What’s happening to our country pubs?
Pubs are disappearing at a fast rate in cities and in the countryside, where they have always been at the centre of the community alongside the church hall and village shop. Changing habits – like drinking in to take advantage of lower supermarket prices – the growing popularity of bar chains and property speculation are taking their toll on public houses across Britain.
According to CAMRA, a British non-profit organisation campaigning for real ale and community pubs, 29 pubs are closing each week. CAMRA has been lobbying the Government to close planning loopholes in order to save pubs. Tim Page, CAMRA’s chief executive, explains: “In England, it’s currently possible to convert a pub into a betting shop, pay-day loan store or supermarket without the need for planning permission, making it far too easy for pubs valued by the community to be lost without local people having a say. Given the huge contribution that pubs make to community life in Britain, we believe this cannot be right.”
Research by CAMRA discovered that pubs support over 1m jobs nationally and contribute around £80,000 to a local economy each year. Although 75% of adults believe that pubs make a valid contribution to community life, two pubs are converted to supermarkets every week. Many politicians have joined the fight to save British pubs, so do speak to your local MP if you have any concerns.
In praise of country pub food
British cuisine had been suffering bad press for years until a new breed of chefs injected fresh enthusiasm into traditional dishes, making the best of local ingredients and suppliers. However, the pub has always been a crowd pleaser. Well before gastropubs emerged as a more affordable dining option than restaurants, many pubs have been offering tasty fare at pleasing prices: fish and chips, warming hearty pies, Sunday roasts and juicy burgers. So here is our own selection of country pubs offering good grub in delightful surroundings, featuring on a few of our Countryside Tours.
The Bull & Butcher, Turville, Buckinghamshire
A Grade II-listed Brakspear country pub, The Bull & Butcher dates from the 16th Century, when it was called ‘The Bullen Butcher’, a reference to infamous King Henry VIII, who had his second wife Anne Boleyn beheaded. Serving good food cooked from fresh ingredients, it is dog and child friendly too. Located in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it offers scenic views of the windmill and the surrounding countryside.
Ye Olde Ship Inn, St Catherine’s Village, Surrey
This is a really atmospheric pub with period features, two open fires, good ales and the best pizza for miles, according to Tripadvisor’s enthusiastic reviewers. It’s also dog friendly and has a pretty beer garden. If you dislike large TV screens broadcasting sports matches and blaring music, this is the place for you.
Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester
Renowned for its fabulous, beautifully presented food and friendly service, this little gem offers a wide choice of hearty dishes with a hint of sophistication. The children’s menu is great value for money while the succulent meat roasts come with all the trimmings.
Greyfriar Pub, Chawton, Hampshire
A 16th-Century coaching inn opposite Jane Austen’s house, this village pub oozes history and charm. It serves delicious homemade food, fine ale and boasts a beautiful beer garden. A child-friendly establishment, it serves traditional pub grub with a smile.
The Lord Lyon Pub, Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire
This is a charming, dog-friendly country pub serving Arkell’s ales and tasty, traditional dishes. Value for money, a warm welcome from the staff and ensuite accommodation make it worth stopping by for lunch, dinner and overnight.
Why pubs matter to communities
Whether you are a darts player, a dominoes devotee, a quiz whizz or real ale fan, your local is a home from home, where you can unwind and catch up with friends and colleagues. Pubs are also ‘affordable family restaurants’, serving traditional dishes that hit the spot with big and small appetites. In small villages, the pub is the only public place left for local residents to congregate, usually after the post office or local shop has closed down and the community hall has been turned into residential accommodation. With the only pub closing down, a bustling village can end up like a ‘dormitory’ for city commuters, elderly residents and weekenders. So why not stop at one of these pubs to rest your legs and refuel when you are next on a Handheld Tour?