AN HISTORIC watering hole renowned for its warm welcome, real ales and hearty cuisine has once again been included in an extensive guide to the country’s best pubs.

The Bell Inn, in St James’ Street in Castle Hedingham, is featured in the 2020 edition of The AA Pub Guide, which was published this week and is now on its 21st edition.

The self-proclaimed “go-to source for the best pubs for food, drink and accommodation” is a comprehensive guide of more than 2,000 public houses, inviting taverns and countryside inns, and uses a star-rating and AA rosettes to indicate the quality of each drinking establishment.

The Bell, run by sisters Penny Doe and Kylie Turkoz-Ferguson, has featured in every edition of the guide and is one of just seven Essex pubs to be included in this year’s 576-page drinkers’ dossier.

Penny said: “If I am honest, we have been featured in it for so many years, I would be surprised now if we weren’t included.

“I wouldn’t be offended if we weren’t because something bigger or better came along, but what’s good about the AA Pub Guide is it purely features pubs on merit and not those who just pay to be included.”

Kylie added: “We have always appreciated our inclusion in the guide and see it as a reflection of the hard work from both ourselves and our staff necessary to maintain the character of the Bell.”

The traditional coaching house, which has been owned by Gray & Sons Brewery of Chelmsford since 1897, has been run by the Ferguson family for more than 50 years.

Steeped in history, the Bell Inn first opened in the 15th century and was often considered to be the medieval village’s main meeting place and drinking hotspot, situated right in the heart of the community.

Penny believes that is what is behind its continued success.

She said: “I think it is because we are very much an old-fashioned pub and we live here still, which is becoming something of a bit of a lost era now.

“This is our home and we want to give people the feeling that we are welcoming them into our home, and we still have the old values because we have been here so long.

“There is a sense of community and welcoming here as opposed to at the more commercial pubs that just don’t offer that because they are more concerned with making money.”

n The AA Pub Guide is out now, priced £15.99.