Dorchester and at least one nearby village seem to be bucking the national trend when it comes to pub closures.

Already the Convivial Rabbit micropub in Trinity Street recently celebrated its first birthday by moving to larger premises, and a new cider bar – the Cow & Apple, has opened nearby.

Now only a few miles away, a long-closed village local has reopened after a long, hard-fought campaign.

Rivers-ArmsAfter almost ten years of dereliction, and around a year of refurbishment, Anne and Victor Wyle are now the proud owners of the reborn Rivers Arms in Cheselbourne.

It was feared that the empty building would be redeveloped for housing, but after a long campaign, the local community managed to prevent planning permission for change of use, and they once again have a vibrant local pub in their village.

Anne and Victor, who moved from Bournemouth, have been in the pub trade, on and off, for several years, and are pleased to be the architects of Cheselbourne’s new-found good fortune – especially after the villagers had fought “tooth and nail” to save their pub.

They also lent practical support during the extensive work required to revive it. According to Anne, the best surprise which the pub had to offer them was the attractive terraced garden behind the inn, which gradually appeared after villagers volunteered to clear a decade’s worth of scrub and brambles. “The whole community was really behind us,” said Anne.

The old conservatory, which once housed the skittle alley, has been completely renewed as an attractive dining area, and the once tiny bar has been enlarged, while still retaining its cosy feel, helped by the pre-existing Victorian fireplace, supplemented with a new flagstone floor and tasteful decor.

Upstairs lounge

Upstairs, a new lounge area has been created with sofas, comfortable chairs and low tables. Here, also, is the ‘library’, which includes some very unusual volumes, as well as magazines of local interest.

In readiness for summertime, a large, covered decking area has been created, with views along the picturesque valley, which will no doubt be popular with diners, as will the garden.

Victor, who is in charge of the kitchen, describes his menu as ‘quirky’ – traditional pub fare, but with a few interesting twists – but, added Anne, with ‘no burgers or chips!’ The emphasis seems to be very much on serving good, honest, food and beer at reasonable prices. The main courses are mostly priced at £8, and beers, including local real ales and ciders at a very reasonable £3 or £3.50 a pint. The pub is open seven days a week, and food is served all day, every day.

When I first visited, shortly before Christmas and just a few days after reopening, the pub was packed with diners and drinkers, and a palpable ‘joie de vivre’ was in the air.

On my second visit, Anne and Victor were obviously overjoyed at the warmth and generosity they had experienced in their new roles as custodians of Cheselbourne’s village local.

Future plans include the possible provision of accommodation for guests in cabins at the top of the restored gardens.

This remarkable revival is a heartening good-news story for Anne and Victor, for the good folks of Cheselbourne and surrounding villages, and for Dorset. The Dorchester Voice would like to wish the Wyles every success. Happy New Year!

Jerry Bird

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