Shortly after I arrive at the George & Dragon in the picture-perfect village of Hudswell, licensee Stu Miller joins me after a busy shift in the kitchen.

He is wearing a flat cap and his whippet Isla is snuffling around our feet for any bits of pie that might have fallen from the plates of lunchtime diners. So far, so clichéd Yorkshire; but looks can be deceptive.

Stu might have been born in York but prior to taking over the George & Dragon two-and-a-bit years ago he spent a decade working as a technical architect for a software company in the City of London. It's a long way from where we are sitting now.

The pub too is a little deceptive. It looks like a typical tiny village local, the kind that has faced so many pressures in recent years. A group of pensioners file out after lunch when I arrive, brass trophies and certificates celebrating sporting and beery success adorn the walls, a fire glows gently in the main bar and a solitary barman oversees a proud range of local cask ales.



But there is more to The George & Dragon than meets the eye, which is why it was recently named CAMRA's national pub of the year.

For a start, it is owned by the community. They stepped in to buy it when it closed for 18 months, around the same time Stu was starting his adventure in the capital.

They now rent the building to Stu, who impressed them with his business plan after he and his wife Melissa decided they wanted a change from London life.

He has quarterly meetings with the committee but stresses the pub is very much his business. However, as owners of the building, the community want the pub to succeed.

"That is one of the biggest strengths of the place," he says. "There is so much buy-in to the pub being successful."



As you would expect, the pub is at the centre of village life. Beyond the food and drink, and with help from Pub is the Hub, it offers a library service, free Wi-Fi, and there are allotments behind the pub's garden, which provides stunning views across the Swale Valley.

There's also the community-owned shop next door, staffed by volunteers.

But local trade alone is not enough and part of Stu's business plan was to make it a destination venue. No mean feat when he himself describes the road to Hudswell as "the road to nowhere". It's not the kind of place you pass through.

He has been helped hugely by winning CAMRA's award, which thrust the pub into the media spotlight.

"Lunchtimes have been incredible since we won," he explains.

"We would expect trade to be at least 15 to 20 per cent better than last year, so the emphasis is on us to keep the quality up now we are getting busier. It adds to the pressure because people are expecting so much."

What they should expect is quality beer, which is at the heart of the offer. The cask is backed up with a bottled range that Stu is keen to expand to include more speciality products, such as lambics, imperial stouts and sour beers. He could soon be supplying himself, with plans to open a brewery down the road reaching an advanced stage.

"I didn't know if we could do a brewery and a pub at the same time but now we have the award, we have got to try," he says.

And who was among the first to say they would back the brewery financially if needed? The Hudswell community.

People like that deserve what they have got — one of the best pubs of its kind in the country.