In the meantime, stay safe and come and grab a takeaway if you would like a little treat in between!