Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations
Walking is good for us. When Bill Bryson hoofed it along the Appalachian Trail, he was delighted how much wisdom he gained and how much weight he lost. Wordsworth used to tramp all day composing poems in his head and Rousseau covered great distances on foot in order to think. Our minds and bodies benefit from getting out into the countryside and walking until we've had enough - or a friendly pub comes into view.

In Britain we're fortunate that not only are there 15 National Trails but the countryside is crisscrossed with rights of way. The only problem is that it can sometimes take a while to drive out of the city and into the country, but this is why our rural hotels, pubs and coaching inns are so important. Arrive on a Friday night, eat and sleep well and the next morning you are ready to hit the trail as soon as your Full English Breakfast is finished.

So here are ten British hotels that I'd recommend for a walking weekend now that the days are beginning to lengthen. All will make you welcome and feed you well when you return.
Dart Marina Hotel & Spa

The Dart Marina Hotel was originally a shipyard north of Dartmouth's main quayside. In the 1950s, however, this enterprise moved across the river and the old offices and workshops were converted into a hotel. In 1994 this site was bought by Richard Seton, who rebuilt the quayside in stages until in 2007 a whole complex of privately-owned apartments and houses - as well as a stylish 50-bedroom hotel and spa - replaced all signs of industry on this stretch of the Dart River.

The hotels is decorated in pale greys and blues throughout, colours that enhance the beautiful view beyond of the new marina and the small cable-ferry linking the A379 across the river. In the morning sailing boats appear to float in the mist in front of the hotel.

The ferry – known as the Higher Ferry because there is another one lower down the river - takes three and a half minutes to cross. It is pleasantly hypnotic to watch it come and go. Guests who want a more active time at Dart Marina can pay the 70p to be a foot-passenger to Kingswear and walk the three and a half miles to the Daymark Tower.

Once on the far shore, turn right on the path that runs between the railway line and the harbour and follow it all the way to Kingswear Station. If you're lucky you may even be passed by the six-carriage steam train that runs regularly from Paignton down to Kingswear. This picturesque path runs across Waterhead Creek and Darthaven Marina and round Kingswear Station itself. Here by the yacht club turn up Church Hill and walk along Castle Road until you join the South West Coast Path at Mill Bay. Continue along the coast as far as the concrete remains of World War II's Brownstone Battery. Here you turn inland across fields to the unmistakable 80-foot tall Daymark Tower that was erected in 1864. This huge octagonal limestone structure was the brainchild of Charles Seale Hayne, a local landowner and member of the Dartmouth Harbour Committee. Its function was to help ships find the entrance to the River Dart. Today it's a good place to enjoy views of the Dart Estuary and Start Bay before turning back – or calling a taxi.

The Greyhound Inn

In the thatched Oxfordshire village of Letcombe Regis there is a lovely redbrick pub that was recently restored and reopened by owners Catriona Galbraith and Martyn Reed. The Greyhound has just eight bedrooms and a great menu for tired walkers to return to.

The pub is fortunate to lie just north of The Ridgeway, one of the most beautiful walks in England. Walkers trying to complete the 87 miles of the Ridgeway over a weekend sometimes stumble down Letcombe Brook to spend a night at the pub before returning up Warborough Road, refreshed and ready for more the next day.

The Ridgeway itself is well worth exploring from the Greyhound. Many of its attractions are in easy walking distance of the pub, including Segsbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort at the top of Warborough Road. Head east from the fort and after three miles you'll come to a statue commemorating Lord Wantage, a British soldier who was one of the founders of the British Red Cross and a personal friend of Florence Nightingale. You can walk on another 40-plus miles of the Ridgeway if you choose, but I'd say the memorial is a good place to sit down for a rest and then turn retrace your steps for supper at The Greyhound.

South Sands

South Sands sits on the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary, tucked away in a small corner of the coastline with a broad beach at low tide. It's a delightful white clapboard hotel, very modern inside with the delicious smell of wood-smoke rising from its open fireplace.

