Check out the little tiles of these warm, welcoming and wintry public houses across the kingdom.

As the temperature dips and thoughts turn to making merry, there are few places most of us – and we speak unashamedly collectively for the country here – would rather be than holed up in a cosy pub. Whether in the city or the country – and each has its own particular charms – there’s nothing quite like settling in by the fire with a glass of something warming in hand, a packet of dry-roasted nuts and, ideally, some dozy dogs dotted about the place to complete the picture.

Here are our top tips for public houses to follow on Instagram so that, though we may be sitting at your desk, we can at least dream of the moment you swap the office for the one such setting at the weekend. Cheers to that.

The Ebrington Arms
Chipping Campden

We’ll admit it: we spend an unhealthy number of our winter evenings longing to sitting by exactly this roaring fire (preferably with a sleepy old chocolate lab lying at our feet). Voted Dining Pub of the Year, as well as The Sunday Times’ number one village pub in 2017, its ex-music industry exec husband-and-wife owners, Jim and Clare Alexander, have since opened a second pub near Woodstock and launched their own craft beer range under the banner of The Yubbertons Brewing Co. Just absurdly cosy.

The Gunton Arms
North Norfolk

How’s this for a match made in pub heaven? The Gunton Arms, situated in the thousand-acre deer park that surround Gunton Hall, is owned by art dealer Ivor Braka; the kitchen is presided over by chef Stuart Tattersall who previously worked with Mark Hix; and the interiors are by, perhaps, the cosiest of all British designers, Robert Kime (think classic deep, lived-in armchairs, big fireplaces and warm lamplight courtesy of ikat shades dotted around the place). It’s traditional yes, but with fantastically contemporary touches courtesy of artworks by the likes of Tracey Emin, which is what happens when an art dealer owns a boozer. Ogle it on Insta for dreamy wintry visuals, and if you do go, make sure you book a table in the Elk Room where diners scoff hearty and delicious dishes created using only seasonal and local ingredients.

The Ram Inn, Firle
East Sussex

Firle, a ten-minute drive from the beautiful market town of Lewes, is well worth a visit for anyone who enjoys exploring a quintessential English village. Within spitting distance of Charleston Farmhouse, the beautifully preserved bohemian Bloomsbury hang-out, the hamlet is owned in its entirety by Firle Estate, meaning that everyone rents, and everything – all its clapboard-fronted higgledy piggeldy magic – remains in tact. It bears all the hallmarks of the perfect village: a cricket pavilion and green; the most charming garden tearoom; a village shop; a medieval church; and, of course, the platonic ideal of the village pub. The Ram Inn is perennially popular, serves up meat from the neighbouring Firle Place estate, is painted in pleasingly dark, cocooning hues and is lit and warmed by firelight. There’s a great garden for summer drinking and dining post walk across the South Downs, but for us it’s all about cosy winters here. We challenge you to ever want to leave.

The Griffin
Fletching, East Sussex

Another Sussex boozer, another cosy delight. The Griffin is that rare thing: a truly all-year-round pub. In summer, its sprawling garden is a thing of true beauty, with endless views stretching out across the Ouse Valley and bars set up to cater to its many, many punters (it is always worth booking ahead here). But in winter, it is a warm hug of a place that has been welcoming the hungry and thirsty for over 500 years. Fires, snug rooms, pints of Harvey’s Best and locally sourced food: there’s a reason that the Griffin has graced the pages of good pub guides all the way from Victorian editions to the present.

The Brown Dog
Barnes, south-west London

No pub can be truly cosy unless it not only allows dogs but embraces them. Its canine-loving credentials should be obvious from the name, but The Brown Dog adores its hound-friends so much that it even has a wall dedicated to polaroids of four-legged regulars. Indeed, its Insta account is peppered with pictures of fine mutts lolling about the place, such as this particularly cosy specimen who appears blissfully contented to have claimed his fireside spot. Happily for human companions, it’s a glorious place to be too; seasonal menus, lovely Victorian tiled fireplaces, some seriously good wheat beers and a convivial atmosphere. It’s always hard to leave this tucked-away gem, which somehow feels like you’ve teleported out of London to the country.

