Five of the best… country pubs

Five of the best… country pubs
Fresh, locally sourced produce, real ale and cosy fireplaces: the Great British country pub is one foodie tradition that’s not going anywhere. Rachael Stubbins rounds up five of the best

The last five years have seen the closure of an increasing number of UK pubs. The Lost Pubs Project claims that more than 20,000 pubs that have now been shut. The 2007 smoking ban, the recession and tax hikes on alcohol have all been blamed but pubs remain an essential part of British life. According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), alcohol consumption has fallen by 13 per cent since 2004. But despite the challenges, new pubs are opening and that’s good news for greenies. ‘In rural Britain, pubs represent the end point of a really vital supply chain,’ says the BBPA's Neil Williams. ‘Pubs buy local produce and the employment they create is also very much based in local communities. This makes us one of the most important industries for the rural economy and a vital part of the rural tourism trade, too.’

There is a growing appetite for unique pubs that offer locally produced food as people become more aware of green issues.  But it isn’t just green issues that are behind eco-friendly pubs: consumers are reaping the benefits of fresher food, community integration and lower transport and refrigeration costs. ‘Pubs have been part of the British way of life for hundreds and hundreds of years,’ says Fiona Stapley, Editor of the Good Pub Guide.  ‘Today, a good country pub is still the heart of the community with a bustling bar, local ales and honest food using the best local and seasonal ingredients. Quite a few pubs now raise their own animals, keep chickens for free-range eggs and grow their own fruit and vegetables. The thriving pubs are those that manage to do both good beer and top-class food and the atmosphere as a result is always friendly and informal.’

The Countryman Inn, West Sussex
Why we love it: Located in the gorgeous open countryside near Shipley in West Sussex, the Countryman Inn is traditional, rustic and welcoming. Cosy up to the open log fires in the winter and get to grips the open air kitchen in the summer. There’s a huge selection of local ales, organic meat and vegetables from nearby farms plus fish from nearby Shoreham and Newhaven. As a result of relying exclusively on locally grown produce, the menu is totally seasonal but tastes all the better for that.
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The Feathers Inn, Northumberland
Why we love it: Winner of two RSPCA awards for ethical sourcing, owners Helen Greer and Rhian Cradock [pictured left] have successfully created a truly unique pub experience for village dwellers and visitors at Hedley on the Hill. Inside, the 17th century building is the model of rustic chic with exposed stonework, wood burning stoves, old sewing machines with wooden tops for tables and bookcases crammed with cookery books providing a masterclass in recycled home decoration. Food is traditional British with French influences although the top pick has to be the toothsome homemade black pudding. All the food is purchased locally from farmers with whom they have built close relationships, allowing them to specify exactly how the meat is hung, smoked and cut. The only fish available comes from the small boat fishermen of North Shields.
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The Thomas Lord, Hampshire
Why we love it:
This friendly village pub is a must for anyone passing through West Meon. Hidden inside are log fires and plenty of cricket memorabilia, while outside, you’ll find a chicken run and a vegetable patch. Better still, just about everything imaginable is sustainable from the local lavender used in the soaps to meat bought from local farmers and the chickens and vegetables raised in the garden. All meat is high welfare and the menu changes depending on what’s in season. The chefs have also found inventive ways to get to grips with local produce, with old-fashioned quiches exchanged for beetroot and rosary goats’ cheese tart. Local and delicious.
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The Bell at Skenfrith, Monmouthshire
Why we love it: Situated on the England-Wales border by the River Monnow, the 17th century former coaching inn [pictured right] offers an array of organic seasonal dishes using ingredients from local suppliers (usually within a 20 mile radius) and their own extensive organic kitchen garden. Nothing is imported but that doesn’t mean that the menu is restricted. Throughout the year, the garden produces leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, black cabbage, baby carrots, various types of lettuce and rainbow chard; everything from the fruit and vegetables on the menu to the flowers on the table is picked from the garden. The owners, Janet and William Hutchings, have just welcomed six spotted pigs to the garden, too, which visitors can see when they walk outside.
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The Old Forge, Mallaig
Why we love it: The Old Forge has a daily menu that changes with the seasons – and success of the local fishermen’s catch – to give the freshest dining experience possible to diners. Accessible only by boat or foot, this hidden gem is a haven for anyone who makes the trip there. Warm up by the cosy wood-burning stove with a pint of local ale in the company of friendly locals. You can also get involved in a singalong: while there might not be any music playing, the instruments on the wall are there to encourage customers to provide the entertainment. With no roads in or out and no phone reception, there’s no excuse not to stay all night.
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