We passed through West Berkshire and stopped off at the Pot Kiln, a pub with an historic pub interior of regional importance. The pub and much of the village were built from the tiles and red and grey “grizzle” bricks made at the Pot Kiln, which operated until 1939. The kiln was located at the top end of what is now the car park, and closed down as part of the blackout regulations, over fears it would act as a beacon for enemy bombers. Parts of the building are mid-16th century, with the remains of an older building under the beer garden, although it has probably only been a pub since the late 1800s.
In 1995 the West Berkshire Brewery started brewing in a 5-barrel plant in a converted building at the rear of the pub, although the brewery has since expanded and moved to a site just down the road in Yattendon. The pub serves 4 cask ales from the brewery, and a craft keg from the brewery’s “Renegade” offshoot.
As recently as twenty years ago, the pub apparently still retained four small bars, since altered and opened out, with a food offering that only extended to hot filled rolls a couple of days a week.
Despite now being a gastro pub, with the kitchen run by TV chef Mike Robinson, the pub somehow retains the feel of an old beerhouse, the bar facing the entrance being the old tap room.
The original pub room is reputed to be the one with the bare wood floor at the rear right, which was in use until 2007 but is now used for storage by the current food-oriented owners. They removed the wall that created a tiny tap room as you enter and the present public bar on the right. Tap room area has a red and black quarry-tiled floor, old counter and dado panelling. The public bar area has a counter possibly 30 or so years old, dado panelling of similar age, brick fireplace of similar age, some old low basic benches.
Although only a stones throw from the M4, the beer garden offers a peaceful place to watch Red Kites soaring over the surrounding fields and woodland, on the side of the fabulously named Valley of the Pang. There’s probably no finer place to enjoy a Maggs’ Magnificent Mild, although Mr Swift’s Pale Ale seemed to be the locals’ preferred tipple, and benefitted from being cooler, not being given a chance to warm in the pipes on a day when temperatures were in the mid-20s. The locals here could easily be discerned from the visiting walkers and cyclists, as they invariably arrived in obligatory Land Rovers accompanied by obligatory Labrador Retrievers, and in this privileged setting, just down the road from the family home of the Duchess of Cambridge, one stood complaining what was most wrong with this country were people on benefits who did nothing. It was enough to make one choke on one’s muntjac ragu (well, vegetarian pesto and goat cheese pinwheel in our case)
However, it was more than made up for by the friendliness of the bar staff, and couldn’t spoil the pleasure of drinking the Brick Kiln Bitter, brewed especially for the pub, in the grounds of a pub ranked sixth in the UK’s top 10 pubs by The Sunday Times last year and named the pub with the prettiest walks in Britain by no less an authority than the Daily Mail. Plans have been approved to replace the dining room extension, renovate and extend the kitchen, convert “dilapidated” outbuildings into guest accommodation, and renovate an adjacent cottage, and although these will no doubt be sympathetic to its surroundings, it’s probably a pub to visit now before it moves further from its origins as a kiln-workers’ beer house, and more towards its aspirations as a “country pub and game restaurant” with guest accommodation.