Fancy getting out of town for a night or two but don’t want to travel too far? There’s no better place than a cosy country pub, where you can enjoy hearty meals washed down with fine ales while fraternising with locals.
If you’re in need of some inspiration, travel editor Martin Dunford has just written a book all about Britain’s best pubs and inns.
Below, he has rounded up a selection of the best within an hour from London in an extract from Cool Places guide to Britain’s Best Pubs with Rooms - it’s the perfect choice for a lazy weekend away.
The Bell Inn, Essex
One of our favourite foodie pubs close to London has to be the Bell Inn, situated in the sleepy village of Horndon-on-the-Hill, high above the Thames on the way to Southend-on-Sea. This lovely old inn was one of the UK’s first gastropubs in the 1970s and remains a terrific place to eat. It also has 26 guest rooms – very comfortable and well equipped and ranging from characterful beamed affairs in the pub itself to swish, more contemporary options up the street.
Price: double rooms between £100–£145 a night.
The Bull Inn, Oxfordshire
Midway between Woodstock and Chipping Norton, the small market town of Charlbury is an excellent base for exploring the eastern Cotswolds, and is easily reachable in about an hour by train from London Paddington, so you can leave the car at home. Bang in the centre, the long-established Bull Inn is the sort of place in which it’s impossible not to relax, with all the bells and whistles a good gastropub should have – delicious, locally sourced, unpretentious food, decent ales and an all-round cosy atmosphere, together with a very comfortable set of boutique rooms.
Price: double rooms from £119 a night.
The Cricketers, Essex
The creation of Trevor and Sally Oliver (yes, Jamie’s parents), this pioneering gastropub was taken over recently by the local Chestnut group, but this hasn’t made us think of it less fondly; indeed, it’s still hard to beat the food they serve, which is several cuts above what you will enjoy elsewhere, yet prices are pretty much the same as in any decent gastropub, and you can stay overnight in one of 22 bright, recently refurbished rooms scattered between the pub itself, a couple of buildings next door and a bungalow across the road.
Price: double rooms from £180 a night.
The Crown Inn, West Sussex
Occupying a picturesque position overlooking Dial Post’s village green, this 16th-century coaching inn has been launched into the 21st century while relinquishing none of its innate pubby charm. It has a lovely beamed bar with stone floor and antique rugs, mismatched furniture, a wood-burner squeezed into an ancient brick hearth, and a big and deserved reputation for food. They have also added four comfy and beautifully appointed rooms upstairs in case you want to stay over.
Price: double rooms £120–£155 a night.
The Duke William, Kent
Located in the heart of the Kentish countryside close to the quaint village of Wingham, this is the perfect weekend getaway, with four super-comfy en-suite rooms named after chef-patron Mark Sergeant’s culinary heroes – the likes of Ramsay, Stein and Floyd – and decorated in calming shades of grey. The pub itself is a lovely spot for a drink, with a sun-terrace and garden, children’s play area and food that ranges from Scotch eggs with caper mayo, to mussel popcorn and pork belly with broads beans and black pudding.
Price: double rooms from £120 a night.
The Fox at Willian, Hertfordshire
This recently revamped pub does everything a country inn should: it has a set of very comfy guest rooms, decorated in crisp contemporary style; it serves moderately priced, excellent food; and it’s not a bad place to pop into for a pint either. It even runs the village shop next door. But with its position just five minutes off the A1, it also happens to be a very handy place for tired London folk to recharge their batteries at the weekend.
Price: double rooms £130–£165 a night.
The Guinness Arms, Suffolk
Located in the unassuming Suffolk village of Icklingham, this newly renovated inn is part of the Elveden Estate, which has been in the hands of the Guinness brewing dynasty for over 100 years. Its pub grub menu is based on produce from the estate, which provides pork, game and venison along with never-ending supplies of fruit and vegetables, while its eight boutiquey rooms are each named after members of the Guinness family and styled accordingly – indeed Lulu’s room was designed by the fashion designer herself.
Price: double rooms £100–£140 a night.
The Kingham Plough, Oxfordshire
Just over an hour by train from London, this 17th-century Oxfordshire inn, situated in the lovely village of Kingham, is a long-standing fave of the Chipping Norton set, serving both pub classics and more adventurous dishes. The food is splendid, and overnight rates for its six very cosy but thoroughly contemporary rooms include an excellent breakfast, lots of it homemade, from the cereals to the baked beans, and relatively unusual options like kedgeree as well as an excellent Full English.
Price: double rooms from £145 a night.
The Loch & The Tyne, Berkshire
Not far from the Thames in the large village of Old Windsor, the latest offering from the prolific British chef and restauranteur Adam Handling is basically his contemporary take on a traditional British pub, with food that is a notch above most pub grub and and 2 luxurious guest rooms for overnight stays. Their motto is ‘sustainable British luxury’, which is a nice strap-line but these guys really mean it: solar panels, a recycled water system and their own kitchen garden out the back make it not only a candidate for an easy break-out weekend from London but one that you can feel quite smug about too.
Price: double rooms from around £180 a night.
The Mulberry Inn, Surrey
Located close to the Surrey village of Chiddingfold, the Mulberry used to be owned by celebrity DJ and former ‘Top Gear’ presenter Chris Evans. Sold to new owners a couple of years ago, it remains a terrific village pub in every respect – a good place to drink, stay or eat, with a uniquely Lebanese-tinged menu that has proved massively popular with locals and draws diners from much further afield. They also serve an excellent and very popular roast on Sundays, and have a lovely beer garden plus three crisp and comfortable bedrooms.
Price: double rooms £90–£125 a night.
The Percy Arms, Surrey
Beautifully positioned beneath the beauty spots of Chantries and St Marthas – two eye-candy vantage points along the North Downs Way – this is in many ways the quintessential English village pub, with a cracking beer garden from where you can admire the views of the Surrey Hills. Inside, however, things are a bit different, with energetic South African owners, authentic African artefacts and a comfy hunting-lodge vibe that includes delicious food right off the South African braai and a set of rooms each named after one of the ‘Big Five’ game animals.
Price: double rooms from £105 a night.
The Stag on the River, Surrey
Nestled in the tiny Surrey village of Lower Eashing, literally just off the A3 on the outskirts of Godalming, this riverside pub couldn’t be easier to get to from London and has seven timber-framed bedrooms, each named after a nearby village, furnished in a contemporary country style. Downstairs, the food is excellent across the board and you can eat in the airy main restaurant or at a selection of tables outside by the river. Service is top-notch and the pub makes an ideal base for touring the nearby Surrey Hills AONB, where you can walk and cycle to your heart’s content.
Price: double rooms from £125 a night.
This extract was taken from the new Cool Places guide to Britain’s Best Pubs with Rooms – Cool Pubs & Inns (£18.99)