Britain’s best pubs

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

It was Ernest Hemmingway who once said: “It was as natural as eating, and to me, as necessary. I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking a beer.” Like the acclaimed American writer, for most of us beer – which derives from the Latin word ‘bibere’ meaning ‘to drink’ – has become a way of life.
CD Traveller has teamed up with Alastair Sawday to pick the pubs that offer not only flavoursome beer but fine – locally sourced –food, handsome accommodation and the warmest of welcomes. Is there a better way to while away an afternoon?

Alastair Sawday

Alastair Sawday

Hearts soar when our inspectors find chalkboard menus promoting regional seasonal produce: farm meats, village-baked bread, locally shot game, fish from local catches, organic wines and local brewery ale. A passion for actively sourcing seasonal foods from high-quality local suppliers now extends to deli counters by the bar, farmers’ markets in pub car parks and poly-tunnels and vegetable plots bursting with home grown produce. Our champions of seasonal and organic produce are:

The Mill Race
Walford, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire (01989 562891)
As the ‘ecclesiastical’ door swings open, prepare yourself for a stainless steel kitchen glistening behind a granite topped bar; this is a stylish place. A wood burner divides eating areas and there are counter-style bar tables and leather armchairs for aperitifs. A food provenance blackboard shows how seriously food is taken here: local chef Dan Wall chooses the meat and the game from their farm and helps digs the vegetables: the sous sous-chef catches trout for the table. Linger long over roast red leg of partridge with mash, bread sauce and watercress, or roast Gower Pollock with crushed potatoes, wild mushrooms and parsley oil; children may have child-size portions (and that includes yummy garlic bread). Sit on the rear terrace, look across the Wye to the ruins of Goodrich Castle, sip ales from the same valley. Fabulous.

The Pigs
Holt, Norfolk (01263 587634)
If passion and pedigree go hand in hand then The Pigs’ patrons are onto a winner. Running the old pub (once known as the Bacon Arms) is a partnership of restaurateurs fighting the corner for real food locally sourced – some of which comes straight from the patrons’ gardens. The  enterprising menu, a retro version of British classics – tastes and  textures long forgotten – includes beef dripping on toast with cock-a- leekie soup, marmalade-glazed ham hock with mustard mash, cauliflower  fritters, and a fruity, gingery Norfolk Biffin; also, a tempting  little menu for ‘piglets’. Homemade pork scratchings, colonial spiced almonds and mixed pickle pots are further lures, along with old-fashioned pub games and decent cask ales. No hushed gastronomic museum this, more of a “traditional bar with continental leanings.”

The Potting Shed Pub
Crudwell, Malmesbury, Wiltshire (01666 577833)
Jonathan and Julian, owners of the Rectory Hotel across the road, have transformed the village inn. As well as the open fireplaces and the stylish kilim sofas, you’ll note a light fitting fashioned from a wheelbarrow, door handles from trowels, hand pumps from fork handles  and old butchers’ block tables; the large, airy dining room displays  mix ‘n’ match antiques. As for the food, it is exuberantly British, from the homemade pork scratchings and rabbit terrine to the battered hake and lamb hotpot. Two acres of lawns and an apple orchard at the back have been turned into an organic vegetable patch, while local ales, ploughman’s lunches and dog biscuits on the bar further reflect the focus on real-pub values and unpretentiousness. There’s an excellent children’s menu, and puds to warm your heart; try the spiced rice pudding. It’s 21st-century pub heaven.

We have visited scores of simple, authentic, unadulterated pubs and they are a diminishing breed. Those that we found particularly special are:

White Hart Inn
Bouth, Lake District, Cumbria (01229 861229)
The main counter drips with brass, hops and beer pumps; walls and shelves are strewn with clay pipes, sepia photos, taxidermy and tankards. It’s a sleepy-snoozy village local, friendly too, where regulars cheerfully mingle with visitors over pints of Coniston and Hawkshead Bitter, decent wines and a delicious, no-nonsense menu: rare- breed meat from Aireys of Ayside; steak and Guinness pie; vegetarian chilli; and mallard and pheasant from the shooting parties that gather in the pub car park on winter Saturdays. They source locally, and – yes! – do small portions for children. A sloping flagged floor reflects the light from the window; black leather sofas front stoves at each end, log-fuelled in cold weather. The walking’s marvellous and the village fits snugly into the ancient landscape of wooded valleys and tight little roads.


The Square & Compass
Swanage, Dorset (01929 439229)
The name honours those who cut stone from the nearby quarries. This splendid old pub has been in the family for generations and remains wonderfully unchanged; a narrow, and rare, drinking corridor leads to two hatches from where Palmer’s Copper Ale and guest ales are drawn from the cask. With a pint of farmhouse cider and a homemade pastie, you can chat in the flagged corridor or settle in the parlour; find painted wooden panels, wall seats and local prints and cartoons, and a wood-burner to warm you on a wild night. The stone-walled main room has live music; there’s cribbage and shove ha’penny and a fossil museum (the family’s) next door. Gazing out across fields to the sea  this pub and its sunny front terrace – dotted occasionally with free- ranging hens – is a popular stop for coastal path hikers. A national treasure.

The Royal Oak
Lasham, Hampshire (01256 381213)
Small, ancient, thatched and secluded is this ale-lover’s retreat. No fruit machines, just old fashioned bonhomie. Locals exchange stories around the bar; ramblers and dogs drop by. Huge fires crackle through the winter, demanding you linger. Neil and Pauline McCulloch believe in local produce and deliver honest and unpretentious pub lunches: ploughman’s with homemade pate, French-dressed local crab, sausages from their pigs, no chips. Though rustically simple, the three small rooms are perfect with pale boards, solid tables and spindleback chairs, darts, dominoes and cribbage, and homely touches. Five local beers are drawn straight from the cask, including Hop Back Summer Lightning and Royal Oak by Bowman ales. And there’s more: a large garden for barbecues and a beer and food festival in September. Pub heaven.

Log on to CD Traveller tomorrow for more great places to enjoy a pint (or pimms) this summer

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