Here is our guide to a selection of the best country pubs in the UK – see you at the bar!
What makes the perfect country pub?
Like Christmas, a country pub has to be just so – cosy, traditional and without modern accoutrements. As Orwell said, “the architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian” and that’s an excellent start. Older is even better. Horse-brasses and agricultural implements of old are important. Sepia prints, along with the occasional stuffed and mounted fish (if near
a lake or river, or caught by a local) also offer talking points. Big oak beams certainly help. There are no fruit machines or TVs in the perfect country pub. Cribbage, backgammon and cards are welcome.
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A view is great, a beer garden essential, a lack of traffic a necessity. A pub on a village green is nirvana. A riverside where you can watch water flow and others struggling with their craft is equally joyous.
A range of local ales, ciders and lagers on tap has to be the bare minimum requirement.
This has to be made on the premises. Simple, fresh and tasty works best. Be wary of enormous lists – the wider the variety, the more likely meals will be cooked from frozen. A briefer menu probably means you’re in for a treat. In a perfect pub, staff will be relaxed about you ordering food at 2.35pm, even though they finish serving at 2.30pm.
I don’t need hearty welcomes or a landlord who can serve me “the usual” in my own pewter mug. Country pubs can be busy, so the bar person needs to be aware of who is next to be served and tell them while serving the previous customer by using eye contact. This removes all stress from the bar. No phrase sends a greater chill down my spine than a barman yelling “Right then, who’s next?” at a sea of angst-ridden faces.
An important part of my early education was spent drinking Canada Dry in the village pub. What’s wrong with kids playing and laughing in public?
For similar reasons to number 6, plus there’s something especially comforting about watching a well-walked dog having a snooze by the fire.
Muddy footwear is allowed
You’ve walked for miles to a remote pub only to be confronted with a terse sign. You should always remove muddy boots but such signs can mean there will be other fussy rules once you’re inside.
A smile and a hello is the most that’s required. A landlord or lady who will willingly lend you a map of the local area, pen and paper, trusting that you’ll give them back is even better.
A roaring fire
An open log fire marginally beats a wood burner but this is arguable. A fireplace offers focus – even in summer when it’s not burning.
Britain’s best country pubs
Plume of Feathers, Rickford, Somerset
The Goose and Cuckoo in Llanover, Monmouthshire
Lovely remote hilltop location on an ancient drovers’ road. Family run, great local beer, super views and warmest of welcomes for walkers, cyclists and the lost. Hearty food is cooked on the premises. gooseandcuckooinn.wales
Llanthony Priory, Monmouthshire
The cellar of Llanthony Priory offers a stunning location in a Black Mountains’ valley to sit and have a beer after a walk along Offa’s Dyke. llanthonyprioryhotel.co.uk
Ship Inn, Porlock, Somerset
Ticks all the boxes: thatched roof, cobbled floors, good ales, roaring fire in winter. Coleridge and Southey (who composed a sonnet at the bar) enjoyed a pint here. And it’s on the routes of not one but two of England’s finest long-distance trails – the South West Coast Path and the Coleridge Way. www.shipinnporlock.co.uk
Moulin Hotel, Highlands
After a day hiking in the Cairngorms mountains, there is little more rewarding than stepping into The Moulin Hotel for a pint of ale by the fire – this warm, cosy pub on the outskirts of Pitlochry has been serving beer for three centuries. moulinhotel.co.uk/inn/pub
Pig’s Nose Inn, Devon
The Pig’s Nose Inn in East Prawle. Set on the most southerly point of the magnificent Devon coast, this characterful 16th-century pub is always packed, full of cheerful eccentrics, glinting bars fittings, warm lamps and bonhomie. Something about its atmosphere evokes its pirating past. The classic pub grub is home cooked and hearty, just as it ought to be after a long walk in blustery winds, and the pub also has a live music venue for swashbuckling singalongs. Plus real ales straight from the cask. www.pigsnoseinn.co.uk
The Rockford Inn, Exmoor
Tucked away in an ancient woodland deep in the Exmoor valley, this 17th century pub is the perfect spot for a hearty lunch and a pint of local ale after a leisurely walk along the East Lyn river. Inside you’ll find a roaring fire, friendly service and a treasure trove of interesting historical artefacts from the local area. therockfordinn.co.uk
Britain’s best riverside pubs
Country inns are all the more enjoyable when they’re next to water, especially rivers. Here are a few of Britain’s best, from Ye Old Ferrie Inn at Symonds Yat in Herefordshire to Hampshire’s beautiful Mayfly.
Feast on a rocky-road brownie sundae while watching rowing boats bob and canoeists paddle at The Cutter Inn. The Great River Ouse runs to the east of the town of Ely, and is hugged on both banks by paths. This popular drinking hole is the midway point of the 50-mile Fen Rivers Way.
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What better way to spend a summer’s day than sat on a decked pontoon, sunshine glittering on the water and Cornish ale in hand? This 13th-century pub in Restronguet gives you all this and more. Arrive by car, boat, bike or on foot, before taking a circular walk along creekside paths, through fields and woodlands.
Boasting over 700 years of history – including the possession of ancient fishing rights over a two-mile stretch of nearby waters – The Trout in Lechlade has an impressive legacy. Its riverside gardens provide guests with the chance to relax after an amble on the Thames Path, and the camping field, open throughout the summer, is the perfect setting for a night beneath the stars.
Perched on the banks of the River Test in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, The Mayfly – with its riverside terrace and quality pub food – is a truly idyllic pub. The Test is famed for its trout fishing, but also provides flat, easy walking.
Hungry fell walkers in the Lake District will be glad to find Skelwith Bridge Hotel and its Talbot Bar set close to the banks of the River Breathy near Ambleside. Laze outside in the peaceful pub garden, dining on traditional Lakeland food, Sunday roasts and a pint of Jennings real ale.
Best winter walker’s pubs in Britain
Wrap up warm this winter and head for the hills, then end the day with food and drink by the fire at a cosy country pub. From Cumbrian classics to Welsh watering holes, here’s our round-up of the UK’s best rural pubs for winter walkers.
The Old Dungeon Ghyll, Langdale, Cumbria
The fun atmosphere of this pub is sure to warm you up after a chilly day in Ambleside. The Hikers Bar has long been the haunt of exhausted fell walkers and climbers, serving good beer, a range of scotch whisky’s, and wholesome, healthy food. They also hold live music nights. www.odg.co.uk
The Hare Arms, Stow Bardolph, Norfolk
This recently refurbished pub in the centre of West Norfolk not far from King’s Lynn offers a fresh menu with a selection of cask ales. Call in after a day on the coast for a heart meal. www.theharearms.co.uk
Queen’s Arms pub and Hotel, Hawkshead, Cumbria
The Queen’s Arms pub has be offering refuge for winter walkers since the 17th century. With guest rooms, food and an open fire, it’s the perfect base for exploring the southern Lakes. queensheadhawkshead.co.uk