IT'S a tiny New Forest watering hole which stands at the end of the only road leading to a secluded village.

But despite its lack of size and out of the way location the Royal Oak at Fritham is popular with families seeking a cosy country inn that has stayed loyal to its rural roots.

One of the rave reviews posted on social media says: "What better than a quiet pint in the best pub ever?"

Now the Royal Oak has been named country pub of the year by the Good Pub Guide, regaining the prestigious title it last won in 2012.

Daily Echo:

The business has been run by Neil and Pauline McCulloch and their daughters, Jenna Bessant and Cathy Wilson, since 1998.

Customers were hoping the thatched inn would reopen after the second national lockdown ended earlier this month.

But it has stayed shut following the government's decision to put Hampshire in Tier 2, which means pubs can open only if they operate as restaurants.

The Good Pub Guide describes the Royal Oak as a charming and delightful pub that is part of a working farm.

Commenting on the award Neil said: "After such a difficult year of testing challenges and a constant need to adapt the business to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for customers and staff alike, we are delighted to have this recognition for all our efforts in this difficult time.

"We're a traditional country free house serving local cask ales and a unique food offering to suit the needs of our customers.

"All our food is sourced locally where possible, including items from our daughter and son-in-law's farm shop.

"Even though government regulations have meant we are currently closed we honestly couldn’t think of a better end to the year.

"We look forward to the exciting opportunities that await us when we are able to reopen in a safe and financially viable manner."

Daily Echo:

The decision keep the pub closed for the time being was announced on November 30.

In a statement the McCullochs said: "All our customers will know that the restrictions that have been imposed do not fit our business in any way.

"The Royal Oak is first and foremost a pub. We serve cask ales and ploughmans lunches. We are not a restaurant, nor can we pretend to be.

"We do not want to change the pub beyond what our customers have come to expect and enjoy."

"We want to thank everyone who has given us their support. It has not been any easy time for anyone, but knowing that we will come back from this difficult time with the help of our amazing customers, makes it all so much more bearable.

"We cannot give a definite answer as to when we will reopen, but we will let you know as soon as we do."