Best country pubs
Queens Head, Cumbria
In the heart of the Lake District, the Queens Head at Hawkshead is surrounded by superb walks. Most of these Lakeland rambles start at the Old Grammar School near the pub and they include a five-mile walk through woods and fields to Tarn Hows (regarded as one of the most breathtaking of all Lake District beauty spots) and the equally impressive walk to Blelham Tarn via unspoilt countryside between Hawkshead and mock-gothic Wray Castle close to
the shores of Lake Windermere. As befits a pub that has welcomed tired fell walkers since the 17th century, the Queens Head serves a full menu at lunch and dinner, as well as lunchtime sandwiches. Lakeland lamb makes a star appearance in dishes such as a tagine of shoulder with apricots, almonds, sultanas, tomatoes, coriander and spices. Time a visit for a Sunday and you can tuck into the ‘Royal Roast’, perhaps with a pint of Lakeland Gold brewed by Hawkshead Brewery in the village.
The Plough Shiplake, Henley-on-Thames
The Plough, Shiplake, Henley-on-Thames At Orwells, chefs Ryan and Liam Simpson- Trotman create ambitious, modern food. Ryan leads the kitchen while green-fingered Liam grows much of the seasonal produce. The Plough, in contrast, will be very much a pub: family- and dog-friendly, and open all day. It’s due to launch in May.
Fordwich Arms, Kent
Fordwich Arms, Fordwich, Kent Chefs Dan and Natasha Smith have turned this handsome 1930s pub into a Michelin-starred destination for clever, approachable cooking which, in dishes such as pig’s cheek with lardo, prune and cracked wheat, or roast lamb with confit breast, nettles and broccoli, makes stellar use of the UK-Kentish larder. The pub’s pergola-shaded River Stour terrace has been extended and, with a glass of English sparkling wine in hand (Kent vineyards such as Gusbourne and Simpsons are prominent on the menu), it makes for a truly idyllic location.
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The Bridge Arms, Canterbury
Panisse just might pip chips to the post for being the most moreish pub snack. The version at Daniel and Natasha Smith’s Michelin-starred The Bridge Arms are especially good, with dashi powder for an extra savoury hit. “The chickpea panisse has been a huge hit,” says Daniel. “We always wanted The Bridge Arms to retain the feel of a pub – a place you can come for drinks and snacks as much as a three-course meal.”
Fox at Oddington, Lower Oddington
The newest addition to the Daylesford stable, the group’s pared-back aesthetic is tempered here with a light-hearted foxy theme on everything from topiary to tableware. Its airy bar and Saddle Room is built around a lively open kitchen where chefs knock out the kind of relaxed, seasonal food we could eat every day. Sustainability is built into all Daylesford does, most visibly in the pub’s living roof, planted with wildflowers and herbs, and acting as a nectar source for bees. The bar and some rooms are dog-friendly.
Chef Alan Gleeson’s menu of modern classics encourages sharing, from a half-pint of prawns and some Daylesford cheese to the full three courses. Small plates including tuna tartare with soy and ginger, and heritage tomatoes teamed with feta and mint are a promising start. A decent, tender pork chop comes with greens and apple; a simple plaice with seaweed butter and Ratte potatoes. Flatbread with lardo, anchovy and salsa verde is a must-try, as is Korean fried chicken. There’s usually a fruit tart and a dark chocolate mousse with pistachio biscotti. On-trend vanilla soft serve (with flake!) is a playful finish.
The Merry Harriers, Hambledon
Set in the small picture-postcard village of Hambledon, at first glance The Merry Harriers looks like a regular country pub. But cross over the road and you’ll find five glamped-up shepherd’s huts set around a tranquil pond, with an uninterrupted view of the rolling Surrey Hills in the distance. All of the pub classics are present and correct: homemade burgers with chilli relish, crisp-battered fish ’n’ chips with chunky tartare, and generous slabs of ham hock terrine with punchy piccalilli. There are also a few more refined dishes – beetroot carpaccio with local goat’s cheese and candied hazelnuts, sea bass with crushed potatoes and salsa verde, and a delicately spiced vegan squash massaman curry. Local drinks are well represented, with wine from Albury Organic Vineyard, Crafty Brewing Company beers from up the road in Godalming, and Vann Lane Gin from the distillery next door.
