Adrian Mourby

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Britain’s pubs and hotels are back! We’ve missed them and they’ve missed us. Here are ten of my favourites which are great fun and perfect, not just for spending the night but – in case you’re not ready to sleep away from home just yet – also great for a meal out. There are three pubs in this compilation and three manor houses, plus a stately home, a row of converted cottages, one purpose-built hotel on the rugged Devon coast and another entirely devoted to the joy of wine. I’d recommend them all - but remember if you're planning on dining you have to book in advance this summer.  

Kingham on Oxfordshire’s north west border is pretty much everything you might hope for in a Cotswold village. There is a smattering of thatched cottages, an irregular village green and a parish church with a fourteenth-century Perpendicular Gothic tower.  Its rectory is seventeenth century and so is the Plough, a six-bedroom pub with a panelled dining room in the adjoining barn. The reason you climb up steps to this dining room is that originally cattle were lodged on the ground floor of the barn. Their rising body heat warmed anyone eating or sleeping above.

The Kingham Plough is one of two gastro-pubs in fashionable Kingham village. In 2019 the energetic Matt Beamish and his florist wife Katie took it over and redecorated using artwork they discovered in Katie’s parents’ loft.  Matt says that the Plough’s position on the border with Gloucestershire means that a lot of food enthusiasts trek from one pub to the next in this “Gourmet Triangle”.

The head chef is Jonny Pons who has the pick of excellent ingredients. Formerly of Slaughters Country Inn, Ellenborough Park Hotel and the Feathered Nest, Jonny continues the Plough’s legacy of championing local artisan products and sourcing the very best fresh ingredients in season. His menu combines British pub classics like fish and chips with more modern British dishes given a Mediterranean twist. The gorgeous salmon is from Smokin’ Brothers who supply many top London restaurants. The pork and pork pies are from Tamworth pigs raised at nearby Paddock Farm.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the raised dining room which is divided into two sections, one green and the other red. The smaller red section can be closed off to create a delightfully old-fashioned private dining room.

The wine list majors on French reds with a wider range of white wines including one from Canada. Joseph Perrier champagne is available by the glass.

Afterwards have a digestif in the bar – where there is an open fire and exposed wooden beams - and then you’re on your way up to the cozy bedrooms, some of which have freestanding roll top baths. One actually has the bath next to the bed, making it easy to turn in after you’ve fallen asleep in the tub.

Careys Manor is one of those hotels that pop up unexpectedly as you drive through the New Forest. It sits on the edge of the village of Brockenhurst and is built on the site of a hunting lodge that was given to a certain John Careys by Charles II at the time of his restoration for “services rendered”. We’ll never know quite what Mr Careys did to earn such bounty. Maybe he aided the young monarch in his flight to France after the Battle of Worcester.

Many years later, in 1790 the lodge was taken over by a couple by the name of Bowden-Smith. She was a native of Cornwall and he a New Forest wine merchant. Their house remained in the Bowden-Smith family until 1934. In 1888 it was completely rebuilt in an eclectic style of brick towers, half-timbered gables, bay windows and Gothic porches. Today reception is in the towering lobby of this Victorian mansion with its oak staircase that runs up to attic level.

When Herman Bowden-Smith sold the house in 1934 it was bought by a Dutch entrepreneur by the name of Builderbeck who turned it into a hotel and sold off most of the grounds. They were subsequently  built on to create Brockenhurst College.

Today the house that was completed in 1888 remains at the centre of Careys Manor Hotel although several generations of  owners have added a number of wings. These days the old manor resembles an octopus with many tentacles reaching in many directions. One of these wings contains Cambium, a fine-dining restaurant whose head chef Alistair Craig is assisted by an affable and very knowledgeable sommelier, Michael Driscoll.  

Other wings contain the extensive spa, a Thai restaurant called Zen Garden and Blaireau French brasserie. For a hotel of only 77 rooms the choice of eating places is impressive.

Most of the bedrooms are modern, spacious and eminently practical. The seven rooms in the Bowden-Smith’s old house are individual and delightful and that’s where you should aim to stay.

Keith Makepeace runs this low-rise modern hotel built so sympathetically into the hills of the Devon coastline that it’s virtually invisible from the sea. How the hotel came to be here – and how Keith himself came to be here - are surprising stories.

In 1916 a cinema opened in nearby Devonport called the Capital. When that failed in the 1920s it was demolished and the rubble was transported 30 miles into what is now known as the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here a Mrs Yeoman used it as hardcore to construct her Sea View Hotel.

