Big city life might be a thrill-ride, but when your hours are long, your living quarters limited and your commute is stressful, getting away for a weekend is absolutely essential. Especially when you’re spending your warm Friday evenings sending a dozen fruitless emails to abandoned computers. But we’ve had an idea.
With the sun still shining and your office looking emptier, now’s the time to make Friday at five the start of an epic weekend, disappearing into the countryside with your Weekender on the backseat as you embark on two days of living the good life: drinking local ales, going on short hikes through honey-coloured hamlets, stopping off at seafood shacks and farmers markets.
And to help you accomplish just that, we’ve found the perfect country pubs for you to eat at, sleep in and explore from. You might be less than a few hours drive from the city, but you’ll feel a thousand klicks away.
Trying to choose Norfolk’s best spot for a rejuvenating weekend away is like trying to pick a favourite out of your three labradors. It’s almost impossible. But no one could argue with a decision to pack your Weekend Bag and flee to The Gunton Arms. It’s like nowhere else you’ve ever eaten, stayed or popped into for a pint. Surrounded by a thousand-acre deer park and set beneath the big skies of this famous flatland - where the fading light of dusk is worth dropping everything for - stepping inside this inn will make your senses shake. It is part-pub, part-gallery, the restaurant walls lined with mounted tarantulas, risqué Emin plates, neon signs, out-there antiques and big-hitting art. Yet it’s further from pretentious than John O’Groats is from Lands End, and the award-winning restaurant is proof: it’s muddy boots, scruffy dogs and world-class steaks.
There are pubs, and then there are pub-pubs - the kind that only exist in period dramas, with log fires roaring in every room and a medieval castle standing proud outside, complete with rushing river. The Bell at Skenfrith is the latter. Literally. Barely a cork-pop away is the medieval Skenfrith Castle and before that there’s the free-flowing River Munnow. And with no phone reception, you can enjoy a weekend off-the-grid, just like in the good old days, complete with jugs of fresh milk, homemade biscuits, perfectly-worn sofas, mismatched furniture and crackling fires. But it’s the unfussy food that will have you asking if your room is free for another night. Seasonal and locally sourced, this is where you come to eat well, switch off, stare up at the stars, lace up your boots, explore the outdoors and refresh your mind before you head back to the other life you love.
This isn’t just a multi-award winning pub; it’s a pub with a Sylvanian-like charm at the beating heart of a village-village. The gentle bustle of bucolic living where railway crossings ding, canal locks rise and fall with every chortling boat and a river rich in trout flows past. This is one of those places where the locals walk slower and smile more. And the best bit: life’s simple pleasures. It’s good hearty food, like homemade pâtés and real roasts and fish and chips that have been battered to perfection. It’s sipping on tasty cider as you watch the ducks waddle out of the water and through the riverside garden with its old twisty trees. It’s nothing less than cliché countryside living - something we all need now and then.
When disappearing for a weekend is all you want to do, sling your Backpack into the passenger footwell, set your destination for Dorset and enjoy the road trip south, to the Lulworth Cove Inn where sleepy village life meets the jaw-dropping Jurassic Coast. It’s what escapes should feel like - a simple haven on the ocean’s edge where you can enjoy award-winning cask ales and an unpretentious seasonal menu full of local seafood. And it’s always bustling. Not in that city-like way, but in that local favourite kind of way - and it’ll take less than a day to find out why. Wake up to the flagstone floors, exposed beams, driftwood decorations and vintage furnishings, then fill your days with gentle strolls past the Durdle Door and Fossil Forest, and finish it all off by going to bed with a belly full of tasty sides of good vibes.
You must really want to getaway if you’ve tapped the Punch Bowl’s postcode into your SatNav, but you won’t be alone either because this award-winner attracts an eclectic crowd of characters every. single. Friday. night: City folk wanting to escape it all, gamekeepers from the local game fair and walkers in need of a warm beer after a day exploring the Windermere fells on foot. And they all come together in the bar, surrounding the fireplace as they swap stories. Just don’t expect to flop onto your four-poster with a belly full of pub classics because the chef here is a rising star. We’re talking a twice-baked Lancashire cheese soufflé with spinach followed by pan-roasted guinea fowl and truffle sauce, which you can walk off the next day with a stroll through the patchwork of fields.