The pub has teamed up with micro-distillery Village Spirit Collective next door to create a bespoke Ginfluencer overnight experience. This includes a tour of the distillery from owner Ian Cox, plus a masterclass in creating a bespoke gin. Ian has isolated 20 botanicals (including lesser-known ones such as orris root, angelica and cubeb pepper) that you can taste individually and rate for preference, then create your own blend from your favourites. The experience lasts from a one-hour taster to a full two- to three-hour masterclass and includes an overnight stay, two-course dinner and full breakfast.
Kinneuchar Inn, Fife
Fife’s latest opening has already proved a great hit with the critics – Marina O’Loughlin called it “spellbinding” in her Sunday Times column – and it’s easy to see why. Opens fires, cosy nooks and furniture crafted from local wood occupy the whitewashed village inn, and from the kitchen there’s a daily changing menu that’s in tune with its abundant local larder. Wild and farmed foods come from the nearby Balcaskie Estate, fish and shellfish from the county’s coastline, there are native breed meats and game, which are butchered on site, and organic and foraged fruit and veg.
Chef James Ferguson has been in the industry all his life, growing up in the kitchen of his parents’ Yorkshire restaurant before making his mark alongside Angela Hartnett in The Connaught and Margot Henderson at Rochelle Canteen; while partner Alethea Palmer has been GM at Arnold & Henderson in London for the past eight years, and here runs front of house.
Expect British food at its best: belted Galloway sirloin to share with chips, horseradish and pickled walnuts; Texel lamb faggots and split peas; devilled hare kidneys on toast; and chicken, smoked bacon and trotter pie.
Arrive for lunch Thursday to Saturday, dinner Wednesday to Saturday, or just for drinks (local, British and European beers, or from the wine list) Tuesday evening through to Sunday.
The Black Bear Inn, Bettws Newydd
Having taken over Bettws Newydd’s village pub in November 2018, Josh and Hannah Byrne are making the most of their new rural setting to create hyper-local menus that change by the week. With the likes of Bristol’s Poco Tapas and Bar Buvette, as well as The Hind’s Head in Bray, on his CV, chef Josh has an appreciation for impeccably fresh produce and a taste for bold and ambitious flavours. There are just three options for each course, one meat, one fish and one veggie – all are scrawled on the huge blackboard and determined by what’s growing close by. Meat is sourced on a whole- or half-animal basis and Josh butchers them himself, using every last inch.
His creations are a homage to the couple’s new life in the Welsh countryside: hogget, sourced from a nearby farm, is slowly braised until blissfully soft and ultra-umami, and served with mash loaded with cream and butter, and a heap of forest-coloured greens from Hannah’s veg plot. Locally foraged ceps bathed in butter and garlic are meaty giants of the fungus fraternity. Save rom for bar snacks, too – house favourites include deep-fried Porthilly rock oysters, traditional Welsh rarebit, and ham and mustard croquettes.
Low-intervention and organic wines take the lead on a comprehensive drinks bill. There’s also an interesting selection of artisan cider and perry, including a rather special champagne-method bottle from Herefordshire producer Gregg’s Pit.
Brassica Beaminster, Dorset
Chef Cass Titcombe used to run London’s Canteen, an influential place famous for its roasts, and he continues this tradition at his Dorset restaurant. On Sundays, Cass serves a full à la carte menu alongside a roast option that alternates between sharing platters of local hogget, pork, Devon Ruby beef and occasionally venison, all with duck-fat-roasted potatoes and organic vegetables from a local farm. Kids can order half portions so the whole family can tuck in as they would at home.