Fast forward to 1978 and Keith Makepeace’s parents had a riverfront property on the river Thames in the village of North Stoke. Their house, Brook Lodge, had once belonged to the famous contralto, Dame Clara Butt.  Here the Makepeaces met Mr and Mrs Heron, who at that time were the owners of Sea View Hotel. To Keith’s surprise the two couples agreed to swap houses. Keith’s father had recently retired and was looking for a challenge. It was certainly a challenge for the young Keith who, at the age of 8, found himself the only non-Devonshire schoolboy in nearby Salcombe.

Keith’s father wasn’t satisfied with just running a hotel. He demolished the Sea View and built a whole new hotel which he named, Soar Mill after the small sandy cove down below. The design of the new building was influenced by Keith’s father’s enthusiasm for the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. It has huge windows facing the sea and almost totally merges with the landscape. The Makepeaces hired local people as hotel staff for the summer.  In the winter instead of letting them go, as had been the old Sea View practice, they were re-employed refurbishing and extending the hotel horizontally - but never vertically. As Keith himself puts it. “The hotel is single-storey because if we’d gone up to a second floor my Dad would have to employ proper builders and scaffolding.” 

Today Soar Mill Cove is still run by the Makepeace family. Keith and his wife Jen are in charge with Keith’s mother living nearby and often coming in to regale guests with stories about how she was uprooted in 1978 to become a hotelier. Jen has one hotel bedroom named after her, “the Jenny Wren” and has recently created Jenny’s Gin, a floral distillation flavoured with honey, samphire and gorse blossom, all sourced from the cove itself.

The dining room is well-served by chef Ian MacDonald who has come up with a Jenny’s Gin Gravadlax, also serving Salcombe crab and locally-caught lobster. There is a Castaway Coffee shop next door to the dining room where children, dogs and walkers with muddy boots can eat less formally.

Today the hotel has 22 rooms and three self-catering villas, with more to come soon. Two unexpected delights of staying at Soar Mill Cove are the hotel’s spa with its saltwater swimming pool and the bar, which is small, dark and compact like the naughty old West End bars of the 1950s. There is a good selection of British gins behind the bar including what Keith calls “foreign” bottles from nearby Cornwall.

There have been three splendid houses at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. The first was a rural love-nest built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham for him to live in with his beautiful, double-chinned mistress - but that burned down. The second was constructed in 1824 for the Scottish politician, Sir George Warrender. That lasted only 25 years before also being burned down.  The third Cliveden – the one we see today – was designed by the architect Charles “Houses of Parliament” Barry for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland. Leased out to many people over the years, Cliveden has also been the home to Frederick, Prince of Wales, the Earl of Orkney and finally the Viscounts Astor.

As the home of Nancy Astor, MP -also the wife of the 2nd Viscount Astor - Cliveden was the meeting place of the intellectual Cliveden Set during the turbulent 1930s. Later, as the home of the 3rd Viscount Astor, it became the setting for key events in the notorious Profumo affair, which brought down a Conservative government. Finally in 1985 the house was leased out as a hotel. In 2012 the Iconic Luxury Hotels group took over the running of Cliveden.  In 2018 the hotel's glamour was telegraphed all round the world when Cliveden welcomed Meghan Markle and her mother who stayed here before Meghan’s wedding to Prince Harry.
Dining at Cliveden can be an over the top experience. There is a French dining room, much beloved by Nancy Astor, that is lined with ornately gilded wood panelling brought over from France when her husband, Waldorf Astor was trying to burnish his pseudo-aristocratic credentials. And then there is the seven course Cliveden Dining Room which garnered great reviews under executive head chef André Garrett.

In 2016 the hotel extended its dining experience with the Astor Grill, which is housed in an old stable block next to the most elaborate gold-leaf water tower in the British Isles. Six original stalls still stand, with tables where horses once chewed hay.  The Astors’ original sea-green tiles still line the walls.

The menu at the Astor Grill is designed by Paul O’Neill who used to work for André Garrett and who took over from him in 2019. It’s a small but flavoursome menu offering a choice of two sharing plates, two small plates, two pastas and two salads. There are six choices of large plates, which includes the Astor Burger. Other nods to the house’s recent history include the Astor Fizz as a signature cocktail (sparkling wine with elderflower) and the Bloody Nancy, which is Chase English smoked vodka, tomato juice in homage to one of the best known – and most traduced - mistresses of Cliveden. Ironically Nancy was very opposed to alcohol, So much so that her husband Waldorf had a secret bottle cupboard built into the panelling of his study.
Paul O'Neill's credo is that everyone who eats at Cliveden should be wowed. “Whether they’re coming for afternoon tea, a sandwich or a seven-course tasting menu.”

