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10 of the best pubs for a winter’s evening

From a cosy moorland hideaway on Ilkley Moor to a former sailors’ favourite on the shores of Essex, the National Geographic Traveller team reveal their favourite boozy winter haunts.

First reference to The Royal Standard of England pins the pub's birth to the year 1213 — making it a much-disputed contender for England's oldest pub.

Photograph by Ian McIlgorm
Published 22 Jan 2022, 06:00 GMT, Updated 28 Jan 2022, 16:17 GMT

1. The Old Firehouse

Exeter, Devon

Probably too many of my student nights were spent in The Old Firehouse, just off the high street. It’s a dream of a rustic pub: ale on tap, beams strung with hurricane lamps and dried hops, and winding wooden staircases that creak with age. The pub is a charmer at any time of day, but it truly comes alive on dark, winter evenings, when it glows with fairy lights and its stone walls ring with the sound of chatter or live music. There’s no better way to stave off the cold — or put off an essay — than to settle in with one of the pub’s enormous square pizzas and a West Country cider. Connor McGovern, commissioning editor, National Geographic Traveller

The Black Bull is a smartly revamped, 17th-century coaching inn with stylish rooms.

Photograph by The Black Bull

2. The Black Bull

Sedbergh, Cumbria

If you ever find yourself in Sedbergh, England's official Book Town, choose a tome from a local secondhand bookshop and cosy up on one of the red banquets by The Black Bull’s wood burner, sporadically looking up to enjoy views of the fells, which rise sharply outside the windows. As for food, locavore Yorkshire-Cumbrian fare with a Japanese twist comes courtesy of innovative chef Nina Matsunga, while excellent cocktails are prepared by her husband, James Ratcliffe. Should you feel unable to move on (almost guaranteed), the smartly revamped, 17th-century former coaching inn comes with stylish rooms, too. Sarah Barrell, senior editor, National Geographic Traveller

In 1642, during the English Civil War, the decision was made from inside Ye Olde White Harte to close Hull's city gates to King Charles I.

Photograph by Alamy

3. Ye Olde White Harte

Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire

When it comes to atmospheric historic pubs, Hull’s Old Town has an embarrassment of riches. But, for me, the best is Ye Olde White Harte. Accessible down an alleyway so narrow it feels more like a tunnel, it’s housed in a Grade II-listed building dating back to 1550. Inside, the two snug, oak-panelled bars — each with its own broad, inglenook fireplace — are separated by a staircase that leads to a restaurant, The Plotting Room, where, in 1642, during the English Civil War, the decision was made to close the city’s gates to King Charles I. Relaxed in the day, lively in the evening, it’s the type of pub where one can easily lose hours. And if you look carefully, you’ll find a human skull in the saloon bar — how and when it got here, nobody seems to be able to remember. Glen Mutel, editor, National Geographic Traveller Food

The Royal Standard of England is thought to have began its life as a Saxon alehouse, whose punters included cottagers, tilemakers and cattle drovers.

Photograph by Ian McIlgorm

4. The Royal Standard of England

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

A medieval vision of red-brick walls, flagstone floors and carved oak beams heavy with wood smoke, The Royal Standard of England is a pub that groans with age and bubbles with local intrigue. Although the first reference of it pins its birth to the year 1213 (making it a much-disputed contender for England's oldest pub), it's said by some to be older still. They point to its alleged history as a Saxon alehouse, whose punters included cottagers, tilemakers and cattle drovers. The Sunday roast dinner is pricey, but exemplary — order every single side. Nora Wallaya, deputy digital editor, National Geographic Traveller

Read more: Seven of England's best historic pubs

It's easy to imagine smugglers coming ashore and heading to any of the 24 pubs that once dotted Wivenhoe.

