25 APR 2019: As the dispute and turmoil over Brexit continues in Britain, now with the deadline to exit extended to Halloween, no irony intended, I got to thinking about British pubs. Perfect places for heated debate, creative writing or just drowning sorrows, they were often the linchpin of a community. Today’s tourists can find along with that insight into a neighbourhood, a great meal at a value price. The trick is knowing how to locate the best.

Best of England just launched their new pub guide for 2019 featuring their pick of 200 of the best country pubs. Among their top choices they cite The Drunken Duck in Ambleside, Cumbria. Its attributes include enthralling views towards Windermere from its garden and terrace and its own micro-brewery. The 13th-century Pandora Inn in Falmouth, Cornwall is praised for its fresh off the boat fish. www.bestofengland.com/home/books/pubguide/

Bespoke Hotels offers some the UK’s best pubs with rooms and a range of historic inns filled with character and seriously good local food. Formed in 2000, Bespoke Hotels has grown to represent over 100 properties worldwide, and now stands as the UK’s largest independent hotel group.

The Bull Inn, a charming 16th century inn located in the heart of Charlbury, Oxfordshire, serves traditional British classics, such as pan fired pheasant and root vegetable cassoulet. One of the oldest Cotswold inns, the 14th century 28-room Noel Arms is steeped in history. Chef Indunil’s curries are so good that he has been named Best Pub Curry Chef at the Great British Pub Food Awards on three occasions. Guests of The White Horse, an 18th century coaching inn, located in Dorking, Surrey will find regional wines and ales along with seasonal produce from local producer on the menu. www.bespokehotels.com

A number of years ago I checked out a few of the pubs on the Yorkshire Ale Trail. My favourite was The Shibden Mill Inn in the heart of West Yorkshire. I was pleased to see that yet again in 2018 it was named number one among Yorkshire’s Favourite Pubs. In a 17th century property, tucked deep in a valley by a river, it had a well-deserved reputation for fabulous food. Their skilled twists on traditional pub grub raised the stakes to near perfection.

Scotch eggs were tiny, tender quail eggs with still runny yolks surrounded by hot sausage meat with a crispy, crunchy coating. Crackly pig skin and house made mustard relish veggies completed the dish. Deboned pig’s trotter stuffed with black pudding and chorizo served with local curly kale was both creative and amazingly delicious. The Yorkshire Ale Trail features 30 of the areas top pubs. https://issuu.com/welcometoyorkshire/docs/aletrail-map-2018-02.07.18-web

Every year the editors of the Good Pub Guide rate the finest “Dining Pubs” across Great Britain. These expert eaters say, “The rise of the Dining Pub over the past 20 years has been one of the key features of the industry.” Their recommendations include Royal Oak in Buckinghamshire which they praise for its first class modern food with dishes such as crayfish cocktail sliders with fennel and kohlrabi slaw, seabass with basil gnocchi and chargrilled 28-day dry-aged rib-eye steak with skinny fries. About the Pheasant in Cambridgeshire they write, “…it's a charming thatched building serving exceptional food in civilized surroundings…” https://thegoodpubguide.co.uk

A couple of years ago, I participated in The London Old Docks Historic Pubs, Food and Beer walking tour offered by Eating Europe. My favourite pub on that tour was the oldest pub on the River Thames, The Mayflower. This very cozy pub with a wood fire and outdoor deck overlooking the Thames (with warnings that at high tide you’ll likely get your feet wet) was an absolutely charming gem. Run by likely the smallest pub company in England, The Rotherhithe, which owns just two pubs, the food and the atmosphere were delightful. I had a traditional British brown ale they called scurvy with my bangers (house made pork and leek sausage) and mash. www.mayflowerpub.co.uk

On the official shop of the British Tourist Authority, VisitBritain, people can purchase the Drink London - Historic London Pub Walking Tour offered by their supplier, Liquid History Tours. Stops include the pub favoured by Charles Dickens for his literary inspiration, a pint at Dr Samuel Johnson’s local pub, also featured in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and a pub with a spectacular Victorian interior, described as “possibly the best preserved” in the city. www.visitbritainshop.com/canada/drink-london-london-pub-walk/

As of 2017, there were around 48,350 pubs operating in the UK. And despite the fact that about 18 pubs across the country closed every week in the second half of 2017, according to The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), the rate of closures is slowing and people are spending more money on gin and craft beer across the UK. Bottoms Up! Britain and forget Brexit sorrows.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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