The best country pubs in England

The best country pubs, London bars and places to drink in England

By Harry Eyres

This may sound like blasphemy, but a good cheerful pub is as natural a part of an English village as a church with a sturdy medieval tower. Both are institutions that gather and console people of all ages and conditions; if you go to church for spiritual uplift, prayer and contemplation, you go to the pub for relaxation and conviviality, to let your hair down and to laugh.

The best pubs and other watering holes are natural outgrowths of the local land- scape and architecture; they speak in the vernacular. This applies as much to a lonely pub on the edge of Exmoor as to an historic London drinking den. Part of the pleasure is absorbing local styles and customs with deep roots, for example, the game of shove ha’penny played in a Dorset inn takes you back to the world of Thomas hardy.

Excellent ales (now enjoying a renaissance) and fine wines are an import- ant but perhaps not the most important part of all this. The essence is atmosphere, a friendly landlord and bar staff and the sense of welcome. Fortunately, this welcome now extends much more widely (to women and sometimes even to children) than in the past, when pubs were smoky male preserves.


The Ox House
A wine merchant, bar and coffee shop with a blazing log fire and a courtyard garden. Indulge in simple, delicious food and explore the excellent wine list.
* Take home a case of the Ox House red—it takes some beating
The Rosebery
A cocktail bar and restaurant on wheels, this converted Routemaster gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘party bus’.
* Available for private parties or consult the events calendar for the Rosebery’s appearance (020–78346013;
The Mariners, Rock
Now it’s back in business, the next generation of ‘rockers’ can have their first legal pint on the premises.
* Try the Porthilly oysters with your pint they come from the beaches just below the pub. It’s more a case of food feet than miles. The steaks are cooked over coals
(; 01208 863679)
Isles of Scilly
The New Inn, Tresco
The best (and only) pub on the island, with an excellent bar, a restaurant area in the conservatory and a large garden terrace. Just watch out for the obnoxious and greedy gulls and sparrows that will steal your chips if you let them.
* Go for the live music every Friday throughout the summer
(01720 422849;
East Sussex
The Ram Inn, Firle
A relaxed atmosphere in a picture-perfect village under the Downs, the pub is part of the Firle estate. Wooden tables, a fireplace and excellent local Harveys beer. There are tables at the front and in the garden, shaded by old fruit trees.
* Have a pint in the outdoor ‘farmer’s bar’and imagine Virginia Woolf there in the years after 1910 when she moved to Firle
(01273 858222;
The Falkland Arms, Great
Tew, Chipping Norton
An ancient, quintessential Cotswolds, golden-stone inn with an inglenook fireplace in a tiny village unchanged for centuries.
* Try the steak-and-ale pie (01608 683653;
El Vino,
Fleet Street, EC4
This historic journalists’ watering hole, now frequented by lawyers, has old-fashioned dark-wood decor, well-chosen wines, no music and a silent television.
* A good place to talk (020–7353 6786;
The Northmore Arms Throwleigh, Okehampton
An open fire is the heart of this friendly Dartmoor pub, which gathers locals and walkers alike. A convivial atmosphere, well-kept bitter and a lovely sloping garden make it special.* The Sunday roast lunch is recommended(; 01647 231428)

Co Durham
The Red Lion
Cotherstone, Barnard Castle
An unassuming, stone-built, village pub on the edge of Teesdale, boasting an excellent selection of beers, it’s ideal for recovering after walking in one of England’s most beautiful upland areas.

* If you’re green-fingered, or aspire to be, stock up on the plants for sale outside before you go home
(01833 650236;

The Five Alls Filkins,
Having made their name as publicans at The Swan at Southrop, the Snows bought the Five Alls in 2012 and have turned it into a reason to visit the area.

* The burger and chips for £8 is unbeatable

(01367 860875;

The Kings Head Inn at Bledington
The King’s Head Inn
Another entry from the Orr-Ewings (The Swan Inn at Swinbrook being the other) this couple redefine hospitality. A pub with  a restaurant and rooms, The King’s Head is the very finest in its category.
 * Watch your head on the beams
(; 01608 658365) (pictured above)
The Gurnard’s Head, Zennor, St Ives
A dining pub with rooms on the Atlantic coast between St Ives and St Just and close to the Minack Theatre. Sister inn to The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon (; 01874 620111)
 * Absolutely don’t leave without doing the walk down to the Gurnard’s headland and back for a pint
(01736 796928;
The Royal Oak Inn, Withypool
A log fire, local ale and hunting memorabilia on the walls. Muddy boots and dogs welcome at this Exmoor inn on the River Barle. Healthy portions served.
* Longstanding barman Jake can always tell you where hounds have been