The Pheasant, Shefford Woodlands, Berkshire
As befits a rural pub a gentle canter from Lambourn in the so-called ‘Valley of the Racehorse’, The Pheasant has a strong racing theme and is frequented by riders and trainers alike. With a pint of Pheasant Ale, grab a table by the log fire and tuck into venison shepherd’s
pie with piped whipped mash, parsnips and honey-roasted carrots; or roast pork with super-crisp skin, yorkshire pud, roast potatoes and a side of creamy cauliflower cheese. Leave a hole for the melt-in-the-mouth sharing tarte tatin served hot from oven and accompanied by two bowls of ice cream.
The Woodsman, Stratford-upon-Avon
From the open kitchen in the centre of this hotel restaurant, Mike Robinson and his chefs serve traditional Sunday roasts such as wood-fired bantam chicken with lemon, garlic and glazed carrots, or dry-aged Hereford beef picanha (a rump cap) for two cooked over local charcoal. The menu also includes plenty of wild game from the Midlands and Cotswolds, including the signature dish of braised, glazed shoulder of wild Gloucestershire roe deer with ‘dirty mash’ (pomme mousseline made with 50% butter and cream, and 50% potato, with shredded deer shoulder, herbs, crispy crumbs, venison gravy and Wiltshire truffle) for two. Mike says: “We focus on sharing dishes rather than a carvery-style lunch and this makes for precise and consistent cooking. Our in-house butchery means we use carcasses nose to tail, and our own deer larder in the Cotswolds means that all the venison served is harvested and prepared by us.”
The Star Inn at Harome, north Yorkshire
After cooking professionally for more than 30 years, Andrew Pern knows a thing or two about creating the perfect ambience for a proper Sunday lunch. A 14th-century pub with-rooms in the chocolate box North Yorkshire Moors village of Harome, The Star focusses on using hyper-local produce, much of it grown in Andrew’s abundant kitchen garden. “Sunday lunch at The Star has become very much a place to celebrate all things ‘family’,” says Andrew. “Having been voted Best Sunday Lunch in the World by Lonely Planet, we have a lot to live up to, but with our open fires, low beams, wonky walls and thatched roof, The Star certainly sets the scene.” Of course, the Michelin-starred food helps, too, and Sunday menus include local game when it’s in season and a Yorkshire Pudding Royale which is stuffed with black truffle shavings and foie gras, and served with aged madeira gravy.
Red Lion Freehouse East Chisenbury, Wiltshire
A thatched pub tucked away in a remote part of Wiltshire, The Red Lion has been run by husband-and-wife chefs Guy and Brittany Manning for the past 11 years. The couple previously enjoyed a stellar career in the kitchens of notable restaurants both sides of the Atlantic – Guy worked at Chez Bruce in London and then at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se restaurant in New York, where he met pastry chef Brittany. Though it has its own Michelin star, the Red Lion is still very much a village pub where locals can pop in for a pint of Wiltshire-brewed beer from Three Daggers Brewery. A full menu runs alongside the Sunday roasts so expect roast Cornish turbot sitting alongside rump of Wiltshire beef with roast potatoes cooked in roast chicken and beef fat, roast veal chop and truffled mash or, if you’re lucky, slow-cooked pork from the pub’s own Saddleback pigs.
Castle Farm Midford, Bath
A converted barn on a farm a short drive from central Bath, Pravin and Leah Nayar have certainly created something special at Castle Farm. On Sunday, it’s all about sharing platters down the middle of long tables so you can taste all the meat (42-day-aged rump of beef from local farmer Robin Pitkin, whole Castlemead chicken and roasted loin of Berkshire pork) with vegetables from the garden outside and “perfect” golden roasties. “You only have to look at his Instagram highlights to see he is literally obsessed about his roast potatoes,” says Leah of her husband’s meticulous attention to detail. Changing his potato of choice depending on the season, chef gives his spuds a long parboil, a proper drain and “a good shake so you get all the crispy bits”, before cooking in local Fussels rapeseed oil with herbs and garlic for the ultimate colour and texture. Leave room for classic desserts such as seasonal fruit crumble, and bread and butter pudding.
