This excellent foodie pub just outside Winchester began life as a coaching inn. Its high-ceilinged bedrooms recall days of prosperity on the toll roads between London and Southampton. The whole pub was refurbished in 2015 by the owners Mark and Penny Thornhill, and they've done a very good job recycling furniture and old wood. The bar has an open fireplace with a dining room off to one side and a cosy snug on the other.
Upstairs there are ten bedrooms and suites, each named after an owner of the nearby Hursley estate and all quite individual. There's also a strange door that was painted shut many years ago that leads no knows where. Down in the basement hotel guests have access to an old-fashioned skittle alley (when it isn't booked for private dining). The whole pub radiates a sense of fun and easy hospitality. A lot of locals come here to dine and it's not surprising; the menu is very good indeed. The Kings Head also specialises in gins, with nearly forty available in the bar. The menu even suggests a little Hendricks and tonic as your starter.
On the near-perfect village green of rural Kirtlington sits The Dashwood, an eighteenth-century village pub that has been sympathetically restored, with five bedrooms under rafters on its first floor and seven more in the old barn overlooking the car park.
The pub's small traditional bar is well-stocked with all the whisky and gin basics but the wine list is more varied. The Dashwood has two spacious rooms for dining and an open kitchen where – on my last visit – a team of very hipster chefs in black with beards to match were weaving magic with local ingredients. The waitresses are in black too and have a good line in sassiness that never goes too far.
Upstairs in the bedrooms you'll find beams everywhere – vertical and horizontal because basically you're sleeping in an attic. Some go across the ceiling; others stand upright in the middle of the room for no good reason except that the roof would fall down without them. Consequently all the wardrobes have been built to fit exactly around timbers and sloping ceilings. The bedroom colour scheme is a relaxing mushroom brown with flashes of purple and there are attractive wooden desks if you need to work. Not surprisingly the Dashwood has become an alternative base for business folk visiting Oxford, a mere 20 minutes away. At weekends it tends to fill up with walkers and wedding guests. For those who remember Four Weddings and a Funeral, there's a touch of Wedding One about the Dashwood.
This beautiful thatched Oxfordshire pub – formerly the Mason's Arms - stood vacant for five years after charismatic entrepreneur Gerry Stonehill gave it up. Now it's now been given new life and transformed by Charlotte and Justin of Artists Residence.
Neon decorations litter the bar, the walls are hung with photos of professional boxers and Charlotte's enthusiastic choice of original art is everywhere. An illuminated sign over one of the fireplaces reads What Did I Do Last Night?
Upstairs the five bedrooms have sisal carpets, Nespresso machines, and jars of locally sourced sweets and savouries and funky scatter cushions. Beyond the main building there are two stable suites and more being built in 2018.
Artists Residence Oxfordshire has become a popular place for Londoners seeking a romantic weekend away. Its eclectic style makes for a zesty informality and its large open fireplace is a perfect place to nod off in front of after dinner.
I like the Noel Arms, its location and history and the beautiful Cotswold village it serves, but I have to be careful not to stay too often as the shops nearby are difficult to resist. Even if you believe there is nothing more you need in your life, Chipping Camden will prove you wrong.
The English novelist Graham Greene lived at this ancient coaching inn in the early days of his marriage when he was struggling to succeed as a writer. He later moved to Little Orchard Cottage nearby where he wrote Stamboul Train, his would-be potboiler.
It was to the telephone box in the market place in front of this pub that Greene was summoned to be told by the publisher of Stamboul Train. Evidently the distinguished novelist JB Priestley considered himself defamed by the book and Greene had to make last minute changes to placate him. Fortunately the novel proved Graham Greene's commercial breakthrough when it was published in 1932, being taken up by the Book Society, and adapted as the film Orient Express, in 1934.
Downstairs in the Noel Arms a lovely sequence of rooms has been opened out in recent refurbishments, but the Drovers' Bar remains as Greene would have known it with an old wooden counter, red tartan carpet and real fire. There's a modern coffee shop too, and the dining room serves award-winning curries by Head Chef, Indunil Upatissa.
The old staircase brings guests to a broad sloping landing that was once the housekeeper's office. The old partitioning has been taken down but her telephone exchange remains on the wall, showing that in Graham Greene's day there were 19 bedrooms sharing one bathroom. Today ensuite bedrooms extend over the archway into adjoining buildings. They're mostly small and serviceable, but one in particular is reason enough to come all the way to Chipping Camden. Room 1657 is named after the date carved on to its massive four-poster bed. It also has its own picturesque bay window overlooking the Market Square. But the majestic bed – so high you need footstools to climb up on to it – is the undoubted USP of Room 1657.
