Britain is speckled with snug old pubs. The kind of places with a log fire crackling in the corner, where strangers greet you like old friends and you’ll spend the long winter evenings chatting away over a pint or two of ale. After an invigorating winter walk, the beer tastes all the better. Wrap up for these winter strolls, from the Highlands of Scotland to Yorkshire’s coastal cliffs, all with the prospect of Britain’s cosiest pubs at the end.
Edale, Peak District
There are two ways to know you’re about to walk into to a cozy walkers’ pub in Britain. Firstly, you’ll see smoke rising out of the chimney. Secondly, there’ll be a chalkboard sign outside reading: “Muddy boots welcome.” You’ll find both at the Old Nags Head in Edale in the Peak District. It started life as a smithy in 1577, but for the past couple of hundred years, it’s been welcoming workers and walkers with a warm welcome and cold(-ish) beer.
It’s the official start of the Pennine Way – Britain’s first National Trail, and one that stretches 431 kilometres north to the Scottish border, is also located between two of the best Peak District walks. Walk south from the pub and you’ll see the Great Ridge between Lose Hill and Mam Tor. It’s a popular walk in summer and winter and has 360-degree views across the Peak District. Walk north and onto the Pennine Way and you’ll be confronted with Kinder Scout, a moorland plateau and the highest point of the Peak District. It is known for the 1932 mass trespass by ramblers, which started the campaign to open up Britain’s countryside to walkers. It’s also known for swallowing unsuspecting hikers, especially in winter, so stick to the paths around the edge!
Great Langdale, Lake District
Is this the Lake District’s most beautiful valley? I’d argue it is, especially given there’s one of the country’s best walking pubs at the end of it, the Old Dungeon Ghyll. Langdale is in the heart of the Lake District, under some of the country’s highest mountains. Choose the walk, depending on the weather. If it’s wet or under a blanket of snow, stay in the valley, tracing a route along the Cumbria Way. If it’s clear, bright and not much snow, take the steep climb up to Stickle Tarn and around the top of Pavey Ark and up to Langdale Pikes. It involves a bit of experience and hands-on scrambling, but the views are among the best in the Lake District.
At the end walk straight through the doors of the Hikers’ Bar at the Old Dungeon Ghyll where a wood-burning stove rages and some of the stables are identifiably in the old cow stalls. It’s a lively place at the end of a good day in walking, especially when there’s a jaunty folk band playing (often on Wednesdays).
North Yorkshire, Staithes & Whitby
Yorkshire’s coastline, battered by everything the North Sea can throw at it, is a dramatic landscape. A winter walk along these sea cliffs, often populated by countless birds, is best described as “bracing.” The ancient port of Whitby is best known as the setting for the opening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He wrote much of it overlooking the bay and atmospheric ruined abbey.
The intrepid can walk 18.5 kms along the well-signposted Cleveland Way National Trail north to Staithes (the walk can be shortened by bus to Runswick Sands). The views along here are as breathtaking as the inclines. You won’t see the old fishing village of Staithes until you’re right over it. Descend from the cliffs down into its higgledy piggledy streets, and you’ll see the Cod and Lobster hanging precariously onto the harbour. A storm washed away the front of the pub in 1953 and they still recommend the rear entrance when the tide is in the swell up. Fortunately, the welcome is warm, the beer well kept and the fire stoked. Back in Whitby are dozens of excellent pubs, including the Little Angel Inn, Black Horse and Board Inn.
Clachaig Inn, Glencoe, Scotland
Few pubs in the country are so entwined with the history of British climbing and mountaineering as the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe. It has been providing refreshment and accommodation to travellers for more than 300 years, including some of the world’s most notable climbers. Just one glance around outside and you’ll see why.
Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands is a steep-sided valley with mountains looming around. The entrance is marked by the pleasingly pyramidal Buachaille Etive Mor, shown to the world in James Bond’s Skyfall. During fall, rutting deer echo around these valleys and in winter only expert mountaineers climb these snow-covered ridges. If you’ve forgotten your crampons, walk along the track from the pub to Loch Leven and along to water Ballachulish. Then hurry back to take a wee dram from a selection of more than 400 whiskies in front of a fire. Try to combine a visit when a band is playing.
Llanthony Priory, Wales
There are few more atmospheric places for a post-walk drink than in a vaulted undercroft of a 12th-century Augustinian priory. At Llanthony Priory, just over the Welsh border in the Black Mountains, you can rest your feet in front of a fire while enjoying the alcoholic victuals from some of the best Welsh brewers and distillers. The Priory was one of the first Augustinian canons in Britain, built by the knight William de Lacy in 1118. But being “fixed amongst a barbarous people,” some 40 canons were forced back to Gloucester. It was then rebuilt around 1200 and occupied by monks who regained the foothold in Wales until Owain Glyndwr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, led a revolt against the English, finally emptying the priory in the early 1500s.
What can be seen today is of great historic value and also a thing of aesthetic wonderment, especially pint in hand. Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, which weaves 285 kms along the Welsh border, passes on the ridge above the priory. Trot up to the ridge and head north, one foot in Wales and the other in England, to Hay Bluff, before returning down Gospel Pass and the Vale of Ewyas to the priory (and the undercroft!).
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