WHAT a pretty place Charlbury is.

I was visiting this picturesque little market town on the edge of the Cotswolds at the invitation of book publisher Jon Carpenter, who also runs Evenlode Books, in Market Street. Jon wanted to push a few ideas past me. He's convinced that with Charlbury's close proximity to the ancient Wychwood Forest, Cornbury Park, and the River Evenlode, it's the perfect place for visitors who are making the most of their new bus passes and looking for interesting places to explore.

Having visited Charlbury often on a Saturday when the town's farmers' market is in full swing, and noted the charming little shops in Market Street, I was inclined to agree. This is one of those idyllic places where you could spend a whole day exploring, and still not see everything.

Obviously, no day out is complete without a pub meal, so Jon took me to his local, The Bell, in Church Street, which is conveniently close to his bookshop.

This pub is run by Fergus and Sarah McVey, who escaped the rat race by taking on this stylish 18th-century country pub. They have been there more than a year, and have already made their presence felt in the town.

In the summer, it's possible to order one of their picnic hampers and disappear into their extensive garden and orchard for a break. In the winter, log fires add their own touch of magic to the small dining areas leading off from the bar.

We were there on an early spring day that was too warm for a fire, but just a little too unsettled to think of a picnic, so we gravitated to the bar and ordered a couple of halves of Jekyll's Gold, Hydes Brewery's flagship brew. Neither of us had tried this cask-conditioned ale before, but soon agreed it has a distinctive golden hue and a positive bitter taste. It also has that moreish factor which compels you to order another.

Because everything in The Bell's kitchen is prepared from scratch, using fresh, and where possible, local ingredients, the menu changes frequently. The day we called liver and bacon, pictured, was listed on the lunch menu, at £8.50, and pork rissoles on a root puree, with herb roasted potatoes (£5.50) was one of the specials of the day. We chose the liver and bacon, which came served on a mound of bubble and squeak, braised red cabbage, and with a rich and extremely tasty gravy sauce, and were well satisfied.

Other dishes that often appear on the lunch menu include: home-made soup of the day, served with home-made bread (£4.50), shredded beef salad, served with French fried onions and wild mushrooms (£7.50), and sausage and mash, served with onion gravy and curly kale. Fried battered haddock with fat chips and salad, at £10, is also listed along, with a choice of six different sandwich fillings (£6), that are served in The Bell's home-baked bread, made from flour milled at Shipton-under- Wychwood.

There's something quite timeless about this charming old pub, which has not been given a modern make over, or pushed too far into the 21st century. The staff are courteous, yet friendly, the decor, with its patches of exposed Cotswold stone and large bay windows, is restful, and the menu is reasonably priced, given that everything is cooked on the premises.

It was good to see the work of local photographer John Corletts displayed on the walls of the small dining area in which we sat - that was a nice touch, and added an extra dimension to our visit.

This is a dog-friendly pub, which is good news, and wheelchair users can gain access to The Bell at the rear by the car park. Unfortunately, there's no specially designed toilet for the disabled, but I'm assured small travelling wheelchairs will fit into the existing toilets.