Changing times in Eynsham

Tony’s Travels continue as Tony Goulding visits this large village between Oxford and Witney

Eynsham is a large and growing village just off the A40 served by Oxford to Witney bus routes. The first pub, the Queen’s Head, is a former Courage house now owned by Admiral Taverns. It is run by a very enthusiastic Mark Crocker and on the night, two beers were served — Wadworth 6X and St Austell Proper Job. The beers come from the Admiral guest list; a third beer is available at weekends. The pub was busy with food, as 50 meals were to be served that evening. Food is served Tuesday to Thursday lunchtimes from 12-3pm, and evenings from 5pm with Friday to Sunday service from 12 till early evening (closed Mondays). This is a real community-focused pub with two bars and a rear patio. Eynsham’s legendary decorator, Pete Jones, was the landlord here for 25 years and the pub was a regular in the Good Beer Guide.

A welcoming glow at the Queen’s Head

A short walk around the corner took us to the White Hart, another former Courage house now owned by Greene King, and one of the village’s oldest buildings, now run by Tracey and Ian Green. This old single-bar pub is free of tie to Greene King for cask ale, and on the night a real delight was available – two beers from Little Ox, both Gluten-free, the golden bitter Hufflepuff and the red ale Ox Blood. All the beers served here are from local breweries, very rare for a GK house. There are three letting rooms, a comfortable function room and a sun-trap garden. Aunt Sally and crib are played. Tracey and Ian moved from the nearby Newlands Inn 18 months ago, which is closed and up to sale, with most of their customers following them.

A walk into the centre of the village took us to the Red Lion, a very busy former Morrells house and once “the place to be”, later acquired by Greene King. Over the years it has been a bit up and down until six months ago, but what a transformation with the arrival of Luke Griffiths and Becky Sumner along with her two sons. Due to their efforts the pub once again is vibrant with music the main attraction on Fridays and Saturdays, in the bar or very useful function room. They lease the pub from Admiral Taverns with two beers from their list — Hooky Bitter and Taylor’s Landlord. The pub is open every day from 12-12 with food served until 9pm. Both Luke and Becky were working for the NHS when they met, and Becky still works at the JR full time. This is their first pub, which they run with real enthusiasm and, of course, hard work.

Becky Sumner and Luke Griffiths at the Red Lion, their first pub

Just along the narrow road, the Jolly Sportsman (daily 12-11pm) was quiet for a Saturday evening — just what I needed after the vibrant mood at the Red Lion. This former Halls pub (see the plaque by the original front entrance) is now owned by Punch Taverns, with an old-fashioned two-bar layout serving mainly locals. Cask beers available were Sharp’s Atlantic IPA and Marston’s Pedigree, with Fuller’s London Pride being a regular guest.

One hundred yards further along the road is the Swan Hotel, a sprawling multi-bar old building, formerly a Courage house. Stonegate is the present owner and two beers from its list, Brakspear’s Gravity and Wadworth 6X, were on the bar along with two ciders. True to its name as a hotel, letting rooms are popular along with good wholesome food. It’s a busy sports pub popular with youngsters, open daily from 12-11pm.

The Swan Hotel is deceptively large, and also has letting rooms

There are two pubs outside the centre of Eynsham which were not visited, and in normal circumstances we would have got off the bus just after Swinford toll bridge to visit the Talbot, a former Halls, now Arkell’s of Swindon, house. This stone-built pub is currently closed awaiting new tenants having put up the shutters in September, and with letting rooms and popular food it should hopefully do well.

It’s quite a walk or maybe take the S1 bus from the village centre to the Evenlode Hotel, on the main A40 road. Over the years the building has had many changes, and in the past 40 years it was a Berni Inns steakhouse for a long time, then a budget carvery, until recently purchased by Prospect Pubs, a small company with six houses. Now it is more of a comfortable restaurant with letting rooms, and very popular indeed. Drinkers are welcome in the front bar and being served were one local beer, Cotswold Lion’s Golden Fleece, and Butcombe Bitter. Little Ox beers are often available, although Sharp’s Doom Bar and St Austell Tribute do appear.