As the nights close in there’s no better way to beat the winter chill than a visit to a cosy winter inn – here are some of our favourites…
Picture the scene: after a brisk walk along an ancient trail you see the glow of a welcoming tavern in the distance, just the impetus you need to complete that final leg. On arrival a friendly face, some home-cooked fare and a well-stocked bar greet you, just as they have met travellers down the centuries. This is not mere fantasy but the reality at many of our ancient inns, which, although they may no longer be held to ransom by bandits or used for illicit trysts between secret lovers (at least not all of the time), still maintain much of their old charm, from low-slung ceilings, to discreet nooks and crannies and, of course, ale aplenty.
This 15th-century tavern, which was purchased by King Henry VIII’s Lord High Admiral Sir William Fitzwilliam in 1533 and which entertained another famous admiral, Lord Nelson, much later in the 18th century is like a piece of living history.
This is as close to a perfect Cotswolds pub as you will find. Dating from the 16th century, it was originally built as a cider house and its appeal as a drinking establishment endures; step into its bar and we’re pretty sure you won’t be in a hurry to leave. A stone fireplace dominates one corner of the room, while banquette seats and hidden corners provide more than enough privacy as the evening drifts away in a happy blur. On tap here you’ll find three lagers from the Cotswold Brewing Company, plus Hook Norton Best and plenty of other real ales; more than justifying the inn’s inclusion in the renowned annual Good Pub Guide. The food is unapologetically British, with fresh fish brought in from Cornwall every day and beef sourced from the nearby family farm in Fifield, Oxfordshire. Choose between rooms above the pub for a more authentic feel, or for a quieter stay there are separate rooms in a lovely courtyard, decorated in a modern understated style.
Located on the Great North Road, one of the most famous highways in the world, The George of Stamford is one of the oldest inns in the world. No one can be sure exactly how old the inn is, but it is built on the site of an ancient church and could date back as much as 900 years; it was thought to be a popular staging post for 12th century pilgrims and knights travelling to Jerusalem. Past guests include Sir Walter Scott and King Charles I. Today guests can book one of its four-poster suites and choose to dine in either the oak-panelled restaurant, where gentlemen require a jacket for dinner, or in the more relaxed Garden Room restaurant.
This former smugglers’ inn is another pretender to the crown of Britain’s oldest inn and was rebuilt in its current guise in 1420, using ships’ timbers and French stone ballast that was rescued from the nearby harbour. The lounge bar is home to the largest open fire we’ve ever seen and there’s a priest’s hole secreted away in the chimney breast – used to hide Catholic priests during the Reformation. Settle in for the night and imagine the goings on, as the infamous Hawkhurst gang of smugglers would sit at the windows smoking their pipes, with their pistols loaded beside them.
This welcoming inn has 13 bedrooms, most of which have four-posters and roll top baths, as well as many uneven ceilings and floors that only add to the allure. The downstairs bar is a warm haven where out-of-towners and cheery locals collide. It is the perfect place to unwind after a day discovering AA Milne land in nearby Ashdown Forest – the inspiration behind the famous Winnie the Pooh stories.
Tucked away in the Surrey countryside, this restored 19th-century inn is bursting with character, from the friendly welcome to the 14 elegant rooms, each of which is named after a character from the novels of former Hampshire resident, Jane Austen. The downstairs bar area is a great place to start your evening with a cocktail – try the Elderbubble, a sweet tonic of Sipsmith vodka, elderflower and lemon juice topped with Champagne, and for dinner the speciality suckling pig with crispy crackling and spiced apple chutney is a winner.
North of the border, this is a delightful small award-winning establishment in the village of Eddleston near the Scottish Borders. This is the place to try the single malt whiskies for which Scotland is famed and the restaurant also boasts a delectable tasting menu, using locally-sourced ingredients. The comfortable rooms are tucked away behind the pub in a beautiful converted Victorian schoolhouse, which offers astounding views of the surrounding countryside.
Once favoured by poets Lord Byron and John Keats; the latter wrote one of his most famous works, Ode to a Nightingale here. In fact so deep are the inn’s literary connections that it was also immortalised by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers. You can’t stay here anymore but as a rumoured haunt of the most famous of all highwaymen, Dick Turpin, it’s a great place for a drink and to listen out for the ghosts of the past.
This riverside pub in Hammersmith boasts not only a snug terrace where you can watch the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race go by, but also the smallest bar room in the world – and what could be cosier than that? It was here that the poet James Thomson is said to have penned the lyrics to Rule, Britannia! and King Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn would meet surreptitiously.
Located on the Causeway Coast route in Northern Ireland, which takes in spectacular scenery, Bushmills Inn is a wonderful country retreat close to some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK. The gas-lit bar is a wonderful place to sample some of the venue’s namesake malt whiskey, and if you visit on a Saturday you’ll be treated to a traditional Irish music session.
This 15th-century coaching inn has been in the hands of the same family for over 75 years. Its welcoming bar has an open fire while its dining room with wide beams has a menu that changes daily. Plus, rather impressively, it has recently been named County Dining Pub of the Year by the Good Pub Guide for the fourth year running. And that’s not all, it’s also one of The Great Inns of Britain.
For the full feature on cosy winter inns, see the November/December 2014 issue of BRITAIN (January 2015 issue for our overseas readers)
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