Ken and Jenny Roberts have been celebrating as their 16th century pub, the Cross Guns, Avoncliff, has just won the award for the Country Pub of the Year.

The prize was awarded by the Heart of Wessex Rail Partnership, who organise a Rail Ale Trail for real ale enthusiasts along the line from Bristol to Weymouth. Participants had a booklet featuring real ale pubs and got stamps for each one they visited. Once they collected enough stamps they voted for their favourite pub in town and in the country out of about 50 pubs.

Mr Roberts said: "We have the advantage of having the train station near us. It means a lot to us because we are trying to encourage people not to come by car. It's a very pretty route by train and it's lots of fun because it's a request stop."

The pub saw a lot of visitors during the six-month Rail Ale Trail and not all of them were the stereotypical CAMRA enthusiasts and train spotters. A group of young men in their 20s, who had planned their trip on the railway in great detail, went from Avoncliff to Weymouth and back one day and Avoncliff to Bristol and back the next, in order to sample all the pubs on the route. Mr Roberts said: "One lad fell asleep under the table here in the pub after they had finished."

The pub started serving beers from the nearby Box Steam Brewery when they were let down by their usual supplier one day last year. When the beers went down so well with their regulars, they decided to stock them permanently and it is this Mr Roberts believes that led to the award.

When the brewery came up for sale earlier this year, the couple jumped at the chance to buy it and have deployed their two bar managers to brew real ales there. The brewery's flagship ale, the award winning Tunnel Vision, has been a hit with the regulars, as have Reverend Awdry's Ale and Blind House.

Brewing started in the area following the construction of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous Box Tunnel in 1841. Several pubs opened in the rapidly expanding village to satisfy the thirsty railway construction workers.

Mr Roberts thinks the fact that the Cross Guns is situated just 100 yards from Brunel's original wide-gauge railway makes their purchase of the brewery historically significant for real ale enthusiasts around the west country. The pub has old beams, an inglenook and log burning stoves and there is a terraced garden where you can have dinner al fresco overlooking the canal and the river.

There is B&B accommodation, a studio flat and a holiday cottage available for rent all with views of the Limply Stoke Valley. The meals use as much local produce as possible and favourites include brandy and garlic mushrooms, prime Welsh steaks, and banoffee pie as well as a la carte, monthly specials and fresh fish boards.


  • Open every day from 10am 11pm.
  • Main menu 12pm2pm and 6.30pm 9pm.
  • Lite bites' 12pm 9pm.
  • Children and dogs welcome.
  • All cards accepted.
  • B&B accommodation.

l Listed in AA Pub Guide