The White Horse Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset
With dried hops dangling from the high ceiling beams, sumptuous leather armchairs and Instagram-friendly pooches stretched out in front of the fireplaces, this 17th-century inn is very much the hub of the tiny (population of around 750) Somerset village of Haselbury Plucknett every Sunday. The welcome from owner Rebecca Robinson is as warm as the two crackling fires in the bar, while chef husband Richard (formerly at London’s Orrery and Prism at Harvey Nichols) concentrates on roasts so impressive that the pub was runner-up in the 2018 Observer Food Monthly Awards for Best Sunday Lunch.
As well as three roasts, the pub serves a Sunday sharing board, which can feature roast chicken, nine-hour slow-cooked pork belly and roast 40-day, dry-aged beef with yorkshires, duck-fat roast potatoes and BBQ seasonal veg.
The Crown, Minchinhampton
Back open, after seven years dormant and as the latest opening from The Lucky Onion group, The Crown serves cask ales and polished pub fare in the Cotswold market town of Minchinhampton. Danny Fields leads the kitchen, while executive chef Ronnie Bonetti (previously of Soho Farmhouse and Babington House) oversees the menu here, as well as at sister eateries including No 131 and The Hollow Bottom in Cheltenham.
Dating back to 1715, The Crown has been handsomely restored. Think candlelit wooden tables, chandeliers and leather banquettes, alongside exposed brick walls painted in shades of sage and grey, with glinting rose-gold detailing. It’s as welcoming whether you’re windswept in wellies or dressed up for date night. There’s a sizable sun-trap patio, too, with its own bar, and it’s all dog-friendly.
Expect traditional British dishes, done right. Meat eaters take your pick from the dry-aged chiller cabinet – steaks are locally sourced, aged for a minimum of 30 days, grilled over charcoal and served with fries and watercress. There’s fish and chips, chicken in a basket, ham, egg and chips, and the like, as well as tempting veggie options. Silky-smooth field mushroom baked with a golden, crumbly garlic and stilton filling served us well for a starter, while a pie from the specials board arrived as a steaming-hot mix of mushrooms, beetroot, broccoli, carrots and spinach with a proud pastry lid. Puds are similarly classic and well done – jammy plum crumble neatly balanced sweetness with tartness and was the perfect foil for a creamy custard.
The Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall
This award-winning pub with rooms overlooking the Atlantic is named after the nearby granite headland that juts into the sea and resembles the head of a gurnard fish. Accessed via winding, narrow roads that bisect gorse-covered moorland dotted with cows from the organic dairy farm next door, The Gurnard’s Head occupies an enviable spot on one of the UK’s most dramatic coastlines. It’s little wonder that this wild and remote (you’ll be lucky to get a phone signal) place close to the coastal path between St Ives and Penzance has inspired so many artists and writers over the years, including DH Lawrence, who lived in a nearby cottage in 1915.
People flock to the Penwith Peninsula for some seriously bracing walks along the coastal path with its remains of old tin mines, waterfalls, shallow river valleys and glimpses of tucked-away sandy coves at the foot of the craggy, windswept cliffs. Also nearby is Chysauster, a late-Iron Age village and one of the earliest known pre-Roman settlements in the country.“The simple things in life done well” is the tagline for The Gurnard’s Head, where food and drink is as important as the no-frills but comfortable bedrooms (with pastel-coloured Roberts radios and sumptuous beds). The pub’s popular Winter Escape deal (£160 per couple per night including a three-course dinner) sees a seasonal menu making the most of the region’s produce, with typical dishes including a hearty ploughman’s of Westcombe cheddar, pickles and soda bread, and red gurnard with cuttlefish, spring onions, ginger and seaweed.
