In the colder months, a cosy and traditional English inn can be the perfect place to be. After a crisp walk in the countryside, warm your toes by a roaring fire whilst savouring a local ale or fine liqueur. With many of England’s pubs and inns offering food and accommodation, they’re wonderfully hospitable too.
1. The oldest
Reputedly England’s oldest inn, The Old Ferry Boat sits on the riverbank in the hamlet of Holywell in rural Cambridgeshire. The current premises, complete with thatched roof and white stonework, date from 1400 – although it’s believed that an inn stood on this site as long ago as 560. The pubs old heart is rustic and cosy, with inglenook fireplace and mismatched furniture. Its 7 guest bedrooms, housed in a later extension, are designed for today’s travellers with contemporary comforts such as modern en-suite bathrooms and free Wi-Fi.
Getting there: In Cambridgeshire, 2hrs north of London by car.
2. The most deadly
With so many of Britain’s pubs being old and steeped in history, it’s not uncommon for some to have a gruesome past, but some have a reputation for gore that’s hard to beat. Dating from 1106, The Ostrich in the village of Colnbrook, near to London’s Heathrow Airport, hides a particularly murky past behind its historic white and timber façade. In the 17th-century, the pub landlord and his wife made a great deal of money by murdering guests as they slept. A trapdoor was built into the floor of one bedroom, and when a suitably rich candidate would retire to bed, a hinge mechanism would tip the sleeping victim into a vat of boiling liquid below, thus killing him. It’s said they murdered and robbed up to 60 guests before being caught. If you stay the night in one of its stylishly decorated rooms, beware of creaking hinges!
Getting there: Colnbrook is in Berkshire, 50mins west of London by car.
3. The haunted one
Many British pubs lay claim to a resident ghost or two, but the Mermaid Inn in the old town of Rye, south east England, boasts five! This historic inn dates back to 1420, although its ancient cellars date from 1156. There are many eerie tales from the inn’s 600 years of history, including a legend that it was used as a base for a notorious band of smugglers. For those brave enough to spend the night, this impressive old inn has 31 bedrooms full of period character.
Getting there: Rye is on the Sussex coast, 80mins south east of London by train.
4. The award winner
A 300 year old former coaching inn in the beautiful village of Ramsbury, The Bell at Ramsbury was named AA Pub of the Year England 2017-2018. Judges appreciated its ‘comfy rooms and welcoming bar and café’. As part of the Ramsbury Estate, with its own brewery, distillery and smokehouse, its restaurant serves the best of modern British cuisine using seasonal produce sourced from the estate. Its nine bedrooms are decorated in an understated classic style with neutral tones.
Getting there: Ramsbury is in Wiltshire, 1hr 40mins west of London by car.
5. The vegetarian
Having run a successful little pub called The Veggie Red Lion, the team have now moved to bigger premises to open their very own vegetarian and vegan pub The Walnut Tree in a pretty, rural village in Suffolk, south east England. A 100% meat free environment, homemade dishes include roasted mushroom wellington, smoked almond tofu laksa, and sweet potato, peanut and apple burger – all made using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Getting there: Suffolk is 2hrs 30mins north east of London by car.
6. The literary challenge
One of Cornwall’s most notorious smugglers inns, Jamaica Inn is world famous thanks to Daphne du Maurier’s bestselling novel. Having stayed here in 1930, hearing tales of local smugglers, she was inspired to write her own compelling story. Built in 1750, Jamaica Inn was a rest-stop for travellers crossing the treacherous Bodmin Moor. Due to its remote location, the inn became a hideaway for smugglers and the contraband they brought ashore. There are even tales of gangs of local ‘wreckers’, who’d lure ships onto the rocks then loot them of precious cargos such as brandy and tea. Tea remains part of the proceedings today: as well as classic pub fare, the inn serves traditional Cornish Cream Teas in the afternoon. There’s also B&B accommodation.
Getting there: In Cornwall, south-west England, 4hrs 15mins west of London by car.
7. The fully sustainable
Britain’s first fully sustainable pub The Long Arm has opened in the hip Shoreditch neighbourhood of east London. Its tank-fresh beers have a zero carbon footprint, because they’re produced, sold and consumed on site with no packaging required. The pub is also an urban farm: spent grains from the beer brewing process are fed to fish, which in turn makes organic fertilizer – altogether creating the optimal growing environment that enables them to produce vegetables, herbs and fish for the pub kitchen.
Getting there: The nearest underground station is Liverpool Street.
8. The museum quality art
A traditional pub with bedrooms set within a country park in North Norfolk, one thing sets The Gunton Arms apart from similar country pubs – and that’s the quality of the art on its walls. Owned by art dealer Ivor Braka since 2009, the pub reflects its owners passion for modern art, and boasts works by many renowned British and international artists included Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Lucian Freud, Glenn Brown, Beatriz Mihazes and Frank Auerbach.
Getting there: Cromer is on the North Norfolk coast, 3hrs 30min north east of London by car.