Check out these five lovely pubs with rooms that combine their ye olde England charm with modern boutique-style comforts, decent kitchens and locations near some of the country’s best attractions.
1. The Bottle & Glass Inn, Binfield Heath near Henley-on-Thames
If you were to design the English country pub of dreams, you couldn’t do much better than this thatched, black and white in Oxfordshire. Sitting on the edge of a village in the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Bottle & Glass Inn is surrounded by open farmland and woodland laced with public footpaths. It was rescued from dereliction by David Holliday and Alex Sergeant, who formerly ran London’s Michelin starred pub, The Harwood Arms.
The three luxury doubles that have just been added can be booked individually or taken for exclusive use for six – a family or a group of friends. The rooms are snug but thoughtfully designed in a modern rustic style. Walls are painted in soft, heritage colours and accessories – individual bedside reading lamps, framed prints, extra powerpoints – are artfully placed. The luxury bedding and linens are locally sourced, and baths are wrapped in marble tiles. One room features a romantic rolltop bath with Edwardian-style taps and a hand shower. All the rooms are high enough to enjoy views across the garden and nearby meadows.
Food & Drink
The dining room is arranged in a dark ‘pubby’ L-shaped room with large glass sliding doors opening onto a sunny terrace. The inn has earned a Guide Michelin “plate”, but this is a gastropub with a lower case “g” with just enough adventure and originality in the menu to spark excitement without making you forget that you are having Sunday lunch in an English pub. For instance, a Negroni was refreshed with muddled cucumber, watermelon, and halloumi salad sat on rocket dressed in elderflower, homemade pappardelle was liberally smothered in fallow deer ragu from the adjoining estate and cheese from a local dairy, and a roasted carrot and walnut salad was topped with a golf ball-sized portion of whipped goats cheese.
There are several beers and ales brewed just up the road in Reading and Marlow alongside international brands and seven varieties of gin.
Across the fields, the Burger Barn in a huge converted Dutch barn dishes up burgers and hotdogs (beef, chicken, veggie and venison) cooked over an open fire.
Henley-on-Thames, with all its opportunities for messing about in boats, is just over two miles away. Hire a powered boat, a rowing boat or a canoe from Hobbs of Henley (https://www.hobbsofhenley.com/self-drive-holidays). Or you check out the regatta course on a scheduled public cruise with Hobbs or Salters Steamers.
2. The Bull and Swan at Burghley, Stamford, Lincolnshire
The Bull and Swan at Burghley has been hosting hungry, thirsty travellers on Stamford’s main London road (St Martins) since the late 17th century. The town then was hard on highwaymen, as a warning gallows further up the road recalls. The pub was a favourite for the aristo members of the Little Bedlam Club, a drinking society founded in 1684 whose members included Sir Isaac Newton. A plaque bearing their nicknames hangs above the bar.
There are nine bed and breakfast rooms, sensitively refurbished with the rest of the pub in 2010. The three types of rooms – Luxury, Chic and Classic – are furnished with Southeast Asian Colonial-style furniture that seems almost Tudor in style. Some have exposed stone walls, and woodburning stoves tucked in ancient hearths. Everything else is strictly mod cons – from the tea pigs and Nespresso machines on the hospitality tray to the sparkling, glass and tile shower rooms. There’s free Wi-Fi too. Some rooms can be arranged for families, and some are dog friendly (with a special room service menu for Fido).
Food & Drink
The pub serves the same menu for lunch and supper – either in a smartened-up traditional bar or on a terrace overlooking flourishing kitchen gardens. It’s familiar pub classics with a few cheffy additions such as braised ox cheek nachos, duck egg custard tart, woodfired pizza from an outdoor oven. I sampled their pie of the day – lamb in a rich, rosemary-scented gravy, under a crisp pillow of pastry, served with greens from their own garden and triple-cooked chips. First-rate.
In 1967, Stamford became the first town in Britain to become a Conservation Area. Wandering among the pale limestone buildings of this ancient market town is a treat in itself. But an even bigger attraction is Burghley, one of the greatest houses of the Elizabethan Age. The magnificent house and gardens were home to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I’s High Treasurer. He was also reputed to be Elizabeth’s spymaster, and legend has it that a secret tunnel led from Burghley to The Bull and Swan.
3. The Pilot, Greenwich Peninsula, London
The Pilot and the terrace of tiny houses that adjoin it on River Way in North Greenwich are remarkable survivors. Built more than 220 years ago as part of an enlightened riverside development, they saw industries grow around them – gasworks, power plants, steel mills – pollute the landscape and then disappear.
The Millennium Dome project cleaned up the Greenwich Peninsula and led to an explosion of modern developments. Today this Grade II Listed Georgian terrace sits between two small green parks, towered over by a steel and glass jumble of post-millennial residential towers.
The Pilot has 10 individually decorated B&B double rooms, suitable for couples or singles. All feature luxury mattresses, Egyptian cotton linens, small but stylish ensuites, free Wi-Fi and, an unusual American touch, window screens – a nod to the riverside location. The quirky Captain’s Cabin located at the top of the inn has a porthole window and seafaring decor, while the front rooms overlook a park and the O2 Arena just a 10-minute walk. Parking is free, and guests get a discount on food.
