THEY serve the best beers, the finest food and guarantee the warmest of welcomes.

Now two Hampshire pubs less than 20 miles apart are celebrating after being recognised as being among the best watering holes in the UK.

For the second time The Royal Oak at Fritham has been awarded the prestigious title of Best Country Pub by The Good Pub Guide.

And to add to the county’s success The Wykeham Arms in Kingsgate Street, Winchester , has been named Town Pub of the Year.

Looking more like a modest thatched cottage than a thriving business , The Royal Oak is one of the smallest pubs in the county.

But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in character and reputation.

The popular bar is renowned for its crackling log fire, lowbeamed ceilings and traditional country food.

Built in the 1600s The Royal Oak was named Best Country Pub four years ago and has now regained its title.

Neil McCulloch has run the business with his wife Pauline since 1998. Pauline said: “We’re delighted to have won the Country Pub of the Year award.

“It very much reflects the hard work of the staff, plus the continued support of our partner in the business, Clive Bowring, and our customers.”

The Good Pub Guide says: “This award celebrates the pub that truly embodies oldfashioned country values.

“The Royal Oak, part of a working New Forest farm, has open fires, heart-warming food and drink, a properly rustic atmosphere and attractive rural surroundings.”

The Wykeham Arms, a former coaching inn that dates from 1755, has been run by Jon Howard for almost a year.

He said: “Winning the Town Pub of the Year title is an awesome result. We’re also through to the final of the Fuller’s Pub of the Year award, so things are going really well for us.”

The Good Pub Guide says: “The Wykeham Arms is tucked away with lots to look at, real ales, lovely bedrooms and highly thought-of food.”