The wine list at the Astor Grill is very sensible, with ten whites of which six are available by the glass and a similar distribution of reds. There are only two rosés and both are French, which could probably be improved upon.
The hotel’s entire wine list is under Head Sommelier Zareh Mesrobyan who has a Bulgarian/Armenian background and has inherited a truly incredible cellar that includes a £680 bottle of 2008 Veuve Cliquot (!).Veuve is also the hotel’s house champagne and you can drink it at the Astor Grill for only £17 a glass.
Cliveden has never been a modest house.  Its latest incarnation under the Iconic Group is making the most of its reputation for the very best of everything, but at The Astor Grill you will dine well, be served with great charm and leave without having to sell the family silver.

The ancient Oxfordshire village of Witney became famous in 2005 when its extremely young MP, David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party. Less than five years later Cameron created another stir by becoming a young Prime Minister and many people were curious to see the town that gave its name to his constituency.

Witney lies on the old Saxon road between Wales, Gloucester and Oxford. It was long-established by the time it was mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Witenie’. In 1086 this community consisted of  56 houses and two mills that were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, an important cleric whose seat was a long way south of Witney. In the twelfth century the bishop built himself a palace here next to the parish church. This suggests that Witney was an important market town when Oxford was just a shallow place to push your cattle across the River Thames.

Under the Bishops of Winchester Witney expanded outwards from the Church Green and Corn Street crossroads, close to where the Fleece Inn sits today on Church Green. Quite how old the Fleece is, is anyone’s guess. A charter for a market-place at the end of the green dates from the fourteenth century but it is likely that the Fleece predates it.  The significance of “Fleece” as the name for a hostelry underlines the fact that Witney had established itself as a major centre for blanket-making, using wool from local Cotswold sheep with washing and dying in the waters of the River Windrush nearby. By the late nineteenth century, Witney blankets were famous all over the world. It is likely that many of the fleeces that built the town’s wealth were traded here at the Fleece.

What we do know for certain is that in 1811 this inn on the green was purchased by the Clinch family who were also owners of the Eagle Brewery, one of three in Witney at the time. They also owned the nearby Eagle Tavern. It was not unusual for a town to have its own brewery but for it to have three suggests a lot of business was being conducted in the pubs of Witney.

Fast forward to 2003 and the Fleece, now an “inn with rooms” became part of Peach Pubs. This Oxfordshire-based company owns 19 pubs and one hotel across the middle of England. Today the Fleece offers ten bedrooms, some on the first floor of the pub and others in the cottage annex. It’s all very cozy with tweedy carpet running throughout and jolly sheep heads mounted on the walls to remind you of the inn’s name – and its past. The dining area behind the bar is emblazoned with a genuine quote by that great gourmand, Orson Welles: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”

One of the signature dishes of the Fleece is the 28-day, dry-aged rump steak with chips and bearnaise sauce. For dessert I can recommend the stylishly presented warmed chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and white chocolate sauce. The staff seem happy in their work in that cheery, slightly blowsy way of Peach employees and the locals enjoy the place too, many of them turning up at 8am for breakfast.

The Vineyard is a Berkshire hotel devoted to wine, over 30,000 bottles of the stuff. It used to be called Foley Lodge but in 1998 it was bought, renamed and extended by Sir Peter Michael, the founder of Classic FM. Sir Peter's personal mission is to spread the word about wine in general - but especially Sir Peter’s own vintages that come from his Californian estates in Monterey County, Sonoma County and Napa Valley.
Over twenty wines dubbed “Our Home Brew” are available on a very impressive list. Here you’ll find wines from all over the world, everywhere you’d expect but also from a few surprises, including vineyards in Thailand, Japan, Macedonia and Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

The hotel’s attention to fine wine – and superb food under Executive Chef Tom Scade – is well-known but its dining arrangements this summer are spectacular.  Rather than serve guests in the hotel dining room, The Vineyard has hired a huge, circular tent in the style of Queen Victoria’s Indian Durbar of 1877. This canvas pavilion sits just outside reception and is decorated with exotic images of marabou storks and papyrus leaves.  The hotel can serve up to 45 customers at a time in what it calls Inside Out Dining. The Vineyard cured smoked salmon and the Berkshire pork with apricot and garlic capers are definitely recommended.
For the uneasy summer of 2020, the number of bedrooms available to stay in has been reduced from 49 to 20 but by starting dinner at 4pm The Vineyard is pretty much able to cater for as many people as usual.
Guests are still free to enjoy Sir Peter’s art collection on their way to and from the lavatories. With a characteristic nod to California the owner has described it as “one of the finest this side of Hearst Castle”. 

