The Bell Inn: cosy bolthole in a medieval village

The Bell Inn Horndon on the Hill, cosy winter inns
The Bell Inn Horndon on the Hill, cosy winter inns

This welcoming pub with rooms in the charming village of Horndon on the Hill is a worthy addition to our cosy winter inns guide

The Bell Inn’s 15th century pub

Often when we visit some of our nation’s inns and hotels we know what to expect – we’ve been prepped, we’ve checked the website and sometimes we’ve virtually ordered our dinner before we’ve even set off from home. Sometimes though, the resulting experience is a revelation and goes above and beyond our expectations and The Bell Inn in Horndon on the Hill is one such place.

Located just 30 minutes from central London this 15th century coaching inn, which has been in the same family for at least 75 years, feels a lot further away from the capital than it is and this is in no small part due to its old-worldly feel. From the 14th century church of St Peter & St Paul, which is hidden behind the village shop and post office, to the 16th century woolmarket, it’s as pretty a country village as you can imagine.

St Peter and Paul Church Horndon on the Hill
St Peter & St Paul Church, Horndon on the Hill

Horndon on the Hill appeared in the Domesday Book as Horninduna, meaning ‘horn-shaped hill’ – a fitting description considering it’s a steep incline to the village of Stanford-le-Hope below, and in true medieval style it has had its fair share of gruesome events: in 1555, for instance, ‘gentleman’ of Horndon House Thomas Higbed was burnt at the stake in the courtyard of the Bell Inn for his protestant faith.

In fact this part of Essex is brimming with history – nearby Tilbury Fort, built by King Henry VIII, is widely considered to be the best example of its kind in England while the 13th century Hadleigh Castleoverlooking the Essex marshes, was first used as a royal residence by King Edward II and both these places are now in the hands of English Heritage. There are also plenty of walks to give you the chance of experiencing the gorgeous countryside up close; our favourite spot is the Laindon Hills.

The Bell Inn Horndon on the Hill, cosy winter inns
Pub dining at The Bell Inn

But the beauty about a venue such as this is that you might not want to go anywhere, but instead while away the afternoon in the timber-beamed pub, sampling the selection of real ales on tap, or talking to locals about the bizarre tradition for hanging hot cross buns from the pub’s ceiling on Good Friday – a tradition that has been observed since 1906.

In total, the Bell Inn has an enormous 27 individually style rooms. Above the pub you’ll find more traditional suites with low ceilings and roll-top baths, while in a separate Georgian building called High House are some magnificent modern rooms with walk-in showers and elaborate lights designs, all expertly finished.

Bell Inn- bedroom
The Bell Inn traditional bedroom

The Bell Inn boasts two restaurants – one in the pub, which has earned it the title of County Dining Pub of the Year in The Good Pub Guide for four years running, and The Ostlers, a more contemporary dining experience, which is open Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons in a building next door (which is also where guests can enjoy breakfast). We suggest trying both, although you may have to loosen your belt a little after a weekend here.

The Bell Inn is one of the Great Inns of Britain.

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