This is the HPL and friends somewhere in the Peak District wearing brand new (largely unworn since) “rural” outfits and running incongruously across a field, most probably to find a pub
Let’s face it, even though we all love London, life can sometimes get a little hectic – the commute, the long working hours, the over-filled diary – and we need to take a break. Certainly if I haven’t left for a few months I can get a little stressed and, well, narky, and yearn for a good long country walk or even better a good short circular country walk with a brilliant old pub in the middle. Sadly, the days of the 99p budget airline weekend in Carcassone is well and truly fini and, as several leading economics have recently commented – we’re all bloody skint, so we need to find places closer to home and fairly cheap to get our fresh air and slice of rural calm. Of course you can schlep to Brighton or Bristol or Bath or Henley or similar, but here’s some other nice places I’ve been to recently, or am planning to go soon, that you might want to try:
1. Bray, Berkshire
Or anywhere along the Thames belt really – from London to Oxfordshire – is great for nice little riverside pubs and cycle rides. Windsor is incredibly pretty and only about a 45 minute train from Paddington or you can drive it in just over an hour. Bray is of course famous for the Fat Duck, and if you have a spare £300 then you might want to try a tasting menu there. But you can also pop along to the Riverside Brasserie in the marina, which is right by the Thames, with ducks and swans and all that, and food from Blumenthal’s sous chef. The Times was doing a voucher for 2 courses for £10 when I went with my Aunt, we ate some great food and lovely wine and it was incredibly peaceful. No wave music and dry ice though. You could also check out Cliveden and the lovely village of Taplow – where my beautiful granny is buried.
2. Whistable, Kent
Another hour’s drive will take you daaahn to Margate or to lovely Whitstable with its shore front seafood cafes and stalls and its cute little painted huts and pebble beach. Perfect for an ice cream and a stroll along the beach and a wistful glance at the snogging teenagers will make you wish you’d grown up there. Or you could take your bike on the train to Canterbury and cycle to Whistable for lunch.
3. The Royal Oak, Bishopstone, Wiltshire
Just under a 2 hour drive from London and a hop skip and a jump from the big horse thing and Stonehenge is this lovely little village, home to Helen Browning’s organic pig farm and pub The Royal Oak. We ate the most wonderful veal roast and pork terrine washed down with a lovely bottle of Malbec. Worth the drive? If you added in a walk and a stay at one of their £25 rooms then most definitely.
4. Saffron Waldon, Essex
Yes its true, Essex *is* actually beautiful although I might avoid Billericay if I were you. You can head to the cute Stansted Montfichet with its 12th century Norman castle. Or you could wander around the beautiful Saffron Walden thought to be one of the nicest towns in Essex. You could visit Audley End House and check out Jamie Oliver’s parents’ pub The Cricketers in Clavering. Oh and it’s obviously super cheap to get to Stansted from there if you are doing a cheapie budget airline flight.
5. Shere, Surrey
This is that cute little village featured in The Holiday and Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s all tudor cottages and swans and ye olde tea shoppe and its very very cute. The Rookery Nook (see! cute!) has lovely looking rooms right in the village or we stayed at the lovely Lockhust Hatch Farm for a mere £65 a night which is a 15 minute drive away (or quite a bit longer if you get lost, repeatedly). The nearest train station is Guildford (30 minutes from Waterloo) or it takes about 1 hour to drive from South West London. Note Guildford doesn’t “do” Oyster darlings.
And Surrey-ites are bloody lucky when it comes to food, which was utterly wonderful when we were there. We had amazing pub grub and great service at Shere’s The William Bray, nice simple food like scampi, chips and mushy peas at The William IV just outside, and one of the best roasts and certainly the best cheese table I’ve seen in a while at Forest Green’s The Parrot. The only disapointment was Shere’s Kingham’s which was a little overpriced.
We didn’t just eat – oh no. We went for a walk and (literally) stumbled upon Leith Hill near Dorking which we learned is the highest point in South East England and one where you have an amazing vista that looks across the rolling hills and over the English Channel. Of course, we went on a really misty day so we saw fuck all. Oh well. There’s also Box Hill from Jane Austen glamorous picnic fame.