CELEBRATIONS went on late into the night at The Bottle Inn in Marshwood on Saturday evening after it was named West Dorset's pub of the year by the Campaign for Real Ale.
Landlords, Nigel and Chrissy Blake, arrived back in triumph after being was presented with the trophy by CAMRA's Rich Gabe at the Dorchester Beer Festival – a triumph all the sweeter for them after taking on the dilapidated and closed pub only 19 months ago.
The historic inn, which dates from 1585, has had a chequered – and not always successful – past.
It was closed for 18 months before the Blakes took it on - in January 2011 it shut for the third time in less than two-and-a-half years, But since licensees Nigel and Chrissy Blake re-opened it in August 2012 its reputation has been growing.
Mr Blake said: “Two years ago, we arrived at the closed Bottle Inn to find total decay.
“The porch had fallen in, but the pub had so much charm - it just felt right for us. We thought the Bottle had a lot of potential.
“Chrissy and I are delighted - and not a little surprised - to win the West Dorset Pub of the Year, having only been open for 19 months.
“We are becoming well known for our beers, so this accolade will do us a lot of good.
"We started with three real ales and worked up to six ever changing beers and customers like the variety.”
The pub will now go head to head with 11 other pubs in the CAMRA Wessex Regional competition and potentially on to the national finals.
CAMRA spokesman Michel Hooper-Immins said: “The Bottle Inn is in many ways the perfect English country pub, with a thatched roof and porch, an open fire and a splendid selection of six real ales.
“The judges were particularly impressed by the warmth of the welcome from licensees Chrissy and Nigel Blake, as well as the high standard of their beers, several of which are sourced from less than 30 miles away. Running a pub is never easy and particularly in such an isolated location, but the licensees are attracting more and more local and passing trade with their friendly and relaxed ways.”
Nigel Blake was born in Cornwall, but grew-up in Weymouth. He ran bars in Tenerife for 15 years, meeting Sunderland-born Chrissy on the island ten years ago. The couple decided to return to Dorset and searched for a pub to run.
Famous for the annual nettle-eating competition - the next one is on 7 June 7 and Mrs Blake is intending to make nettle soup to celebrate the event. Mighty Hop brewery at Lyme Regis will make a nettle beer for the occasion.
THE Bottle Inn is a 16th century public house. The building started life as an ale house being close to a church where people came to pay their tithes. It was named The Bottle Inn sometime late in the 18th century when it became the first inn in the area to sell bottled beers. During its history the building has also housed the village shop and during World War II, the village school.
The Bottle Inn’s nettle-eating competition began in 1986 to resolve a dispute between two local lady farmers over who had the longest nettles. Alex Williams brought in a nettle over 15 feet long, and challenged anyone to beat his record, promising to eat his if anyone found a bigger weed. You can guess what happened next. Alex ate his nettle, and the championships were born.
Competitors over the years have included Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and comedian Rory McGrath who filmed the event for his TV show.