The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor takes its name from the coat of arms of the Earl of Warwick. It’s a common English pub name, and there is no known connection between this frequently-extended Tudor inn and Warwick the Kingmaker who featured in Shakespeare’s plays about the Wars of the Roses.

The village of Cumnor sits on a hill southwest of Oxford.  In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy’s novel concerning the thwarted scholar, Cumnor was the model for the village of Lumsdon. Here Jude encounters his lover Sue being courted by the headmaster, Phillotson.  

Outside the world of fiction, Cumnor was the scene of a scandalous death in Elizabethan England. In 1560 the mansion known as Cumnor Place was the scene of the accidental death, possible suicide -or even murder- of Amy Robsart. Amy was the ailing wife of Lord Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite and it’s possible that Dudley disposed of his wife to be free to marry the Queen. Elizabeth’s advisors were suspicious and Dudley’s reputation never entirely survived the scandal.  Cumnor Place was demolished in 1810 because it was said the ghost of Amy Robsart was troublesome to villagers.

The Bear & Ragged Staff, one of just two pubs in this village, dates from those dangerous Elizabethan times. It has an historic core with old stone fireplaces, flagstone floors, mullioned windows and carved lintels. To the rear of the pub there is a modern south-facing conservatory and a terrace for eating. Above the pub there are five cosy bedrooms with old oak doorways and beamed ceilings and four more bedrooms accessed via two beautifully fashioned external staircases. There are also four bedrooms in a cottage in the grounds.

The menu at the Bear & Ragged Staff is divided into Small Plates, Starters, Mains and the Grill.  The Grill features grass-fed British beef, naturally slow-grown on carbon-capturing pastureland and dry-aged by Aubrey Allen.  All steaks are served with chips and watercress salad but you can also order sides like heritage tomato salad, summer green vegetables and battered onion rings.
The wine list at the Bear is curated by Jo Eames who is one of the founders of Peach Pubs. Peach started up in 2002 and now run 20 pubs in England. Jo is responsible not just for the list of around 50 wines in each Peach Pub, but also the fun look of these refurbished inns.

The list is helpfully divided up into three kinds of white (Adventurous, Light & Fresh, Richer & Food Friendly) three kinds of red (Full-Bodied, Medium-Bodied and Lighter & Fruity) plus rosés and “Fizz & Flutes”. It’s a user-friendly list that helps Make Life Peachy, the company motto.   

This pub with rooms is an ideal place to stay if you are visiting Oxford but don’t want to actually sleep in the city. There is a regular bus service into the centre of Oxford. If you hire a bicycle locally there is the most wonderful opportunity to freewheel downhill into the city every morning. Coming back is a little more arduous. But just think of the dinner that awaits you at the Bear & Ragged Staff.

Ockenden Manor is a remarkable hotel with a great commitment to British food - and wine – and with some remarkable Tudor wine cellars under its bar. Ockenden started life in 1520 as an Elizabethan manor house outside the village of Cuckfield. This part of the hotel always had low ceilings, sloping floors and open fireplaces, and the hotel retains that character in its reception and cozy bar.

The manor was subsequently extended in the seventeenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries during which time it became a hotel. Then in 2008 Ockenden unleashed a major spa development at the far end of its car park with six bedrooms on the top floor of the spa.   Pontus and Miranda Carminger who run Ockenden Manor named these six rooms after their six children. In doing so they carried on a tradition begun under the previous owners, the Burrell family who had named bedrooms in the old house after their offspring.

Sit in the bar today with Ockenden’s wine list and sommelier Tibor Csernyik and you understand the depth of its commitment to wine. “My heart is in that wine list,” says Tibor, who took over as sommelier in 2018. Refashioning a list to reflect your own beliefs is a slow process however. Many of Ockenden’s guests have been coming for years and expect to see a lot of French and Italian whites on the list but Tibor is bringing in more South African wines. Sadly despite some adventurous purchases – four wines on the list are from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley – Tibor is yet to find a Hungarian supplier of wonderful Gruner Veltliner who can guarantee production at a reasonable price.

But Ockenden’s big commitment is to English food and English wine, particularly to the local Sussex vineyards which, according to Pontus Carminger, have been growing in importance over the last 25 years. The hotel’s afternoon tea comes with a glass of Ridgeview sparkling wine.

Under Head Chef Stephen Crane, Ockenden offers such a wide range of local ingredients that the hotel has produced a “Flavours of Sussex” map available so you can see where Trenchmore Farm beef comes from or the organic lamb from Goodwood. Goat cheese is sourced from Golden Cross 20 miles away. Game comes from Crawley Down, 11 miles north of Ockenden and organic eggs from Petworth, 24 miles to the west.

