Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Home Counties havens

Spectator Life magazine recently published a feature on the best country pubs within touching distance 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.”

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. I’ve provided links for some that people waxed particularly lyrical about. Initially, nothing was suggested in Buckinghamshire, but I’ve now added a couple from the comments.


Cock, Broom *
Engineers Arms, Henlow


Bell, Aldworth *


Prince Albert, Frieth
White Horse, Hedgerley


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
Plough, Little London


Angler’s Retreat, Marsworth
Cross Keys, Harpenden
Crown & Sceptre, Bridens Camp
Green Man, Sandridge
Half Moon, Wilstone
John Bunyan, Coleman Green
Plough, Ley Green
Queen’s Head, Allens Green
Red Lion, Marsworth
Rising Sun, Berkhamstead
Rose & Crown, Trowley Bottom
Strathmore Arms, St Paul’s Walden
Woodman, Wild Hill


Crown, Groombridge
Five Bells, Eynsford
Old House, Ightham Common *
Queen’s Arms, Cowden Pound
Rock Inn, Chiddingstone Hoath


Black Horse, Checkendon


Fox, Worplesdon *
Fox & Hounds, Godstone
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:

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.


  1. For Buckinghamshire, I would nominate The White Horse in Hedgerley (which has been in the GBG I think).

  2. I'd add The Woodman at Wild Hill, just outside Potters Bar but feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. Great beer, wet-led, old-fashioned opening hours, always busy.

  3. All them pubs and people claim pubs are dying?
    There's more pubs than soft mick.

    1. Those are only thirty-odd. You haven't seen the list of those that have closed!

  4. In addition to the aforementioned Red Lion, Snargate (Doris's), I would add the Rock Inn at Chiddingstone Hoath, and possibly the Crown at Groombridge for Kent.

    1. Snargate is a bit far - 71 miles - but I can add the other two to the list.

    2. Yes, I see what you mean. I hadn't read the introductory paragraph thoroughly enough.

  5. Replies
    1. No, I think for the purposes of this exercise the extensive description on WhatPub of its restaurant facilities disqualifies it, although it sounds praiseworthy in many respects.

    2. We were here a fortnight ago, we had a meal, but were sitting in a pub!

    3. You are a hard taskmaster Mudgie, definitely a pub.

  6. Prince Albert, Frieth (near High Wycombe), Bucks? Not perfect (and I weep inwardly at the loss of Henley-brewed Brakspear's every time I visit), but perhaps the nearest thing nowadays to one of the Brakspear 'gems'.

    1. Yes, Brakspear's used to have lots of unspoilt little pubs in the countryside around Henley, most of which I fear have now either closed down or gone gastro. Two that fall into the latter category are the Crooked Billet at Stoke Row and the Dew Drop at Hurley.

    2. It's a pity that you let your predudices regarding gastro pubs get the better of you, the are some excellent pubs out there, Oxfordshire has some excellent country pubs, some gastro some not. The Black Horse, Checkendon, mentioned in your Twitter list is very remote, in the middle of woodland, a lovely pub, but wound never make a newspaper list, due to it being wet led. All lists like the one mentioned are going to be subjective, everyone reading this blog could give you their favourite pubs, and this would differ from person to person,largely based on preference, and personal tastes.

    3. Gastropubs may be perfectly good establishments on their own terms, but in my view anywhere that has become in functional terms effectively a restaurant no longer qualifies as a pub. The local community would probably be better served by converting it to a Tesco Express. Some pubs manage to successfully balance a strong food trade with still having a pubby character, but others make no attempt.

    4. The Stafford Mudgie13 September 2019 at 03:15

      I can't agree about a Tesco Express.
      In all the years I've used pubs only once have I been told that I wouldn't be served a pint if I wasn't dining. I decided to eat and then half way down my pint changed my mind again.
      "Some pubs manage to successfully balance a strong food trade with still having a pubby character" and that's usually with the retention of separate rooms, lounge for diners and bar for drinkers as with the Morris Man very near me and Swan at Whiston several miles away.

  7. You are doing a fine service for normal pubs sir!

  8. It's years since I was in they neck of the woods, but The Engineer's Arms in Henle, Herts used to be jolly good.

    1. Sounds good, so I'll add it to the list. It's in Bedfordshire, though :-)

    2. By the skin of its teeth!

      (Which, of course, is me admitting my error…)

    3. Actually, I remember the Engineer's Arms running a beer festival of classic beers such as Bass and Bishop's Finger earlier in the year :-)

  9. Sadly, it looks as though one of these pubs, the Three Elms at Chignal St James, has recently closed. I don't intend to edit the post, though, as it's not intended to be a live listing.


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