WHEN Archie Orr-Ewing got chatting to the landlord of a traditional Cotswold country pub 17 years ago and discovered it was going up for sale, it was just the opportunity he was looking for.

He had grown up in the area and wanted to return after a period away from home doing various jobs including five years in the army and running a pub in London.

He bought the thriving King’s Head at Bledington, near Chipping Norton, and began running it with his wife Nicola – slowly changing and improving the pub and what it offered customers. And now after years of hard work it has been crowned Pub of the Year 2018 in the Good Pub Guide.

In fact the King’s Head has won two Good Pub Guide awards in the same year – the other is the Gloucestershire Dining Pub of the Year.

Archie explained: “My family farmed two villages away. I grew up around here but went off and did various things including five years in the army and ran a pub in London for a little bit but soon worked out I want to be back here. I was here having a drink and the old landlord said he was leaving and it went from there.

“Changing and improving the pub is something we have done gradually over the years. We did not do a massive refurbishment. It was a thriving pub. It was a successful food-led pub when we bought it with 12 letting rooms.”

Archie said he was thrilled the pub has received national recognition as Pub of the Year and local acclaim for dining – especially as the customer feedback plays such a big part in the judging process.

“It has been a hard road. It is a tough business and we have had to move with the times because people’s expectations when they go out are a lot higher than they were 17 years ago.

“But it has been very rewarding and it is always a challenge to make sure as many people as possible leave here feeling happy. The awards are for the whole team. We have a really good team of people here. I am absolutely ecstatic and it is a huge award for all the effort.”

The 2018 Good Pub Guide, published this week (Thursday September 7), is a bible for pub-goers and is based on customers’ recommendations and editor inspections.

To compete in the Pub of the Year category a pub has to have unanimous enthusiasm from all readers on all aspects of its business – it has to be top of its game. The King’s Head is described as having a lively, friendly bar, excellent drinks selection, first class food and lovely bedrooms.

The guide’s entry for the King’s Head says: “Of course, much emphasis in this lovely, gently civilised former cider house is on the excellent food and smart bedrooms, but the main bar is lively, friendly and full of chatty locals.

“There are ancient beams and other atmospheric furnishings (high-backed wooden settles, gate-leg or pedestal tables), a warming log fire in a stone inglenook, ancient flagstones and sporting memorabilia of rugby, racing, cricket and hunting.”

Good Pub Guide editor Fiona Stapley said: “To run a successful pub these days you must pay attention to what your customers actually want and keep an eye on other nearby businesses.”

She added that some pubs are offering the sort of service traditionally expected at hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, delis and outside caterers – taking business from restaurants quite a while ago when customers wanted less formality and more flexibility in what they chose to eat.

As a result young chefs recognised these changing demands and today some of the best food in Britain can be found in a pub rather than a restaurant.

“You name it and pubs will have thought of it. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit that will keep pubs alive and kicking for years to come,” said Fiona.