Reviews

Ten great country pubs …

“As its name suggests, this is a hanging-tile stone cottage surrounded by roses that sits discreetly in the pretty village of Alciston, a Sunday constitutional from the south coast. Inside are three small front rooms with a clutter of tables and Windsor chairs. A tiny bar is squashed into the middle room yet the whole feels more like a bohemian afternoon tearoom than a tavern. There are trays of free-range eggs on offer, home-made honey for sale and hand-written notices for bicycle repair kits at 90p.”

– Observer Food Monthly

Probably the best pub walks in the world …

“From invading Romans to visiting presidents, snap-shooting tourists to lurking film stars, guests to our country have always arrived with one item at the top of all their tick lists – “I want to see a real British pub.” And who can blame them – a good country inn really is the best of Britain, past, present and, God willing, future. And things are only getting better – our pubs have always had the history and the horse brasses, but the finest now offer food, accommodation and service that deserve to make them destinations in their own right.

So, to mark the start of National Pubs Week, we asked five travel writers to raise a toast to their favourite pub weekends, in some of the most bucolic bits of Britain. Each has recommended a winter-warmer pub walk for Saturday, a sup_erior pub lunch for Sunday, and a snug inn for the night, where you’ll find meals and beds that are really worth tucking into.

And if anybody should query your new mode of weekending, tell them it’s all the rage in LA. You’re not on a pub crawl, you’re on a heritage break.

Checked the suspension on your car recently? Well, it might be an idea if you do before venturing to the Sussex Downs. Bring the GPS as well – it’s a maze around here. The lanes have a pothole for every twist and another for every turn, but the driving is enjoyable all the same: the arching trees make dark green tunnels in summer, but now, the bare branches form a guard of honour over your head, strobing the pale winter sunshine onto your windscreen (oh yes, bring the sunglasses, too).

In the hamlets, flint and thatch cottages remind you you’re in Cold Comfort Farm country, while up on the bare hills, the brinish blast from the Channel beckons you to pull on that cagoule and yomp for Britain – as long as there’s a foaming fireside pint at the end of it, of course. And we’ve sorted that out for you.

The crackling fire: it awaits at the Rose Cottage Inn in Alciston (01323 870377), but before the indulgence, a stroll. Well, a stiff walk, really. Oh come on, it’s only three hours, and it will make the Harveys bitter (brewed a few miles away in Lewes) taste that much sweeter.

Armed with OS Explorer 123, follow the South Downs Way signs up from Alfriston towards Firle. It’s a stiff climb, but the views at the top of the ridge are – well, they’re verging on the indecent. It’s a disconcertingly sensuous landscape: the voluptuous folds and curves of the downs taper into furze-filled clefts (that particularly suggestive one to your left is called Short Bottom).

Continue over Bostal Hill and Firle Beacon – more great views of the Channel and the Ashdown Forest – and descend into pretty Firle village. Then it’s back along the old coach road that tracks the foot of the ridge, before taking a left at the triangular sign for Alciston, and lunch.

The Rose Cottage is a little shambolic, but all the cosier for that. There are harnesses hanging from the ceiling, eggs and honey for sale in the corner, a flock of stuffed birds, and one live one – Jasper, an African grey parrot, who holds court in the tiny bar. In fact, the whole place is a bit of a mess, but in a timeworn, loveable way.

“I’ve been coming here for 30 years,” says a local, “and not much has changed. I’ll have another pint of Harveys.” You should join him in that, add the Jolly Posh Fish Pie (£8.95), and wrap yourself around them by the Victorian log fire, before the short stroll (really, this time) back to Alfriston.”

– The Sunday Times

Pint to pint: Rose Cottage Inn …

“The rambler is, by and large, an unloved figure in the country pub. He leaves his boots outside for the tired and emotional to trip over and bursts into the bar mob-handed, ordering half-pints of weak beer and mixed squashes. His anorak is noisy, his aluminium trekking pole is always in the way and – OK, I accept I am ramblerly prejudiced – the swing of his blue nylon rucksack changes the dynamics of a bar.

However, if the irregular rambling corps were to single out a pub in which its patrols could mess without discrimination, then I suggest it choose Rose Cottage Inn.

These vexatious strollers are meat (or should that be nut cutlet) and drink to the landlord of the picturesque South Downs refreshment stop.

The pub, as its name suggests, is a pair of linked, hanging-tile stone cottages that sit discreetly in the pretty village of Alciston, a Sunday constitutional from the coast. Inside, there are three small front rooms, with a clutter of tables and Windsor chairs with cushions attached. A tiny bar is squashed into the middle room, yet the whole feels more like a bohemian afternoon tea room than a tavern, despite the tin notice for Murphy’s Extra Stout. Above the neat Edwardian fireplace is a reproduction Edwardian painted sign trumpeting the pub.

There are trays of free-range eggs on offer, home-made honey for sale and handwritten notices for bicycle repair kits at 90p.

Real ales and hearty grub is advertised on a selection of blackboards. But I skipped the Harvey’s Best and parsnip, leek and ginger soup and went straight for mains – a pint of Guinness and a fine mature Sussex cheese ploughman’s of Desperate Dan proportions.

Yet it was the lashings of pudding where Rose Cottage excelled. Raspberry and apple crumble and steamed ginger and chocolate pudding were on offer in addition to the eight tubby dishes on the laminated menu.

But most importantly, mine hosts seem totally unfazed by the fact that a stroll on the Downs is now a team sport, with specialised kit. They are happy to embrace the platoons of grazing perambulators, while I, on the other hand, looked vainly for the solitary Wainwright figure, with stout brogues and a wooden walking-stick, supping his quiet pint in a quiet corner.”

– Daily Telegraph