Soft beds, hot food and a drink for the weary traveller are all simple things, but it’s a combination that has defined England’s roadside inns for centuries. A good number date from as far back as the Tudor era, and given the enduring appeal of roaring fires, wonky floors and perilously low timber-beamed ceilings, they have had little cause to change in the intervening 500 years. Sure, you’ll find the odd sign of modernity – a pillow menu here, a Michelin star there – but their timeless appeal really derives from travellers’ two most basic needs: comfort and companionship. Excelling in both qualities, here are 10 of the best English inns.
This charming waterside rest-stop used to host Queen Victoria and Prince Albert once upon a time, although these days it’s more ‘New England yacht club’ than old Victorian pub. The decor is light and has a pleasant maritime vibe, with nautical curios and sea-themed artworks scattered about the rooms and public spaces. Accommodation is divided between 10 bedrooms and suites (all with sea views), eight beach huts fronting Babbacombe Bay, and four restored fisherman’s cottages.
This gorgeous thatched inn has been serving the people of Hinton St George since 1680, but has gained wider renown since 2018 when it was bought by Bramley Bars and is now something of a destination in its own right. The restoration has been sensitive, and the building now sports a rustic, faintly genteel look, with exposed stone walls and a mish-mash of furniture in the bar and dining area. There are some quaint pastimes for guests and patrons too, including a boules court and a bar billiards table.
The fact that this old boozer has remained so enduringly popular for 300-odd years should say it all really. It sits in the middle of nowhere with precious little nearby save for glorious Lakeland countryside. In recent times, the punters have been drawn here by the food, which is a touch above your everyday pub fare, and the range of fine ales produced in the on-site brewery. These are supplemented by 13 comfy rooms decorated in contemporary-country style, with lots of soft fabrics and quirky ornaments.
This ramshackle Georgian inn lies tucked away in the beautiful Chiltern hills, offering a warm welcome to those looking to explore this bucolic corner of Buckinghamshire. It’s snug in both senses of the word, offering an enveloping sense of comfort but not a great deal of space. But the food is really the star attraction, with dishes that use seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and that are cooked on a wood-fired grill in the open kitchen.
Hidden and remote, Portloe was once the haunt of smugglers who’d land French brandy and other contraband on the village’s tiny beach. Their haunt was The Lugger, a 17th-century inn on the water’s edge. Stop in these days and you’re more likely to come across ramblers travelling the South West Coast Path than salt-grizzled ‘free-traders’, and the aesthetic is far more ‘contemporary seaside’ than ‘den of vice’. The 22 bedrooms are light and modern, and there’s even a therapy room for guests to luxuriate in beauty treatments and body massages.
A staple of the UK food scene, The Star is the worthy holder of a Michelin star, awarded in recognition of chef Andrew Pern’s innovative menu of modern British cuisine (or Yorkshire cuisine to be precise, since most of it comes from God’s Own County). The pub itself is a delight too: a low thatched building dating from the late medieval era, with a fragrant terraced garden where you can take your drink on a warm day. The rooms are housed in an annexe of converted farm buildings, but have been traditionally styled (wooden beams, hunting memorabilia) to continue the heritage feel.
The gurgling River Lugg slides peacefully past this attractive 16th-century coaching inn, situated deep in the lush Herefordshire countryside. It’s an ideal base for walkers and cyclists looking to explore this oft-overlooked stretch of border country, with four comfortable rooms in the main house, two suites in an annexe, and three lodges in the garden. The food is classic pub fare but brilliantly executed, and the bar is warm and inviting – exactly what’s required after a long day exploring the Marches.
In many respects this is the model of a Cotswold pub, with a honey-hued stone exterior, bar- dining area with flagstone floors and wood-beamed ceilings plus four guest rooms decorated in a comfortingly familiar country style (with views of the tranquil Evenlode Valley thrown in for good measure). What sets it apart is the 45 acres of land, much of it open only to guests at the inn, and which contains a wildlife reserve inhabited by foxes and badgers.
A dab of bright yellow in the north Essex landscape, the Sun Inn sits on Dedham’s pretty high street, a short distance from the River Stour and right in the heart of Constable Country. It provides a convivial stopover for those seeking out the landscape captured by the great artist, with an atmospheric old bar, surprisingly good Italian food on the menu, and seven characterful rooms on the upper floors.
There has been an inn at this riverside spot in Beaulieu for nearly 500 years, although these days The Montagu resembles something akin to a New Forest squire’s manor rather than a village tavern. The interiors are bright and modern, particularly in the the 33 bedrooms and suites spread between the main house and converted courtyard buildings, although historic features have been carefully preserved. Food is the main focus though, with fine dining in The Terrace restaurant and pub favourites in Monty’s Inn.