The Globe Inn, Norfolk
On a Georgian square in Wells-next-the-Sea, The Globe Inn is as popular with walkers as it is the birdwatchers who flock to this timeless North Norfolk (check out our weekend guide to North Norfolk here) coastal town. The pub has strong links with the town’s farmers and fishermen – expect to eat lobster and crab delivered straight from the quay, and beef that has grazed on the salt marshes on the fringes of centuries-old estates.
With such fine food on offer, a good walk is required to burn off the calories, and the pub is the starting point for a number of coastal routes-. One of the best is the 8.5-mile walk to Morston Quay, which passes fishermen’s huts and creeks with lots of bird-spotting potential, although the circular walk via the deer park on the historic Holkham Estate and the pine woods at West Sands, is also a winner. The Globe Inn’s Antonia Bournes says: “It is such a fabulous area for walks but we are also very lucky to have the Coasthopper bus service just up the road, which means our residents can leave their car and walk as far as they want, catch the bus back to Wells-next-the-Sea, then the next day they can set off on the bus to where they left off and carry on walking.”
Cawdor Tavern, Nairnshire
Close to 15th-century Cawdor Castle, with its links to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and surrounded by wonderful countryside and countless walks, this pub in the village of Cawdor serves proudly modern Scottish food and Highland beers to match. In the dining room, with its oak panels and Jacobean chandeliers, refuel with panko-breadcrumbed haggis bon bons and smoked bacon aïoli or venison haunch steak with kale, celeriac purée, wild mushrooms and bramble jus as you sup a pint of Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor (the Champion Bitter of Britain 2018) or fellow award winner Dark Island Reserve.
Walkers make up a large percentage of the visitors to the Cawdor Tavern, with the riverside walk along the River Nairn and the shorter circular walk to Cawdor Wood with its spectacular gorges among the most popular routes for those with walking boots.
Anchor Inn, Dorset
“When it comes to walking in the area, you really are spoilt for choice,” says Paul Wiscombe, the landlord of the Anchor Inn at Seatown, a pub on the beach overlooking Lyme Bay. “But, of course, it depends on how energetic you are feeling,” he adds with a smile, before listing the different options for “serious” walkers who bring their boots and waterproofs, or those simply looking for a gentle stroll after lunch. On the Jurassic Coast, this pub is next to a shingle beach beneath towering cliffs, and close to the seaside resorts of Lyme Regis and West Bay (the location for the TV series Broadchurch).
One of the most popular walks in the area is a hilly one that starts at the Domesday village of Symondsbury and follows an old drovers’ route, the Dorset Holloways (‘sunken roads’) and Colmer’s Hill before ending at Golden Cap, the highest point on England’s south coast. The beach at Seatown is a popular spot for collecting fossils, which can often be spotted after the tide goes out, and the family-friendly pub serves a range of dishes, from the malt-vinegar and sea-herb-battered fish with crushed peas, tartare sauce and chips, to chargrilled steak with samphire butter, creamed spinach and crushed hot-smoked potato salad. Wash it down with a pint of locally brewed Palmers ale and watch the famous sunsets over the bay.
The Queens Arms, Somerset
An 18th-century village pub with rooms in the rolling hills of Somerset, The Queens Arms at Corton Denham has been run by Jeanette and Gordon Reid for the past decade, during which time they have won countless awards. From the mountain of homemade pork pies on the bar to hand pumps serving pints of Legless Liz – an ale made exclusively for the pub to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday – this pub caters for locals, tourists and the many walkers and cyclists passing the door. The Reids provide maps for local routes, including a circular walk from the pub via quiet country lanes through villages with quaint names such as Chilton Cantelo and Queen Camel. Some of these places also appear on the menu as many of the farms and local shoots supplying the kitchen are within a 10-mile radius. The owners also have their own smallholding two miles away. An autumn meal at the pub might feature pigeon, swede consommé, pickled beetroot, blackberries and radish, perhaps followed by broccoli risotto with Dorset Blue Vinney and almonds.