The South West Coast Path runs right past the hotel's front door. This is one of the longest of Britain's National Trails, 630 miles of sea views that begin at Lands End and run through Penzance, Polperro and on to Plymouth before arriving at South Sands. This section of the route loops round the old disused aerodrome of Bolt Head, which in the 1940s was an airstrip for RAF planes protecting shipping in the English Channel. There's a sharp descent from Bolt Head down to the hotel and a warm welcome inside. The best rooms at South Sands face out towards the estuary but the best view of all, in my opinion, is from the cheery bar on a summer's evening or a winter evening for that matter, when you can sit in one of the armchairs by the fire. The food by chef Greg Coleman is adventurous and the glass-plated dining room makes the best use of that seascape outside.

From South Sands the coast path continues on to Torquay and Lyme Regis before reaching Chesil beach and ending at Purbeck.

It's a glorious route to be done over several weeks, but whether you're just out for a weekend stroll or attempting all 630 miles, make sure you spend a night at South Sands, enjoying the wash of waves crashing under that bar.

The Chequers

The Thames Path is unique among Britain's National Trails because it follows a river – and a royal one at that - for almost all of its 184 miles. It begins, like the river itself in the Cotswold hills and weaves its way down through London to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. One of the most enjoyable sections of this route is from Cookham, home of the artist Stanley Spencer to Marlow, a lovely Buckinghamshire market town where lived the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and T. S. Eliot. Although the two men wrote here 100 years apart, they were both residents of West Street. Shelley's wife Mary is said to have worked on her novel Frankenstein while living here too and Jerome K. Jerome wrote parts of his comic novel, Three Men in a Boat at the Two Brewers, a pub close to All Saints Church.

A five-minute walk from Two Brewers stands The Chequers, which is actually two ancient pubs put together with a passageway still running between them. Since 1897 Chequers has belonged to the Brakspear company and is now one of 32 pubs with rooms that Brakspear operates. While on its ground floor Chequers maintains traditional pub décor, the bedrooms above are much more modern. A stairwell depicting images of elephants and tigers leads up to nine rooms that feature big generous beds, industrial chic wardrobes built of scaffolding poles and reclaimed timber and bathrooms with rainforest showers.

This is a good place to rest after a long walk, especially after the delightful five-mile stroll upriver from Cookham. Ideally you should visit the village's Stanley Spencer Gallery before setting off. Virtually all of Spencer's pictures are set around Cookham, including the Resurrection of the Dead (in Cookham Churchyard) and Christ Preaching at Henley Regatta.

Having had some culture, walk briskly along the Thames taking in the boats and the lovely houses that line this route before eating and sleeping well at Chequers.

The Running Horses

If you're looking for a walk with a rewarding view at the top then The Running Horses lies on a glorious route up to Box Hill. The 95 acres of this hill were bought by financier Leopold Salomons in 1914 and then donated to the nation to save it from development. It's a fair climb up to the summit of from Running Horses, two and a half miles along a road known as the Zig-Zag but at the top there are great views over the Mole Valley and Dorking. You'll even see airplanes departing from Gatwick Airport in the distance. 850,000 people walk, cycle or drive up here every year.

Running Horses itself was built as a coaching inn in the seventeenth century. Its dining room used to be the courtyard where coaches were turned round and fresh horses were hitched up. The inn originally stood on the road from the Surrey Hills straight into the City of London, and when it was built it was named The Chequers (as so many English pubs used to be). In 1828 it was renamed “Running Horses” after two racehorses – Colonel and Cadland – that tied in the nearby Epsom Derby. Meanwhile in the twentieth century the A24 was built turning the road in front of the pub into a quiet side street.

Today the inn's two bars are named Colonel and Cadland after the two competing horses. Colonel has a blue tartan carpet and Cadland a herringbone pattern of woodblock tiles. In the Cadland Bar the lovely open fire place has a dog grate decorated with four running horses while its beams are covered with racing rosettes and badges to admit the bearer into the owner's enclosure.

