Country Life and the Countryside Alliance find the best sporting pubs in Britain
Overall winner and best in the Midlands
The Talbot, Knightwick, Worcestershire
This pub’s USP is that it’s ‘unbranded, independent, old- fashioned and unspoilt’ and, it should be added, there is a much-loved landlady, Annie Clift, who is an indispensable member of the community.
The Talbot Arms, which has a hunting dog on its sign, started as a coaching inn in about 1450 and is on the banks of the River Teme. It has its own pigs, a kitchen garden and a brewery (Teme Valley). Game served includes pheasant, mallard, partridge and, in summer, rabbit, pigeon, muntjac and even Canada goose.
The Worcestershire Fox- hounds and Leadon Vale Basset Hounds meet here and the pub hosts a monthly farmer’s market (the next one is on November 8), morris-dancing ‘hoolies’, the Green Hop Beer Festival and shoot breakfasts and beaters’ lunches. There’s a stuffed salmon caught by the owner in the bar. The locals say they couldn’t survive without it www.the-talbot.co.uk; 01886 821235
Best for shooting and best in the North
Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland, Co Durham
Once a 12th-century Abbot’s Priory, the Lord Crewe Arms is a pearl of a sporting estab- lishment, handily located for the glorious grouse moors that pepper the North Pennines.
With a boot room, a drying room and a secure gun safe as well as its own stretch of fishing on the River Derwent—‘The Crewe’ couldn’t be better equipped. But, aside from the hostelry’s quirky architectural appeal, it’s the standard of food that keeps visiting sports- men and locals coming back for more.
The head chef favours grouse from the owner Michael Stone’s moor, at Weardale, and other game in season, spit-roasted in The Larder restaurant’s cavernous fireplace. There are ‘fell-feeding’ lunches for shoot days and foraged tipples, such as damson gin and lavender vodka, in the convivial Crypt bar. Dogs can doze in front of the fire with a pint of ‘doggie beer’ or flake out in most of the bedrooms www.lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk; 01434 675469
Best for fishing and best in the South
The Greyhound on the Test, Stockbridge, Hampshire
By all accounts, the proprietor, Lucy Townsend, has worked wonders at this 15th-century former inn in Stockbridge (the birthplace of dry fly-fishing), which she took over three years ago. Having run the nearby Peat Spade Inn, Miss Townsend obviously knows a thing or two about managing fine fishing establishments in Hampshire.
Our fishing correspondent, David Profumo, says it’s ideal for all the county’s chalk streams the Test flows through its beer garden it’s two minutes’ walk from a brace of excellent tackle shops ‘and the charming staff don’t mind if you need to dine late after an evening rise’.
Breakfasts of paramount importance to an angler are superb and can include char- grilled venison liver with devilled Cheers! Cecil Aldin’s The Christmas Dinner at the Inn scrambled eggs and smoked bacon, a favourite with stalkers returning after a Greyhound organised dawn pursuit of roe, muntjac or fallow. Partridge and pheasant days, with the use of the pub’s Land Rover, can be arranged, too. http://thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk; 01264 810833
Best for hunting and best in the South-West
The Exmoor White Horse, Exford, Somerset
Exmoor is well off for sporting inns, but this 500-year-old, creeper-covered pub on the banks of the River Exe positively
echoes with hunting songs and stories. It’s next door to a long- established livery yard in a village that buzzes on hunt- ing days; you can hear hounds singing from the Devon & Somer- set Staghound kennels, just up the hill, and the constant clip-clop of hooves.
The public bar, which was once known as the Dalesman Bar after famous hunting scribe Bay de Courcy Parry, is stuffed with hunting photographs, antlers and other memorabilia.
The staghounds meet here on Boxing Day and the Exmoor Foxhounds at other times of the season and, being in classic high-bird country, local shoots make good use of the pub. Land- lord Peter Hendrie can organise angling instruction with his son Lewis, an international fly-fisherman, hunter livery or hirelings and deer safaris. Unsurprisingly, venison is on the menu and Exmoor ale is served. A gun safe is available and dogs are allowed in some bedrooms. www.exmoor-whitehorse.co.uk; 01643 831229
Best in Scotland
The Buccleuch Arms, St Boswells, Borders
Originally built as a hunting lodge in 1836 by the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, the Buccleuch Arms is now run by Billy and Rachael Hamilton, who hunt with the Lauderdale twice a week. Favoured by members and staff of the Duke of Buccleuch’s
Hunt who visit the pub so frequently for masters’ meetings, AGMs and fundraisers that it’s known as their HQ it also hosts shoot dinners and organises mixed-species days for guns, with the kitchen serving up what they’ve shot that evening.
Thanks to its proximity to the Tweed, The Buccleuch Arms is also frequented by fishermen, who appreciate flexible meal times to fit around early and late spells on the river, the rod storage and drying room, as well as being able to get their catch smoked. With local game (including pigeon and roe deer) served, dogs welcome in the bar and racing at nearby Kelso or point-to-pointing at Friars Haugh overlooking Floors Castle, The Buccleuch Arms which nobly launders the number cloths is a true sporting all-rounder. www.buccleucharms.com; 01835 822243
Best in Wales
Cresselly Arms, Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire
This famously old-fashioned, no-nonsense pub, part of the Cresselly estate, is a nucleus for the South Pembrokeshire hunt, as well as local cricket, and is sporting MP Simon Hart’s favourite. It doesn’t serve food, but that doesn’t dent its popularity, and beer is served from the barrel in jugs it’s hardly changed since its last update in the 1890s.
It’s on the quay (you can arrive by boat) on the Cleddau estuary, a famed salmon run, and the highest tides lap the bar, which has a fire and lots of sporting memorabilia, including a piece of the goalpost at which Welsh rugby legend John Taylor scored a crucial try against Scotland in 1971. Dogs are welcome. 01646 651250
Best in the East
Saracen’s Head, Wolterton, north Norfolk
This secluded Georgian inn designed by Repton to look like a Tuscan farmhouse in sleepy countryside, but near the bustling coast and the delightful market town of Holt, is perfectly placed to take advantage of the county’s plentiful game, such as a steady supply of rabbits and duck (mallard and teal) from a local gamekeeper and venison (whole red or fallow, which the chef, Mark Sayers, butchers himself) from neighbouring Gunton Park.
Run by Tim and Janie Elwes, who recently returned to Norfolk from the French Alps, the pub which welcomes dogs in its six bedrooms and bar areas hosts meets of the North Norfolk Fox- hounds (when followers get to feast on Mark’s special sausage rolls) and lots of shooting parties one team has booked 18 lunches this season. www.saracenshead-norfolk.co.uk; 01263 768909