The Three Tuns, Wiltshire
This pub welcomes muddy boots, paws and children. With its scrubbed pine tables, fresh flowers in old gin bottles, low beams, real fires, leather sofas and window sills lined with old whisky-branded water jugs, it fits comfortably in the village pub bracket. Before taking over The Three Tuns six years ago, James Wilsey worked in a number of high-profile London restaurants including Scott’s of Mayfair and The Anglesea Arms near Shepherd’s Bush. His menu combines pub classics and modern British restaurant dishes, with homemade scotch egg with apple purée and celeriac remoulade sitting happily alongside a rump of lamb, braised lentils, purple sprouting broccoli, Provençal tomato and salsa verde.
There are a number of excellent walks starting from this pub in the peaceful village of Great Bedwyn near Marlborough. A few minutes down the road from The Three Tuns you’ll find the Kennet and Avon Canal, which makes for a lovely walk all year round. “On cold days, you can smell the woodburners on the barges, and it always feels like a different pace of life down by the water,” says James’s wife, Ashley. “It’s a great walk for children as well, as it is quite flat and there’s tons of wildlife around the water. You also get to watch the locks being opened and closed as the boats make their way through.” Walkers can also reach neighbouring villages along the canal, as well as local destinations such as the Crofton Beam Engines. From the base of the locks, you can also walk straight up a small hill to reach the paths of the Bedwyn Brail, known for its wooded copses, hills and farmland, as well as remains of Roman settlements.
Alternatively, you can make your way straight to the woods behind the pub, which can either lead to the little 13th-century thatched chapel at Chisbury, the hamlet and hidden treasure of St Katharine’s Church, or straight into the ancient Savernake Forest, where you’ll find some 3,000 acres of stunning woods with several notable ‘veteran trees’.
And for those with tired feet and blisters after all the walking, it’s worth noting that there’s a mainline train station in Bedwyn with a direct service to and from Paddington, Reading and Newbury.
The Ship Inn, Northumberland
Local lobster and kippers, live folk-music nights and a wood burner make this whitewashed pub close to sweeping beaches and iconic castles, a must-visit pit stop for weary Northumberland coast walkers. Run by Christine Forsyth and her daughter Hannah for the past 20 years, The Ship Inn at Low Newton-by-the-Sea near Alnwick brews its own beer in an on-site microbrewery. Close enough to the rocks to hear seals calling, the pub serves meat from neighbouring farms, and fish and seafood from local day boats. A typical dinner might kick off with Peelham Farm salami, chorizo and air-dried ham and continue with local mackerel fillets marinated with soy and lime, served with a fennel and rocket salad.
It’s perfect fuel for walkers recovering from exhilarating coastal rambles such as the National Trust walk from Low Newton to Craster – home of the legendary kippers. The walk passes the ruins of the iconic Dunstanburgh Castle and Embleton Sands, and is notable for its migrating birds in autumn and spectacular light in winter. Alternatively, the walk to the village of Beadnell takes in Newton Pool Nature Reserve in the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Bell at Skenfrith, Monmouthshire
On the banks of the River Monnow in the lush and green Welsh Marches, this 17th-century former coaching inn has created six of its own circular countryside walks for guests. The walks run to and from the pub, each with a map and description of footpaths and drawings of points of local interest. The walks were created with local couple Eira and Harry Steggles, who have been married and walking together for some 60 years, and include The Black Habits Black Deeds Walk and A Woodland Wander.
Although many weary walkers will stop off at The Bell for lunch or dinner, usually near the warming inglenook fire, owners Richard Ireton and Sarah Hudson also organise picnics, and if anyone gets lost they will rescue them. The Knights Templar trail wanders into England and back again to Wales, taking in Garway church with one of the earliest Knights Templar altars. And it’s not just walkers who are made to feel welcome at The Bell – four-legged walkers are treated just as well with free dog biscuits behind the bar and an outdoor pooch parlour where dogs and the muddy boots of their owners can be washed.
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