Six months ago, we were gearing up to announce the second Telegraph Pub of the Year, The Cartford Inn in Lancashire. Then… well, you know what happened. Some pubs pivoted to take-away, some turned into social enterprises, some simply had to close their doors. The industry is still on a knife-edge, and is likely to remain so for some time. But however they’ve got through the pandemic, right now pubs deserve our support more than ever.
Pubs seem to have got better at raising their food game without sacrificing that essential pub vibe. Rural doesn’t have to mean traditional. The community ownership model is still holding its own. It’s a great time to be hungry or thirsty in Lancashire. And, most gratifyingly, even in these slippery times, the pub abides.
Written by Keith Miller, writer and editor at Telegraph Food
Meet the winners
The 10-foot-high eye spray-painted onto an outbuilding with a silhouetted David Bowie in its pupil tells you this isn’t your typical pub. Julie and Patrick have spent 13 years turning a run-down inn into a thriving local’s local. There’s seriously skilful cookery on show, and a commitment to local ingredients. Voters praised the food, but more loved it for being a unique, quirky, cosy gem, and they’re not wrong.
Runners up: The Pheasant at Neenton, Shropshire
This old stone pub is leading the charge for sustainable, superb food from within its historic walls. The sourcing has earnt landlords Claire and Jim a rare 3-star rating from The Soil Association, and the menu is a perfect blend of creativity and simplicity serving as a showcase for incredible local produce.
Runners up: The Wheatsheaf, Wiltshire
It feels as if nothing in the village of Romaldkirk has changed for centuries, so it’s no surprise that the pub has remained a classic. You’ll love the timeless feel of stone fireplaces, dark wood and brass taps. A superb, locally sourced menu and a passion for sustainability have matched the best of modernity with the best of tradition.
Runners up: The Horse Guards Inn, Sussex
Owners Marcus and Amelia restored this lovely inn to its place in the community and renovated the six bedrooms with flair and style. Huge walls of exposed brick, bathtubs on corner platforms and walk-in showers with massive murals are all combined with colourful fabrics and furniture.
Runners up: The Swan Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire
This family-run pub has impressive views of Grasmere and is catered perfectly for the hikers that flock to it. The relaxed bar welcomes muddy boots and paws with a menu of more than enough substance to keep you walking all day, although the giant communal roasts known as Sunday Sharers might end up anchoring you to your seat.
Runners up: Watership Down Inn, Hampshire
The Phillips family have kept this pub serving its community for 25 years and when Covid hit they went into overdrive, selling over 2000 flowers from their garden to raise money for the NHS, making over 4000 dishes for the Food Share Project and supporting businesses and their own team with everything from promotion to food parcels.
Runners up: The Allanton Inn, Scottish Borders
This canalside inn serves many of the boaters from the marina and has a jaunty, nautical feel that even extends into the playground. The pirate play area is extremely popular with kids and if it’s not outdoors weather, then pots of crayons and colouring sheets can be brought out instead.
Runners up: The Thomas Lord, Hampshire
The barrel tipped over outside this red brick country pub is no accident. It’s full of fresh water, with a bowl under the tap ready for thirsty dogs. Inside there are homemade dog biscuits too, with money raised from their sale going to the Search for Dogs Bucks charity.
Runners up: The Cat, Sussex