The Sheppey Inn, Lower Godney
As anyone who stumbles on to the @NormalForGlastonbury Instagram account recognises, the town with the Tor likes to do things differently, a mindset that extends to the local pubs. One of the most distinctive, however, is 10 minutes’ drive north of the town in the Somerset Levels, in a 17th-century former cider house in the village of Godney. The Sheppey was bought by new owners last year but the focus on idiosyncratic style and live music remains in the barn-like main room decorated with semi-psychedelic wallpaper and vintage lampshades. Book a table on the riverside terrace and order a pint of local cider and a bowl of fish stew.
The Packhorse, South Stoke
Bath isn’t short on winsome honey-stone pubs serving restaurant-quality food, but they’re likely to be busier than ever this summer thanks to the Bridgerton effect. For a slightly quieter pint with a view (and a posh scotch egg with chorizo jam, to go with it), make for the city’s southern suburbs. In the village of South Stoke, the 17th-century Packhorse was bought by the local community in 2016 and given an artfully restrained makeover (the vibe here is more in keeping with that other West Country drama, Poldark). From one of the city’s loveliest beer gardens you can look out over the Midford valley while you sup, then stride out on one of the pub’s leafleted walking routes.
Holcombe Inn, Holcombe
In a corner of Somerset that’s generously served with immaculate-but-busy dining pubs, the Holcombe Inn has more of a locals’ vibe. Restaurant-style menus cater equally well for vegans and meat-lovers (think courgette, spelt and cumin fritters with courgette, parsley and cashew salad, or glazed lamb belly with salsa verde and spring vegetables) while drinkers can enjoy the inn’s homemade rhubarb gin. Well-tended gardens are another draw, with separate areas for those with and without children. While you’re there, ask to borrow the keys to nearby Holcombe church (the pub holds a set) and walk over to explore its pertinent history as a “plague” church.
Ring O’Bells, Hinton Blewett
A couple of miles south-east of Chew Valley Lake, this pub is a community hub (currently it’s also a click-and-collect village shop, selling groceries from local suppliers alongside co-owner Jo’s homemade breads). The food is where it shines, with Jo’s made-from-scratch menus about as far as you can get from the usual freeze-and-reheat pub grub. Order wild garlic arancini with lemon and herb creme fraiche, homemade carbonara with Orchard Farm pancetta or masala fishcakes with cabbage and coconut salad. Then eat outside at one of the pub’s courtyard or garden tables.
Cat Head Inn, Chiselborough
For many in the south-east, the highlight of a summer drive down the A303 to the West Country is a passing glimpse of Stonehenge. For those in the know, however, there’s another reason to look forward to the journey: the chance to stop for lunch at the Cat Head Inn. Just off the infamous trunk road, west of Yeovil, this traditional hamstone inn pairs draft beers, ciders and wines with imaginative, home-cooked food, such as slow-cooked meatballs in a chorizo, tomato and smoked paprika sauce. In winter the pub’s two woodburners are the big draw, but this summer the focus is likely to switch to the tables in the pub’s large garden.
Candlelight Inn, Chard
The owners of the Candlelight Inn, in south Somerset, spent the enforced downtime of lockdown overhauling the pub’s interior. The decor now veers more towards restaurant than inn, with soft copper wall lights, fresh flowers, internal cladding and neutral fabrics. Outside there’s seating for more than 100 – split between tables and a marquee at the front of the pub and the more verdant beer garden. Though welcoming to all, this is more a date-night-dining kind of place than muddy booted walkers’ terrain. An impressive cocktail menu (which stretches to a house-distilled gin) and wine list are matched by a menu of dishes such as beetroot-cured salmon with compressed cucumber, though there’s also a pie of the day for traditionalists.
The Blue Ball Inn, Triscombe
This higgledy-piggledy thatched pub at the foot of the Quantock Hills may be more than 400 years old but a renovation in 2019 saw it sensitively updated. Close to spectacular walks and mountain bike trails (the pub opens for breakfast on Saturday mornings to cater for cyclists) it’s also dog-friendly, with a dedicated menu for canine visitors. The Blue Ball’s large garden has always been a draw but a new chef means the food shouldn’t be overlooked either; anyone for a bowl of Cornish mussels cooked in cider, or a plate of Somerset cheeses to go with a pint of Exmoor Gold?
Tucker’s Grave Inn, Faulkland
Not far from the country’s oldest river swimming club, at Farleigh Hungerford, this ancient cider house has been ploughing its own hospitality furrow for centuries. Hip once more thanks to its huge garden, there’s also a camping field, an open-sided barn for wet weather drinking and, at weekends, barbecues and live music. Cider is the thing at this Grade I-listed inn; there’s no bar counter inside, just kegs, though there is now an outdoor bar. If unreconstructed Somerset pubs are your thing, add the Seymour Arms at Witham Friary and the Rose and Crown (AKA Eli’s) at Huish Episcopi to your itinerary.
Crown Inn, Churchill
Flagstone floors, artfully distressed walls and, outside, a brigade of old galvanised buckets blooming with flowers set a homely tone at this centuries-old pub on the northern edge of the Mendips. Popular with walkers tackling Dolebury Warren hill fort, and visitors to the nearby Mendip Activity Centre (the Strawberry Line cycle path isn’t far away either), the inn’s shrub-lined garden is a gentle space to sit and refuel with a pint of Thatchers and a bowl of homemade chilli, or a ploughman’s and a pint of Bath Gem.
Halfway House, Pitney Hill