Lifeboat Inn
Thornham, north Norfolk

For devotees of north Norfolk’s romantically expansive landscapes, there’s nothing quite like a wintry walk along its salt marshes with the wind whipping in your hair and the taste of the salty North Sea on your lips. Neither is there much to compare to a good glass of red or a pint of fortifying ale afterwards to warm the cockles. The sixteenth-century Lifeboat Inn – with its huge roaring fire, its hearty food (think camembert and gorgeous fresh bread) – is exactly that kind of place, not least because of its location; there’s nothing between it and the sand and sea beyond.

Yorke Arms
Ramsgill, Yorkshire

Full disclosure: this is at the very, very fancy end of the pub spectrum. A restaurant with rooms may be more accurate, and that restaurant just happens to be the holder of a coveted Michelin star. But if you’re in the market for some seriously excellent fare in a supremely cosy pub setting, this is your place. The ivy clad exterior, the doorway flanked by twinkling Christmas trees at this time of year, the cosy glow that beckons you in is all there in glory on its Instagram account – and that’s without getting into the breath-taking scenery of the Nidderdale Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty in the North Yorkshire Dales, or indeed the food, which features things as ridiculously delicious as truffled artichoke and crab langoustine with aubergine custard. We could stare at these little squares all day.

The Cleveland Arms

This glorious independent pub is our regular stop whenever we’re early for a train departing Paddington (and even sometimes when we’re not but fancy dallying a while). Its artfully distressed walls and its polished Victorian bar make it an atmospheric place to while away happy hours. First opened in 1852, we love its Spode plates and its traditional roasts – it makes us feel like we’re at our (particularly stylish) granny’s house. Like you’ve stepped back in time without ever feeling old-fashioned.

The Spaniards Inn

The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead comes firmly under the ‘historic pub’ category. Yet, happily, it does not do what many historic pubs do, which is to rest on their half-timbered laurels. It is still properly good here. Dating back to the 17th-century, Dickens was a regular, as was the highwayman, Dick Turpin, whose father was once the landlord of the establishment. It is said that its strategic position a couple of hours from central London made it a good place from which to watch the road and its many wealthy travellers. We love gazing at its Insta account and at no time more than Christmas, when it becomes one of the cosiest places on earth.

The Olde Bell
Hurley, Berkshire

Right on the banks of the River Thames, the Olde Bell in Hurley is said to be the oldest hotel in the United Kingdom, having first been listed as a hostelry in 1135. A few years ago, it got a chic facelift courtesy of style maven, Ilse Crawford, its rooms adorned with roll-top baths, furry throws and Roberts Radios. We like the public house attached it, which is dark, comfy and snug, and replete with good fireside armchairs to snuggle into. It is said that it features a secret tunnel to the village priory, used by John Lovelace in the 17th-century as part of the plot to overthrow King James I. We do a love a pub with history and its little tiles do a good job of reminding us just how much we like it here.

The Old Harkers Arms

Whether its in a home, a library or, as in this case, a pub, we find that any wall lined with books makes us instantly swoon, and want to snuggle up in a nearby armchair with a volume picked off the shelf. The Old Harkers Arms pulls this off to absolutely exemplary effect. The pub fare is excellent (don’t miss its wonderful pies), its canal-side position is glorious, and its Instagram feed is a beauty. Happy scrolling.

Rashleigh Inn
Polkerris, Cornwall

Fresh fish, local real ale and cider: the wonderful Rashleigh Inn is right on the beach, and is thus gorgeous throughout the year. Come in summer for a post-paddle pint, and in winter to warm up after a moody walk in the high coastal winds. But mostly, we have a thing for an eccentric pub, with memorabilia hanging from the ceiling. And few places do it as well as the Rashleigh Inn. If you’re looking for festive, this is the place.

The Glynne Arms
Hawarden Village, Wales

Visitors to the Glynne Arms will almost certainly find themselves in the company of scholarly types, who are invariably dotted about the place quietly supping an ale or two accompanied by a good book. That’s thanks to the fact that the pub, which was founded in 1812, is currently under the stewardship of Sir William Gladstone, and is situated on the same estate as Gladstone’s Library, where readers can peruse some 32,000 volumes, complete with – occasionally scathing – annotated notes from the Victorian Prime Minister. But you don’t have to be a reader to come here; loving a good boozer to really settle into is equally reason enough to drop by. Oh, and the food is all ultra local, and ultra good too. It’s not on our doorstep by any stretch, but thanks to Insta, we imagine ourselves here unhealthily frequently.


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By Nancy Alsop
November 2019