THEY were in high spirits at this Hampshire pub after being crowned the best in the county.

Celebrations got into full swing at the Guide Dog pub in Southampton after it was named the winner of the Daily Echo’s Hampshire Pub of the Year competition.

With its wide selection of real ales and strong community spirit, the local in Earls Road beat off tough competition from scores of pubs all vying for the coveted title.

The news came as a shock to joint landlords Paul Barden and Margaret Bridle, who entered the competition for the first time this year.

The business partners took over the pub nine years ago and while they admit it was a bit of a gamble, it has more than paid off.

Margaret said: “We are over the moon. This is the first time we have entered this competition so we are thrilled.

“We are just one room but we are a really strong community pub and it always amazes me how strong the friendships are that are formed here.

“We have such a variety of people that don’t necessarily live in this area but they all come and call themselves local and we appreciate that.

“We want to thank everyone who voted and to our customers because without them, we wouldn’t have a pub.”

The Guide Dog was voted into the top twoof all those pubs that entered by Daily Echo readers, along with the runner-up pub, The Prince of Wales, in Northam Road.

It was then up to a small judging panel from the paper to visit each pub and determine who should be crowned the winner.

Chairman of the judges, editor-inchief Ian Murray, said it was a close call, but the Guide Dog took top honours.

“We were impressed by the warm welcome, the huge array of real ales on offer, and most of all the part the pub plays in the local community,” said Ian.

“As soon as you step inside there is a friendly greeting from Paul and Margaret and the staff who take the time to make you feel at home.”

The Guide Dog is a popular watering hole for Saints fans especially, but also visiting fans from other clubs, underscoring the friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

“What was obvious as some of the regulars arrived was the way The Guide Dog acts as a glue that sticks the local community together. Just what a real pub should be,” added Ian.

Commenting on The Prince of Wales, the judges commended it also for its solid support for Southampton FC, its wide range of facilities including beer patio and lounge, and the part it plays in the local community.