LOCALS at The Eight Bells in Church Street, Alton, enjoyed a special Christmas celebration with the jubilant return on December 17 of owner/landlord, Phil ‘The Trout’ Troubridge. Having lit the hearth fire, they wore specially designed T-shirts to welcome him home.

“Happy to be back” amongst his loyal customers, Phil told the Herald that while he had plans for changes which will make the pub easier to run and able to offer improved facilities, having returned to take over the reins at the busiest time of year he was currently “just getting back into the swing of things”.

With pubs continuing to close at a rate of two per day in the UK, news that ‘The Trout’ had landed back in Alton following a five year sabbatical, has helped reassure customers that this historic pub – one of the few surviving ‘Ale houses’ – has a healthy and bright future, securing local jobs and a valued amenity for the community.

Cherished by CAMRA members for specialising in real ales, according to Phil, who bought the pub in 1999, and ran it for the next 14 years as landlord, the original building dates back to around 1640 and would have been there during the Civil War ‘Battle of Alton’ (December 1643) – fought in neighbouring St Lawrence churchyard. At the time the pub would not have had glass in the windows and, when renovating the upper floor seven years ago, spent musket and pistol balls were found under the floor boards – thought to have been stray shots from the battle. The pub was extended in 1836 and refaced at the front, with a further extension added in 1956.

A country boy at heart, with a passion for fly fishing and clay pigoen shooting, Phil moved to Alton in 1984 and adopted The Eight Bells as his local in 1986, going on to use it as a regular for 14 years before buying it and operating the pub as a free house.

Five years ago he felt the need for a change and put in a manager, so that he could pursue his dream of setting up a fly fishing and clay pigeon shooting business in France – but he was to be defeated by red tape and the French system of strip farming, which made it impossible to reach any commercial agreement.

Instead he has returned to the life he knows and loves, with a view to welcoming those customers who wish to join him in these countryside activities, to do so.