The traditional horse-drawn dray with the brewery in the background.Picture: Chris Roberts.
The traditional horse-drawn dray with the brewery in the background.Picture: Chris Roberts.
Dray-master Roger Hughes tells one of his horses that he has done a great job. Pictures: Supplied.
Dray-master Roger Hughes tells one of his horses that he has done a great job. Pictures: Supplied.
The mill is in a traditional Victorian tower building.
The mill is in a traditional Victorian tower building.
Picture the scene. You are driving down a shady English lane when suddenly you spot some huge, but gentle, Shire horses ambling towards you, drawing a cart (also known as a dray). Stacked on it are barrels of beer being transported to some of the local pubs.

The Hook Norton Brewery in the county of Oxfordshire has been following this tradition since 1849. Five generations of the family have plied this craft and visitors are welcome to pop in to gain some insight into the workings of an active brewery which produces ale glorifying in names like Old Hooky, Hooky, and Hooky Gold.

In fact, I could almost imagine naughty schoolboys “playing hooky” from school so they could sink an illicit Hooky or two!

The brewing plant is a traditional Victorian “tower” brewery; a rather sombre, yet intriguing brick building. Up until 2006 the brewing process was powered by steam.

The nearest big town is Banbury, but the countryside here is typical of rural England: farmland, rolling pastures, contented cattle and sheep, beautiful old trees, and winding lanes.

As a non-beer drinker, for me the most fascinating part of my visit was to chat with dray-master Roger Hughes - a role which he fills with aplomb and charm. His neatly trimmed white beard, side-whiskers, moustache, rosy cheeks and bowler hat lend him a somewhat rakish air. The horses clearly love him, nuzzling up against his hands (which invariably hold some sort of treat) while moving their great hooves with care, so as not to rudely stamp on Hughes’ feet. Such well-mannered behaviour is also reassuring for visitors like me.

A guided tour explaining how the ales are brewed and fermented holds particular interest for the menfolk, such as the process followed with mashing on the top floor, boiling in the middle, fermentation and racking at the bottom.

Any who might feel less inclined to hang avidly on such brewer’s gems can head for the coffee shop and bar; where delicious home-made fare is served. Or they can indulge in a visit to the shop, which provides some unique gifts and, naturally, beer.

The kids, and horse lovers, will probably jump at a chance to pop down to the stables to meet the equine stars.

To get to the Hook Norton Brewery, take the A44 from Oxford to Chipping Norton; or the A361 from Banbury and follow the signs, or ask a friendly passer-by. Even the drive is pure pleasure and on a hot day a beer goes down a treat!