Running Horses has a menu that will set you up for a great day's walking – or reward you when you get back. Meat - yorkshire lamb, roast pheasant, steak rossini and cote de boeuf - dominates but there is also plenty of fish on the menu as well as mushroom dumplings and butternut squash tortellini for vegetarian walkers. Upstairs the theme continues in six delightful bedrooms named after famous English racecourses. There are big beds, sloping floors, sturdy old furniture and freestanding baths. This is a great place to collapse after a good day's walking and the welcome from Kat and her team is warm.

Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa

Fawsley Hall sits in its own grounds. Indeed these grounds are so huge that the receptionist will provide you with a map for walking round them. The hotel will also provide you with wellington boots, should the going be too muddy outside. You'll find them lined up in the porch.

The route takes you out across the lawn over the ha-ha (a ditch for keeping grazing sheep visible but not intrusive) and down to the Church of St Mary the Virgin then back through the estate's extensive woodland.

It's not a long walk, but it prepares you for afternoon tea in the Tudor Hall which is Fawsley's USP. It's two storeys high and full of portraits of British monarchs. There are also plenty of sofas to lounge on and in the autumn and winter there is a fireplace burning logs culled from the 2,000 acres of Fawsley's grounds.

Dinner is held in the Cedar Restaurant, which is less imposing than the Tudor Hall, being located in the former medieval kitchens. The hotel also offers a spa and swimming pool in the old stable block.

Given the turbulence of British politics – then as now – it's remarkable that the estate of Fawsley was given to the Knightley family, lawyers working for the English crown, in 1416 and that they never fell out of favour. From Henry V and Henry VI, the last Plantagenets through the time of the Tudors, the Stuarts, Hanoverians and Queen Victoria's dynasty, the Knightleys were lords of Fawsley up until 1938, a span of 500 years. The last baronet died just before World War II.

The Pheasant Inn

The Pheasant Inn stands on the Peckforton Hills, high on a rise with views as far away as Wales and Liverpool on a good day. This lovely part of Cheshire is all about old stone houses and amazing views.

The pub is a sandstone farm building with outhouses, built 300 years ago that has been well converted. The twelve bedrooms are divided between the main house and the outbuildings. Inside the inn itself there are Toby jugs on the mantelpiece, local prints and wood-burning stoves.

The pub actually provides a brochure of local walks, which is available online if you want to do your research in advance. The three curated trails run from one to three hours and all will bring you back to the Pheasant Inn. There is one to Beeston Castle which was built by Ranulf, Earl of Chester in the thirteenth century. Now in ruins, the castle has extensive views over the Cheshire Plain and its well – over 300 feet deep – is said to contain treasure hidden by deposed King Richard II. The Pheasant Inn stands on the 34 mile Sandstone Trail so there is no shortage or paths if you want to go further.

Once you have scraped the mud from your boots, the lunch and menu offers good gastro-pub classics like pan-seared scallops and confit of duck leg and homemade tapenade as well as some more traditional British dishes like Morecambe Bay shrimps and venison haunch.

All the bedrooms are very different -both in terms of size and view - so make sure you have chosen well before you retire.

Killingworth Castle

There is no castle at Killingworth, which is actually in the village of Wooton. This seventeenth-century public house was built by one Thomas Killingworth and either he gave it such a grand-sounding name or maybe the locals nicknamed it such. In its long history Killingworth Castle was also known as the Red Lion, but the new owners, Jim and Claire Alexander have restored the old name and the old signage.

The pub is popular with locals – and their dogs – with a long low bar and a log-burning stove. It also has a snug for private dining and two public dining rooms at the back, with a view of the open kitchen. Here bearded Will and his sturdy team of chefs turn out a compact but tasty menu that places a lot of emphasis on organic ingredients, including a fine venison burger. The beer is Yubby, a brew made specifically for Claire and Jim to their own recipe, and there are some good organic wines on the menu.

Guests stay in eight cosy suites that have been carved out of four old cottages that share the forecourt with the inn itself. Complementary decanters of sherry and homemade biscuits greet guests on arrival.

