Pubs in the English countryside are like beacons. They call me on cold winter days with the promise of warm fires and hearty food. They call me on summer days when a cold beer or Pimms drunk in the long shadows of the afternoon sun make the perfect end to a ramble. Most of all, they call me when I need to escape the noise and claustrophobia of London. To get in the car, or on a train, and within an hour and a half be in a heart-warming pub in the open spaces of the green English countryside is the perfect weekend outing.
Of course, not just any pub will make for the perfect outing. The pub’s position, surroundings, décor, atmosphere, staff and most importantly food have to all combine to create the feeling of a living room/historic house/gourmet eatery all in one. Over the past couple of years I’ve found a few pubs that achieve this combination. Here are three of them.
The Parrot, Forest Green, Surrey Hills
A snowy Sunday in January a couple of years ago I was searching for country pub within striking distance of south London for lunch with friends. Thanks to my copy of Alistair Sawdays’ Go Slow England, we ended up at The Parrot, a traditional pub with low-beamed ceilings and flagstone floor, perched on the edge of a village green. Tables in nooks and crannies are warmed by open fires and patrons can choose from a good selection of ales and wine, and a menu filled with meaty goodness, much of which has been bred on the owners’ own farm in Dorking. My lasting memory will be the pies, such as the beef, tarragon and red wine pie served with mash and greens (£11). After devouring your own pie, you can then buy your own to take home from the farm shop on site. The Parrot also has a restaurant, which would be perfect for a special occasion or celebration.
Alford Arms, Frithsden, Hertfordshire
Think of a picture-perfect English village with a picture-perfect village pub; that’s the heart-melting scene you get when you visit the Alford Arms. Housed in a Victorian building with a charming picket-fenced front garden (perfect for that summer Pimms), this pub gets the atmosphere spot on: relaxed but lively, cosy but spacious, a drop-by-for-a-pint pub and an eatery for a special occasion. The menu mixes traditional with modern, such as the starter of Chiltern venison and redcurrant scotch egg with piccalilli (£6.75). The smoked haddock and cauliflower gratin with anchovy crumble (£6.75) stood out for me, as did the bangers and mash, with sausages from Stockings Farm in Amersham. The pub is a short drive from historic Ashridge Estate, which is a worthy ramble destination or simply a lovely spot to break a country day out, as I did with my Hertfordshire hosts who brought me to this gem.
The Seagrave Arms, Weston Subedge, Cotswolds
Tables at this country inn are arranged in the lovingly restored former rooms of a listed Georgian house. It creates an old-world charm that is complemented by jovial hosts and locally-sourced food. In fact, the food is so local that the roast partridge served with onion squash and braised red cabbage (£18.95) that I chose for my main had been shot that day at a nearby farm. Other standouts from the meal were the starter of pan-roasted breast of local wood pigeon with puy lentils and blackberry dressing (£6.95) and the pudding of chocolate delice with homemade popcorn icecream and hazelnut brittle (£6.25). I ate here late on a Friday evening, having driven from London after work to stay at the The Barn at Popfosters (which I also highly recommend), up the road in Weston Subedge. It was the perfect place to relax, unwind and breathe in the fresh air. It would also be a good destination for a ramble from nearby Chipping Campden.
I’m on the lookout for more country pubs to while away the weekends, so please share your tips.
(Written by Laura)