Just two doors down from the famous Hackney Empire, the Old Ship Inn is a real East End pub accessed down an old tiled passageway that's been decorated with cheery murals which make it less daunting on a dark evening. Inside the welcome is warm and the pub food is excellent. The Old Ship Inn dates from the first half of the nineteenth century but in 2014 it was taken over and reopened by Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap as one of their ten Urban Pubs & Bars enterprise.
Bedrooms are located up a steep staircase and on either side of a winding corridor. The upstairs layout probably hasn't changed since the 1800s. Bedrooms are compact and mostly understated (apart from the one with an entire wall given over to a black and white photo of a donkey being given a pint of beer to sup). Breakfast in the open-plan bar is hearty amid cheerfully distressed décor. Guests sit on old school chairs marvelling at the list of beers etched in white chalk on the walls.
The Old Ship is wonderfully located for visiting the Tudor mansion Sutton House, the neoclassical Church of St John Hackney, the eighteenth-century Clapton Square and of course Hackney Empire itself, home of great British pantomimes since 1988. It's also a good place to stop over if you have an early flight from London City airport. A bland airport hotel this most certainly isn't!
The Crab and Boar near Chievely was originally known as the Blue Boar Inn. As pub names go, this one has a good story to tell. Outside the inn today there stands a rather forlorn-looking sandstone boar that has been painted blue. It was originally carved in Italy for Lord Ingilby of Ripley castle. He was on a grand tour of Italy in the sixteenth century when he came across the famous Il Porcellino statue by Pietro Tacca at the Uffizi. Ingilby was sufficiently taken with the design that he ordered two copies, which were taken back to Ripley where they sat outside his castle until the English Civil War. When Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentary Army billeted themselves on Ripley Castle, North Yorkshire they appropriated one of the boars and marched off with it.
The boar travelled south with Cromwell's army from the Battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644) all the way to the Battle of Newbury on 27 October 1644. That morning the statue was left behind at a nearby inn five miles from the battled and here it has stayed ever since –donating its name to the thatched inn in question - until it was changed the Crab and Boar in the twenty-first century.
Renowned for its food – and a very popular wedding destination – the Crab and Boar has 14 bedrooms, located in outbuildings. Walls are decorated in tartan and old wood with occasional antiques and a few four poster beds. The decorative hand of the Epicurean Collection, pioneers of the cozy, upmarket trendy British pub, is immediately recognisable.
Down a narrow winding lane between Sutton Mandeville and Lower Chicksgrove lies a small whitewashed pub with a thatched roof and log fires. It's almost too picture postcard perfect. In fact the only drawback with the Compasses Inn is the narrow lane itself, which is an absolute nightmare if you meet anything coming the other way.
This ancient inn has just four bedrooms over the bar plus rooms in a separate cottage. The attic bedrooms are accessed by some old stone steps on the outside of the pub. All four rooms lie off a communal area that has rush matting and plenty of seating, making it a good place for taking boots off or assembling for a walk. The bedrooms themselves are small, modern and white, offering everything you could possibly want but no baths – only showers – so no tub for the weary walker to soak in.
Downstairs the charming, low dark bar offers three local ales including “The Large One” from Butcombe Brewery. Guests and locals sit in a series of high-backed black-painted settles with minimal cushioning. Sunday lunch, served under the eye of chef Paddy Davy, is extremely popular with locals. This is a traditional English pub, open fire at one end, agricultural instruments on walls and Scrabble nights during the week.
The Mayflower in Lymington was the childhood home of the English first-class cricketer Christopher Allen whose parents ran it from 1964. The pub is located close to the Royal Lymington Yacht Club and Lymington Sea Water Baths. It is instantly recognisable as one of those distinctive early twentieth-century attempts to build in a Tudor style using brick and concrete to simulate half timbering. It opened in 1923 but has recently been renovated and painted with an arresting blue-grey palette that brings out the colour of the old bricks beautifully.
Inside, the bar acts as a focal point for lots of cozy eating areas. This space has been well thought-out and furnished with books and maritime memorabilia. Upstairs are six bedrooms, all with a nautical theme and with retro features like roll-top baths and reconditioned dial telephones.
This is a pleasant hotel to visit at any time but it's particularly well-placed if you are intending to sail on the Solent or catch the Isle of Wight ferry.
As ever the name of the pub has a story attached. It is not named after the ship on which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from nearby Plymouth but after the original radio beacon ship, anchored in the Solent that was responsible for beaming the very first radio signal to the Isle of Wight.
Sign up to our email to receive our most splendid special offers each month!