Category: UK

English villages: the pub

There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a genuine English village pub.

Many of them are so steeped in tradition that people actually talk to each other around the bar, instead of tapping away at smartphones.

However, a lot of these wonderful old pubs are finding the going tough, as essential services continue to shrink in the villages around them.

As part of our series on English villages, we thought it was about time we celebrated these traditional pubs by showing some of the best that we’ve been fortunate to visit.

George Inn, Lacock, Wiltshire

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This medieval inn dates to 1361 and is a highlight of a picturesque village brimming with charm. See our review of Lacock.

The King Arthur, Reynoldston, Gower, Wales

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There’s more than a touch of magic to this inn on the beautiful Gower. Good food, great ale and a fabulous atmosphere.  See our review of Gower 

Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

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Situated in one of our favourite villages in the gorgeous Cotswolds, parts of this building are said to date to 947 AD. This is another contender for the label of England’s oldest pub.

Pant-yr-Ochain, Gresford, Wales

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Another Welsh gem, this pub is known for the high quality of its meals – and we can only agree. There has been a structure on the site since the 13th Century. The building as it now stands dates from the 1530’s, but was enlarged in 1785.

The George, Stamford, Lincolnshire

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Situated on the famous Great North Road, this inn is part of one of England’s finest stone towns. The structure is believed to date to 947 AD.  See our review of Stamford.

The Eagle, Cambridge

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While not exactly in a village, this 17th Century coaching inn, in the charming city of Cambridge, is notable for its RAF ceiling.  See the details.

The Bingley Arms, Bardsley, Leeds

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Set in a tranquil position away from busy roads and near a trickling stream, this wonderful old pub, in the picturesque village of Bardsley, is said to date to 953 AD.

Wellington Hotel, Boscastle, North Cornwall.

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One of Cornwall’s oldest former coaching inns, this striking hotel dates to the 16th Century and is situated in the lovely coastal village of Boscastle. See our review of the hotel.

Old Ferry Boat Hotel, Hollywell, St Ives,

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With its thatched roof and white stone walls, this pub looks right at home in the hamlet of Holywell in rural Cambridgeshire. Overlooking the Great Ouse River, a building is thought to have been on this site since 560 AD.

The Green Man, Denham, Buckinghamshire

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With its attractive frontage, great food and fine ales, the Green Man catches the eye in the picture postcard village of Denham. It’s believed that the inn dates to about 1895.

The Fighting Cocks, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

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We visited Horncastle largely for its array of antique shops, but this old pub, which has been operating since 1720, also caught the eye.

The Brocket Arms, Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire

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Another gem in a stunning and historic little village, the Brocket Arms oozes charm. It was built in the 14th Century.

Watch for a detailed review of this hotel later in the year.

 Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham.

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Not far from Sherwood Forest, this pub is another with claims to the title of England’s oldest, possibly dating to 1189 AD.

 

Photo feature: Cambridge UK

One of our favourite destinations in the United Kingdom, the city of Cambridge is surprisingly vibrant for a bastion of academia.

Sitting on the banks of the River Cam in eastern England, the city is probably best known for its prestigious university that dates to 1209.

But there’s a lot more to the heart of Cambridgeshire than just the stately old university with its Kings College chapel and the closely associated high technology industries that gained international significance.

Today, we feature a selection of stunning Cambridge scenes:

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Spring on the river Cam
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Cambridge University architecture
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Kings College chapel
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Homerton College
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Wooden bridge
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Chapel, Queens College
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Keeping Cambridge green

Cambridge is situated about 50 miles (80 kilometres) north-east of London via the M11 motorway.

Fast trains run to Cambridge Station from London King’s Cross.

The journey takes between 50 minutes and an hour and a half. There are also frequent trains from London Liverpool Street Station

The London Eye is still a hit

It had a rocky start, but as the London Eye heads towards its second decade of operation, the giant Ferris Wheel has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.

Situated on the south bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, the London Eye was opened on New Years Eve in 1999 in time for Millennium celebrations.

However, technical problems prevented the public from coming aboard for a couple of months.

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Since then, however, the wheel has grown steadily in stature, with more than three-and-a-half million users a year.

The popularity of the attraction is understandable. We were amazed at the awe-inspiring and uninterrupted views over the grand city of London.

It was a cloudy day, but, from the top – about 443 feet or 135 metres above ground – the scene was breathtaking.

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The Eye has 32 air-conditioned capsules (one for each of the city’s boroughs), but they’re numbered from one to 33.

As with many buildings and other structures, there is no number 13 capsule— and the cars skip from 12 to 14.

Each ride takes a leisurely 30 minutes, during which the Eye makes one complete cycle.

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The popularity of the London Eye has continues to grow despite losing its tag as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world.