Walkers will love the hotel's website, which has a section devoted to walks and rides, some of which start at the pub or nearby in Woodstock or Wychwood Forest. They range in length from one mile to eight and a half over pretty level terrain. Given the hotel's obvious friendliness towards dogs (not just in the bar but in two dog-friendly cottages as well) this is a fine place to go dog-walking. Whether or not you have a four-legged friend, however, Killingworth Castle is a lovely friendly base for a weekend in the country with your boots.

Buckland Tout-Saints

In the middle of Devon -and seemingly nowhere near anywhere- stands Buckland-tout-Saints. Since 1956 it has been a hotel but was for centuries the manor house dominating this beautiful but remote part of Britain. The current house dates from the middle of the seventeenth century. It's a sturdy but elegant seventeenth century structure, considerably taller at the back, where it faces down a valley, than at the front.

Among its many owners were the Brunskill family who bought the manor at auction in 1855. If you walk up to the small church of St Peter, you'll find stained glass windows that Mrs Brunskill installed to commemorate her husband and two of her sons who predeceased her. You'll also find a memorial erected to her one remaining son Hubert, who inherited Buckland-tout-Saints in 1896. Hubert enjoyed living the life of a lord of the manor in the company of his not entirely likeable wife Hilda. Local men were expected to doff their caps to the Brunskills and local women curtsey. Hubert also demolished some local cottages because they made the road too narrow for his fleet of vehicles. Not surprisingly, the locals weren't too sorry when Hubert found Buckland-tout-Saints too expensive to keep up after World War I. After visiting St Peter's Church there's an easy walk across fields following Public Footpath signage. This will take you in a circuitous route as far as Goveton, the village that was the furthest point of the Buckland estate in the days before Hubert Brunskill sold off parcels of land to finance his retirement in 1921.

Back at the hotel there is dinner in the Queen Anne Dining Room and a drink in the bar. The bar was originally Hubert Brunskill's smoking room. He lined it with pew panelling that had been stripped out of St Martin's Church, Carfax in Oxford. The church was demolished in 1896, the same year that Hubert married Hilda. The Carfax Bar has the look of a den where Victorian gents chortled over things the ladies weren't supposed to hear, and if you take the door marked Gents, you'll come across delightfully Victorian WCs, including one with an iron cistern labelled the “Speedwell” by its London manufacturer.

When dining in the Queen Anne Room do look at the portraits in oils of rather serious-looking mid-Victorians (thought to be former owners of Buckland-tout-Saints). They had been hidden behind the panels of Russian pine that line the walls of the dining room. Why they were hidden rather than removed by the next owners is unknown.

Buckland-tout-Saints is particularly lovely – and wonderfully quiet – in the mornings so after a good night's sleep maybe it's time for another walk?

Tylney Hall Hotel

If you want a country walk without even leaving your hotel then Tylney Hall has 66 acres of grounds. In your room you'll even find a map that guides you round. The route begins in the (much restored) Italian Garden before reaching the Rose Circle (which lost its roses during World War II) and the Boating Lake. Then it's down the redwoods of the Long Vista – said to be the longest tree-lined avenue in Hampshire, down to the remains of a World War II air raid shelter that has been grassed over to create a raised ha-ha.

The walking route then continues through the kitchen gardens to the Dutch Gardens, which were lost when converted into an open air swimming pool in the 1930s.

On the other side of the hall the walk passes through water gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll with two more lakes and the original drive to Tylney along an avenue lined with chestnut trees.

Tylney Hall has been wonderfully restored since its nadir (1948-1984) when it was much-abused as a boarding school. These days it looks as good as it did in 1898 when Sir Lionel Philips created himself a stately home on the site of the original eighteenth-century mansion. People come for afternoon tea or to dine in the Oak Room or lose themselves in one of the aristocratic suites that are so large you can never remember where you left your possessions.

Tylney is a very comfortable country walk indeed. And when you come back if you ask nicely the staff will even clean your shoes for you!

This website uses cookies. Click here to read our Privacy Policy.
If that’s okay with you, just keep browsing. CLOSE