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Spectator Life magazine recently published a feature on the best country pubs within touching distaince of London. I posted on Twitter that you just knew what kind of pubs these were going to be, and I wasn’t wrong, as they were, entirely predictably, the type of places where “Mouth-watering mains include whole Roast Grouse with Game Chips & Bread Sauce and Venison Steak with Quince Jelly & Blue Cheese Mashed Potato.”
Can the collective wisdom of Twitter suggest some genuinely unspoilt, characterful rural/village/small town pubs within 50/60 miles of London? Bell, Aldworth for starters, maybe.
— Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) September 6, 2019
So I invited suggestions for some genuinely unspoilt and characterful pubs that would fit the bill better, and the results are shown below. I haven’t made any attempts to vet the list and they are presented as given to me. The only ones I’ve actually been to are marked with a *. In particular, I really don’t know rural Hertfordshire and the southern part of Essex well at all. The preponderance of pubs in these two counties is, of course, maybe driven more by who responded than being an accurate reflection of the relative quality of the pub stock in the various areas. Nothing was suggested whatsoever in Buckinghamshire. I’ve provided links for three that people waxed particularly lyrical about.
Cock, Broom *
Bell, Aldworth *
Queen’s Head, Newton *
Bell, Castle Hedingham
Cats, Woodham Walter
Chequers, Dunmow
Chequers, Marks Tey
Compasses, Littley Green
Hurdlemakers Arms, Woodham Mortimer
Rodney, Little Baddow
Station Arms, Southminster
Swan, Little Totham
Three Elms, Chignall St James
Three Horseshores, Duton Hill
Viper, Mill Green (pictured above)
Harrow, Steep
Angler’s Retreat, Marsworth
Cross Keys, Harpenden
Crown & Sceptre, Bridens Camp
Green Man, Sandridge
Half Moon, Wilstone
Plough, Ley Green
Queen’s Head, Allens Green
Red Lion, Marsworth
Rising Sun, Berkhamstead
Rose & Crown, Trowley Bottom
Strathmore Arms, St Paul’s Walden
Five Bells, Eynsford
Old House, Ightham Common *
Queen’s Arms, Cowden Pound
Black Horse, Checkendon
Fox, Worplesdon *
Royal Marine, Lyne
Scarlett Arms, Walliswood *
Blue Ship, The Haven *
This one – the Green Man at Sandridge – certainly sounds a world away from the kind of pub listed in the original article:
Yes. Some money's been spent on the interior and dogs are now allowed in. A condition-perfect pint of Side Pocket costs £3.70. It heaves with decoraters, sparkies, chippies, builders and plumbers.
— Alec Latham (@LathamAlec) September 6, 2019
Something I’ve observed before is that traditional country pubs with a substantial wet trade seem to be much more prevalent in the South of England than the North, and an attempt to come up with a similar list for Cheshire and Lancashire would, I think, yield pretty slim pickings.