That title is now held by a 550 feet (167.6 metre) monster in Las Vegas, Navada, USA, which will itself be eclipsed by another giant under construction on Staten Island in New York harbour.

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The Staten Island wheel is expected to be 630 feet (192 metres) tall when it opens next year.

Taste-testing laverbread: a Welsh tradition

Although we love the traditions of Wales, this was asking a lot.

Sue’s cousin, Jim – who is fortunate enough to live on the glorious Gower peninsula of southern Wales – had served us breakfast of laverbread, a local delicacy that looks for all the world like boiled spinach.

Sensing our hesitation, Jim enthusiastically explained that laverbread, or bara lawr in Welsh, isn’t bread at all – but is seaweed cooked to a soft greenish-black paste and often served with bacon and eggs.

That really didn’t ease our trepidation much.

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He went on to say that laverbread was a traditional breakfast for Welsh miners before a long day in the pits.

Plucked free of charge from the shores of the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen coasts, laverbread had long been a central part of the diet of Welsh workers.

In the 1800’s, laver collection was an important cottage industry and laver huts remain on the Gower coast today.

Jim explained that the laver was thrown over the roof of the huts and left to dry before being taken by horse and cart to centres like Swansea for processing.

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Photo courtesy Twitter

However, these days laverbread is a trendy health food, rich in minerals and vitamins, full of protein and low in calories –  and praised by fans as “black gold”.

According to Jim, the actor, Richard Burton, once famously described laverbread as “the Welshman’s caviar”.

At this stage, we were convinced.

So what does it taste like? Well, it’s rather like porridge – a little salty, filling and slightly mushy.

 

But, combined with cockles, still in their shells, it isn’t bad at all. We each finished our bowl and found that it also had a subtle seafood aftertaste.

Seaweed probably won’t become a staple at our breakfast table, but we’re pleased we tried laverbread.

Like Australian Vegemite, it certainly is different – and when in Rome…!

Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Vauliagmeni

English village series: the stone crosses

We’d never heard of preaching crosses until we came face to face with one in England.

Since then, we’ve kept and eye open for these unusual medieval landmarks – many of which are fast weathering away.

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Cross in the Nadder Valley

Driving on the A30 motorway in Southern Wiltshire, we crossed the River Nadder and entered the picturesque village of Barford St Martin.

Sitting between the provincial centres of Salisbury and Shaftsbury, this dot on the map was known to us only for the 16th Century Barford Inn, which once brewed its own high quality beer.

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After checking out the inn, we set off for Shaftesbury – and then encountered the village’s preaching cross.

It was obviously taller and much different to the market crosses which can be found in many English villages and rural towns.

High crosses

After photographing the structure out of curiosity, we wandered into the adjoining Church of St Martin and were told that the stone cross dated to early medieval times.

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Courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

It was one of many so-called ‘high crosses’ built across England, Scotland and Ireland for travelling priests to preach where there wasn’t a church. At Barford St Martin, for example, we were told that a church wasn’t erected until the 13th Century.

Historians say that Cornwall was probably the first county in England to have stone crosses, as long ago as the 4th century.

Market crosses

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On the other hand, smaller market crosses – like this one at Sturminster Newton in Dorset – designed a market place, although they were also sometimes used as a rallying point for important news.

Political crosses?

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In another twist to the story of the stone crosses, we came across a plaque in the East Sussex town of Rye that marked the site of another cross – this time for the election of the local mayor  between 1289 and 1602.

Perhaps an example of mixing politics and religion?

 

Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

English village series: Rye’s colourful past

History, some say,  isn’t what it used to be.

Take the case of Rye, in beautiful East Sussex, England, where the town’s rich past included smuggling; gangs; ghosts; secret escape tunnels; a disappearing harbour; and a mass evacuation of sheep.

One of the best preserved medieval towns we’ve visited, Rye draws  big crowds of visitors eager for a taste of its colourful past.

The town’s Mermaid Inn – parts of which date to 1156 – offers a peek into the days when the bloody Hawkhurst smuggling gang met in the bar and often left by a secret passageway.

Today, the inn continues to be well known as the site of repeated ghost sightings.

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Photo courtesy Mermaid Inn

 

Smuggling is known to have existed in the Rye area since the 13th Century, when King Edward I introduced the Customs system.

Taxation on wool exports made the rewards from illegal wool export well worth the risk of capture.

Rye fronted the English channel and locals knew the shifting  and dangerous sands well. Smugglers were able to evade customs officials with relative ease before moving  contraband across the misty Romney Marsh that adjoins Rye and covers over 100 square miles.

Rye’s narrow cobbled streets and closely built houses interconnected by attics and cellars, made it an ideal landing place for smuggled cargoes. As import taxes were later imposed on luxury items, the emphasis switched to bringing in tea, spirits, and tobacco.