Given Ockenden’s superb position with equally good access to the vineyards of Albourne, Bluebell,Wiston, Bolney and Ridgeway this hotel really is a food-and-wine-lover’s dream.

When Alexander Hotels took over Great Fosters at the end of 2018 they stated their commitment to fine wining and dining by installing a modern Wine Room at the entrance to the Estate Grill.
Great Fosters dates back to the sixteenth century when both Henry VIII and then his younger daughter Elizabeth used the medieval tenement known as “Fosters” as a hunting lodge in Great Windsor Park. Today Elizabeth I's coat of arms is still visible above the entrance porch.

The main building is a masterpiece in Tudor brickwork with very tall chimneys and a large oak door. Once inside there is a modern reception straight ahead with a drawing room named after Queen Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn off to the left. Turn right and a small colourful passageway leads to the Estate Grill with its new glass-fronted Wine Room.  This small bright space is lined with bottles and can be configured with one central table for tastings or four individual tables for dining.

The wine list at Great Fosters is heavy on French whites - still very much a tradition in English hotels - but among the reds Italy dominates. A quirk of the list is that South Africa and USA are lumped together as if they are one region. The six sparkling wines include Nyetimber which is virtually England’s House Champagne these days.

There are two dining options: the Michelin-starred Tudor Room and the more contemporary surroundings of the Estate Grill itself which has a small but excellent menu. Look out for the Scotch egg with curried mayonnaise,  ham hock terrine with piccalilli, plus the Grilled Field Mushroom Bruschetta and Ossobuco served with Onion and Parmesan Risotto.

The Grill is an unusual but very attractive long dining room with a working fireplace that dates from 1556 and large intricate beams that give the impression of a medieval barn. Over the fireplace are carved the words “Foy En Tout” (Faith in Everything) which is the motto of the Sutcliffe family. The English MPs, Harold and John Sutcliffe (father and son) were owners of Great Fosters in the twentieth century and it was from the Sutcliffe family that Alexander Hotels purchased the property in 2018.  

On the way up to your room be sure to check out the main staircase which is a brick tower that was tacked on to the main building in 1600 and which displays the coat of arms of the Earls of Northumberland.  Quite what the Percy family was doing at Great Fosters is not recorded, but it's clear that the house is steeped in history. The three-sided moat, now part of the gardens, is even believed to date from Anglo Saxon times.

The grounds at Great Fosters are a fun place to jog if you fancy exercising off all that food and wine the next morning. There is no official circuit, but you can quickly work out the route that passes by the beehives (Great Fosters produces its own honey) and the piggery (yes it produces its own bacon too). Then there is the 1920s archery pavilion and an open-air 1930s swimming pool with ramshackle changing rooms still known as “boxes”.

The best view in the grounds is from the top of a grassy amphitheatre that was cut into a hillside opposite the house. From here you can see all the way back to the house down an avenue of trees. It’s an idyllic scene but unfortunately, the London Orbital M25 roars past on the other side of the hedge.

The hotel currently has 43 bedrooms and suites. Many are down long irregular and oak-panelled corridors in the main house or in cozy outbuildings. By the autumn of 2020 Alexander Hotels hope to have 12 more rooms available in the grounds with six new suites going up in the old Dower House and six newbuild rooms near the Coach House.

Close to the West Sussex coastline, Bosham is a quintessentially beautiful and gloriously historic coastal village near Chichester. Within a five-minute walk inland from Bosham Harbour stands a small hotel called the Millstream. It’s a pleasant, calm place formed out of several low-rise brick cottages with an actual stream running in front of it.

This 35-bedroom hotel is run by Tom Sherlock and his wife Clare. Clare’s great-grandfather was Auguste Wild, the Auguste Wild who was known in Cairo as “Wild Bey”, one of the great legendary hoteliers of the early twentieth century. Given that Wild Bey shook hands – if not actually rubbed shoulders – with the feuding crowned heads of pre-World War I Europe, it is curious to find his descendants living such an undramatic and idyllic existence here on the Sussex coast.

The Millstream is a traditional, comfortable English retreat with low ceilings set within its own private gardens - and very popular with an older clientele. It serves excellent food both in Marwick’s Brasserie – which unusually also offers vegan dishes -  and in its  2 AA Rosette Millstream Restaurant.

Among starters, the watercress soup is locally sourced while the seared scallops are Scottish. The main course of breast of chicken is served with Sussex mushrooms and if you order bean tagine it comes with Sussex halloumi. “We are a family owned and family run hotel,” says Tom. “And we pride ourselves on delicious food.”

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