Food & Drink
Behind The Pilot’s compact Georgian front, an extensive bar and dining area spread out on several levels – including a bright, floral garden room – leading to a large, multi-level beer garden. The seasonally changing menu includes a few reliable classics – beer-battered fish and chips, burgers with Gouda and pickled red onions. But it excels in more ambitious dishes – slow-braised beef with Chinese vegetables and spices, roast salmon with grilled lettuce and green olive and raisin salsa. The vegetarian choices look tempting too. And the chef really goes to town with puddings. Caramelised mango crumble, anyone?
The Ranger’s House is an English Heritage property on the edge of Greenwich Park, which stood in for the Bridgerton family digs in the popular Netflix series. Pose in the drive and wait for the dishy Duke or go inside to see a diamond magnate’s eccentric collection of paintings, jewellery and porcelain.
4. The Mistley Thorn
There’s nothing like the possibility of ghosts to spice up your stay in a historic English pub. The Mistley Thorn, near the port of Mistley on the River Stour in Essex, might have a few. It was built as a coaching inn in 1723. But tradition has it that the spot it stands on was occupied, 100 years earlier, by the Thorn Inn. That was owned by Matthew Hopkins, the infamous self-proclaimed Witchfinder General. He sent as many as 100 “witches” – mostly women – to the gallows. Adding to the eerie atmosphere are the swans that mysteriously flock to the area in their hundreds.
The inn has 11 comfortably furnished rooms and a self-contained cottage decorated in muted pastels and neutrals. They combine luxury features with unpretentious estuary simplicity such as king and super king beds with quality linens, free Wi-Fi, docking stations, Ren toiletries, even fluffy dressing gowns and homemade cookies on the tea tray. Some rooms are dog-friendly. They are offered on a B&B or BB&D basis. Four of the rooms have river views.
Food & Drink
Even before its rooms were refurbished, The Mistley Thorn was already attracting London food critics for its locally caught seafood and shellfish. Oysters from Colchester and Mersea Island, lobster and crab from Harwich all feature on the menu. And every Thursday night is “Moules Madness.” The relaxed, casual ambience and moderate prices belie the elegance of the food and the well-chosen wine list. The white and blue panelled dining room, with a beamed ceiling, bare wooden tables and bentwood chairs, is arranged around the bar and a brick hearth with a woodburning stove.
This is Constable country. Willy Lott’s Cottage – the backdrop for Constable’s most famous painting, “The Hay Wain”, is just 5.5 miles away in Flatford. The National Trust site includes Flatford Mill, once owned by the artist’s family; a Constable exhibition and walks signposted with Constable viewpoints. Roman Colchester and Ipswich, with their medieval buildings and pretty marina, are about 10 miles away.
5.The Fox & Anchor at Smithfield Market, London
Even if you’ve visited London many times, a pub stay in its heart can be a staycation full of discoveries. At The Fox & Anchor beside Smithfield Market on Charterhouse Street, they’ve turned a real Victorian boozer into a boutique hotel that reeks of decadent glamour.
Even though the rooms are full of modern details, dark walls, purple and orange velvets, copper roll-top baths, and sink basins create the ambience of a very high-class bordello circa the 1900s. It’s all playful theatricality, of course; rooms at the pub on the northern boundary of the Square Mile are family and pet-friendly.
A steep, narrow staircase beside the bar leads to six boutique rooms and a suite with a separate living area and terrace. All are individually decorated, some with velvet chaise longues and the aforementioned copper bathroom fittings. All rooms are ensuite and feature a laptop-sized safe, flat-screen TV with Sky, salon-quality hairdryers, high-speed Wi-Fi, iron and ironing board. The tea and coffee tray includes fresh milk, a Nespresso machine and organic tea. An additional bed for up to two children, aged 2 to 14, can be added with a small charge for each child.
Dog-friendly rooms can accommodate two dogs with a small fee charged per dog. Breakfast is not included in the standard rate, but short break packages that include breakfast or breakfast, dinner and a welcome G&T are available.
Food & Drink
Leave your heavy, sound-deadening draperies open, so you can wake with the market traders and join them for the trencherman breakfasts the Fox & Anchor serves from 7:00 am weekdays, 8:30 am weekends. In the pub, you can belly up to a pewter topped bar and drink from old fashioned pewter tankards. Deeper into the building, beyond the bar, The Fox’s Den is a clubby, masculine space with dark panelling and high-backed leather chairs. Along the back wall, dark panelled private rooms with stained glass windows seem just perfect for negotiating business deals or engaging in discreet canoodling. Given the location, besides Europe’s biggest wholesale meat market, the menu is slim on choices for vegetarians but has a bigger than usual selection of steaks and chops.
The pub is perfectly located for exploring the oldest part of London. When was the last time you climbed up to the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s or visited the Tower of London to banter with a Beefeater or ogle the Crown Jewels? All the other attractions of Central London – theatre, museums, restaurants and shopping – are just a short trip on the London Underground from either Farringdon or Barbican station.
More pubs can be found at Stay in a Pub (https://stayinapub.co.uk/).