There's something quite magical about the aroma of woodsmoke, particularly when it hits the nostrils the moment you leave your car and prepare to walk into a country pub. It not only suggests warmth, but conviviality too.
You can't miss the massive log fire at The Blue Boar, Tucks Lane, Longworth. It's right by the bar and close to the main door. Almost everyone who enters on a cold winter's day stops to admire it and warm themselves before giving their order - however, few stay too close for long as the heat it gives out is awesome.
I do enjoy visiting this pub. It's never once disappointed me as it offers everything, including a great menu and an excellent choice of real ales. It's here that I often take Pythius-Peacocke, my border collie, who is allowed to sit in the bar area, providing he behaves. As there are some great dog walks in this area, he loves this pub as much as I do.
After a meal, we usually take the footpath adjoining Tucks Lane, which eventually leads to the River Thames and New Bridge. If you turn left on reaching New Bridge and follow the Thames for about a mile before turning left again, you can turn this into a splendid circular walk.
However, dog wasn't with me the day I called in earlier this month. It was a work day. I just happened to be in the area.
Despite it being a midweek lunchtime, the place was buzzing and there was some debate as to whether they could fit me in for lunch. However, after some juggling, a small table was found, enabling me to sip my half of Timothy Taylor's Landlord ale and enjoy a quick meal.
There were other beers on tap - Brakspear's Bitter and Old Speckled Hen - but I haven't had a glass of Timothy Taylor's Landlord for ages. This classic strong pale ale, which has won more national awards than any other beer, is full of glorious hoppy flavours which seem to taste particularly good on a cold winter's day.
The Blue Boar has doubled its seating capacity during the past two years, but the extension adjoining the bar area has been built and decorated so tastefully, it feels as if it's always been there.
Dried hops hang from the beams, while copper pans, decorative plates and an assortment of sporting photos and prints adorn the walls. You will also notice that some of the ceiling space is covered in sporting photographs too if you happen to look up when sitting in the extension area. Carefully chosen furnishings, some of which appear to be antiques, add the finishing touch.
I selected the calves' liver and smoked bacon served with creamy parsley mash and red wine jus (£12.95).
I did worry after giving my order that I hadn't stipulated how I would like it cooked. Some chefs cook this dish so rare it is almost unpalatable. I needn't have worried: the liver was cooked to perfection and tasted great.
Children on the next table ordered the Blue Boar burger served with a choice of brie/stilton or cheddar cheese with chips and salad (£7.50), and gave whoops of delight when their burgers arrived. The half-rack of BBQ pork ribs with chips and salad (£7.95) which their parents ordered looked equally appetising.
Other dishes on the menu included ale-battered cod and chips (£8.50), and pork and leek sausages with seeded mustard mash at £8.25. There was also beef and venison casserole with herb dumplings at £12.95, or wild mushroom risotto served on a bed of bok choi and spinach with Parmesan shavings at £11.95.
I left feeling warm and well satisfied with my meal, but sad that there was no dog pulling on his lead.
There's a toilet for the disabled here by the way, with wheelchair access at the rear.