Photograph by Alamy

5. The Black Buoy

Wivenhoe, Essex

The clanking of halyards on a foggy winter’s evening gives a spooky edge to Wivenhoe’s pretty quay. It makes it easy to imagine smugglers coming ashore and heading to any of the 24 pubs that once dotted this busy little Essex port (today five remain). My favourite on a cold night is The Black Buoy, set in a 16th-century building seconds from the river. Owned at one point by a Wivenhoe shipbuilder, it was once popular with sailors (and no doubt smugglers too); in the 1960s, it was a favourite haunt of local artists — Francis Bacon lived round the corner. In recent years it was at risk of closing, but now it’s community owned, meaning its warm welcome and great beer are here to stay. It’s also dog friendly. Jo Fletcher-Cross, project editor, National Geographic Traveller

The Spaniards Inn once welcomed the likes of poets John Keats and Lord Byron.

Photograph by Alamy

6. The Spaniards Inn, Hampstead

Hampstead, London

The Spaniards Inn is a legendary watering hole that once welcomed the likes of poets John Keats and Lord Byron and repeatedly makes it onto London’s best pub roundups. It’s home to one of the city’s biggest beer gardens, although on a wintry afternoon you’re better off inside, where you’ll find dark wooden beams, a comforting log fire, a great wine menu and delicious roast dinners on offer. There’s nowhere I’d rather be after a chilly stroll on Hampstead Heath. Farida Zeynalova, project editor, National Geographic Traveller Food

St Kew Inn is located in the beautiful Cornish parish of the same name.

Photograph by Alamy

7. St Kew Inn

St Kew, Cornwall

Good food, a thoughtful selection of wine and beer and a log fire, far from the madding crowds — it all makes the St Kew Inn a perfect winter’s hideaway. Located in the beautiful Cornish parish of the same name, this pub — set in a 15th-century building — retains many of its original features, while its kitchen serves up a cracking selection of dishes to those who’ve booked ahead — all accompanied by a pint of cask ale or a glass of wine from its extensive cellars. Maria Pieri, editorial director, National Geographic Traveller

Cow & Calf is a charming country pub surrounded by miles of uninterrupted moorland.

Photograph by Alamy

8. Cow & Calf

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

A wild, windy, and often extremely wet, walk on Ilkley Moor is a must before visiting the Cow & Calf, making the armchairs comfier, the open fires warmer and that first large glass of red taste like the best thing you’ve drunk all year. During my student days, I spent many a Sunday afternoon at this charming country pub surrounded by miles of uninterrupted moorland — and when I revisited last autumn, I was delighted to find it unchanged. The roasts are still enormous, served with lashings of gravy, fluffy potatoes, and the all-important Yorkshire pudding, while the clientele remains a combination of thick-accented locals and visitors to the area cooing over the views. Charlotte Wigram-Evans, content editor, National Geographic Traveller

The Three Pilchards' name is a tribute to the catch that was at the heart of the village’s once-booming fishing industry.

Photograph by Katrina Courtis

9. The Three Pilchards, Polperro

Polperro, Cornwall

Nestled in the historic Cornish fishing village of Polperro, The Three Pilchards pub is a winter haven for both locals and tourists. Built in the 16th century, its name is a tribute to the catch that was at the heart of the village’s once-booming fishing industry. Fresh seafood is still the order of the day, from crab bisque to the pub’s famous fish pie. Home to a log fire and a range of local ales, the pub is the perfect place to settle down in on a winter’s evening and perhaps even hear a local smuggling story. Annie Lewis, project editor, National Geographic Traveller Food

10. Edinbane Inn

Edinbane, Isle of Skye

Tucked away in the village of Edinbane, this is the kind of place you visit for dinner and find yourself returning to again and again. Cosy up by the fire on a misty night, enjoy the local music (when it returns after Covid-19 restrictions) and sample the best food I had anywhere in the UK in 2021. Sound of Raasay squid in a spicy tempura batter and the Mull cheddar- and herb-crusted fillet of Kinlochbervie hake were standout dishes, but the menu is full of highlights. Pat Riddell, editor, National Geographic Traveller

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