The murderous Hawkhurst gang – at one stage about 600 strong – was a force to be reckoned with until it was finally crushed in 1747 and many of its members executed. For a time,  the gang was so bold that it transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men, known as ‘Owlers’.

Coastal defences too

With its channel frontage, Rye was also at the forefront of England’s coastal defences against attack from Europe.

Eventually, the coast shifted, leaving Rye with a dry sea port but three local rivers.

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Today, visitors can stand on Ypres Tower – built in 1249 to defend the town – and gaze across the old port area.

The tower has served as a fort, private dwelling, prison, court hall and now finally as a museum. Visit the tower to read a lot about the area’s smuggling past.

Rye’s charm

With enchanting streets, the 900 year old medieval Church of St Mary’s, restaurants, shops and pubs, and well preserved historic houses from medieval, Tudor and Georgian times, Rye is a ‘must-see’ for travellers in southern England.

Again, we soaked up the town’s history by checking out  the Landgate, which built in 1329 and is another remnant of Rye’s earliest fortifications.

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And we rambled  through the original town and smiled at the quaintly named houses such as ‘The House with two front Doors’ or ‘The House Opposite’.

At the Rye Heritage Centre, there is a sound and light show that brings to life seven hundred years of the area’s history.

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World War II

Rye’s dramatic history certainly didn’t end with the smugglers.

In World War II – expecting an invasion by Germany – a radar station was set up near the town, beaches were mined and the Rye area was fortified with wire and concrete pill boxes designed to hold machine guns.

Many of Rye’s residents were evacuated – including tens of thousands of  local sheep.

Medieval gem

Overall, Rye is fascinating with a capital ‘F’.

The town thoroughly deserves its international reputation for architectual treasures, medieval ‘feel’, specialist shops, art and photography galleries, stunning nature reserves and long beaches.

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Getting there

Rye is in East Sussex, about 75 miles or just over one-and-a-half hours by road from London.

The town is situated on the A259 between Hastings to the west and Folkestone to the east – and on the A268 from the north.

By train, the trip takes a little more than one hour. High speed trains run from London’s St Pancras station to Ashford International, where you change into a train for Rye.

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Across Romney Marsh

Accommodation

The visitor can choose from a range of hotels, including the Mermaid Inn and  The George Hotel, which is one of the south coast’s most luxurious accommodation options.

Rye also boasts guests houses, B&B’s and self-catering accommodation.

Main photo courtesy Rye Museum

English villages: mystery and history at Painswick

Sharp-eyed travellers can find an historical gem when visiting the village of Painswick, in the Cotswolds Hills of west-central England.

In 1644, Painswick was occupied by Parliamentarian forces during the English civil war.

It was later recaptured by Royalists, but the fighting was so severe that bullet and cannon shot marks remain to this day on the tower of the parish church of Saint Mary.

The marks are one of the highlights of the historic Gloucestershire village, which is built mainly of mellow, honey-coloured Cotswold stone and features quaint, narrow streets.

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Photo courtesy http://www.geograph.org.uk and Lyn Haigh

We visited Painswick to see friends who live nearby, but couldn’t pass up the chance to first spend time in the beautiful village that is promoted as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’.

Sitting quietly in the Cotswolds Hills and surrounded by lovely Gloucestershire countryside, Painswick is about two-and-a-quarter hours from London via the M4 motorway or two hours by train from Paddington Station.

Our first stop was the church, which is known world-wide for the yew trees planted in its grounds and an unusual ceremony held each September.

The church yard is famous because it boasts 99 yew trees. According to local folklore, many attempts to grow the 100th tree have never succeeded.

While no one seems willing to swear that the 100th tree story is correct, it certainly gets plenty of publicity and draws large numbers of visitors to the village.

Each September, the church is also the scene of a ‘Clypping’ ceremony that apparently comes from the old Saxon word ‘ycleping’ that means embracing. It involves local children carrying ‘nosegays’ or a small bunch of flowers, joining hands around the church to form an unbroken chain.

The children sing the Clypping Hymn as part of a re-dedication of the church. The custom is apparently thought to date to 1321.

While checking out the yew trees, we were impressed by the collection of chest tombs and monuments standing in the church yard.

Dating from the early 17th century onwards, the tombs were apparently carved in local stone by local craftsmen.

Church officials told us that the oldest tomb is dated 1623.

Behind the church, near the Painswick courthouse, are a set of 17th Century stocks and we wandered to the Falcon Hotel, said to have the oldest bowling green in England.

After a quick look at Painswick’s former post office, which is the only example of exposed timber framing in the village and the striking Georgian frontage of a building known as Beacon House, we took to the road to visit our friends.

Like most of the Cotswolds settlements, Painswick is a picture-postcard example of a traditional English village.

However the area’s historic gems like the civil war reminders, yew trees and the Clypping ceremony make this slice of heaven stand out from the crowd.

We wholeheartedly recommend a visit.