DUCKING my head under the low lintel to enter the town's oldest pub, I was immediately confronted by a large pair of crossed keys set in the stone floor. The pub has a few rather esoteric features which, because of its history and heritage, fall much more on the side of "rural charm" than contrived and overdone rustic quaintness.

The bar wears its unusual pitted yet gleaming pewter top in a resplendent manner and its taps offer the thirsty customer a choice of lagers, bitters and ales, stout and cider. Lagers provided are Stella Artois and Heineken, while bitters and ales are London Pride, Brakspear, Boddingtons Real Ale and the pub's own Cross Keys bitter, brewed by the Tring Brewery "just down the road".

Draft Guinness and Blackthorn cider are also on sale. The main room, containing the pewter-topped bar, has a low oak-beamed ceiling, with two long wooden tables down either side and a far wall dominated by a large fireplace. The snug (which certainly lives up to its name) is about half the size and also contains an open fire.

Always a sign of a good pub is whether the locals hold it in high regard when I arrived I found two propping up the bar. They were cheerful, friendly and gave me a quick potted history of the place.

My first question to them was about that oak-beamed ceiling, as ranged across its beams are well over 100 pewter tankards, all individually numbered. Apparently they have all, at some point, each belonged to a regular Cross Keys drinker, with some still being used.

Also, before it became a pub, the site had a building that gave food and lodging for travelling monks, a sort of monastic B&B. Well, stopping off at the Cross Keys is certainly a habit I could get used to.