The Pepper Box Inn
The Pepper Box Inn is a lovely spot at the end of the route from Yalding to Sutton Valence in Kent. Think of this route, which is clearly marked for the most part, as a relaxed ramble through apple orchards and pretty countryside lanes. Passing four ancient churches and three pubs, there are plenty of sights to see along the way. Start at Yalding Station and head towards the nearby George Inn and Walnut Tree pub. Following the signposts, you’ll reach Buston Manor, Linton and a small woodland area with bluebells. When you reach Greensand Way, the path will lead you to Harrietsham Station where the route ends. Ideal for a leisurely lunch after a long walk, at The Pepper Box, diners can choose from mains like baked cod fillet with steamed clams in garlic and white wine, Thai fish curry and beer-battered fish and chips. If you’re in the area for Sunday lunch, don’t miss the pork loin with sausage and apple stuffing.
The Horse Guards Inn
If you’re after a gentle walk through wild flowers in the West Sussex countryside – alongside a spot of shopping – look to Petworth and neighbouring village Tillington. Starting in Tillington, head west along Cemetery Lane and follow the road towards the vineyards. From there, turn right and walk towards Upperton Common – a good place to stop for some of the best views. You’ll then pass a cluster of beech trees before reaching the National Trust’s Petworth House where you can spot fallow deer in the park. Finally, walk across the deer park and back to the Horse Guards, an excellent gastropub with one of the nicest suntrap beer gardens we’ve come across. In terms of food, expect seasonal dishes like pan fried hake with Jersey Royals, local fish and shellfish stew, and veal fillet with wild mushrooms and spinach, potato and cauliflower gratin.
The George & Dragon
Home to a royal hunting ground in Tudor times, Epping Forest straddles the border between London and Essex, with more than 6,000 acres of vast woodland bursting with wildlife. There are several walking routes to follow, but one of the most scenic has to be the Oak Trail which starts at Theydon Bois underground station. From there, the signposted route is easy to follow and passes through beautiful surroundings, including fields, brooks and a deer sanctuary. On Epping High Street, The George & Dragon is popular with locals and it’s easy to see why. Diners can expect bistro style dishes including Devon crab and king prawn fishcakes; buttermilk chicken, Brie and bacon pie; and tempura battered halloumi.
The Sun Inn, Dedham
On the northern border of Essex and Suffolk, Dedham Vale has been a poster child for England’s landscapes ever since John Constable put oil to canvas and came up with ‘The Hay Wain’ in 1821. Flatford is the National Trust-run property where it was painted. A short walk away, The Sun Inn at Dedham is a proper old coaching inn with open fires if it’s cold and a terrace if it’s not. If you want to break up the on-foot explorations of the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the pub can sort you out with bikes and even a boat to float down the river Stour on. When you’re ready to leave the vale, follow the Stour estuary a few miles out to Wrabness, where you’ll find Grayson Perry’s ‘A House For Essex’. Naturally, Maldon is the place to head to for oysters and boat trips along the Blackwater estuary, while Mersea Island – nine miles south of Colchester – offers seven miles of sandy beaches, fresh seafood and great views. Just make sure to check the tide timetables.
The Ram Inn
Firle, East Sussex
A hit with walkers of all abilities, there are dozens of well-known scenic routes in this part of East Sussex, from the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head to Eric Ravilious-era hotspots such as Cuckmere Haven. If you’re feeling fit, walk to Firle Beacon to enjoy panoramic views of the sea and down to the castle at Lewes. Much of the area is associated with the Bloomsbury Group: Charleston in Firle is the former home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and is now a museum and art gallery. If you’re after a decent country pub in pretty surroundings, book lunch at The Ram Inn down the road, which serves hearty mains like fish and chips and decent Sunday roasts in wood-panelled surroundings. If you’re into wine, there are plenty of vineyards worth exploring: we like Rathfinny Estate, Ridgeview and Nyetimber.
Both Hastings and neighbouring town St Leonards-on-Sea are filled with Art Deco architecture and an array of caves and attractions that belie the region’s heritage as a smugglers’ paradise. East along the shingle seafront of Stade beach you’ll find Hastings Fishermen’s Museum and Shipwreck Museum – both a hit with kids – while Hastings Contemporary focuses on modern art – and a walk from one end to the other is a great way to spend an afternoon. Start off at Bulverhythe Beach west of St Leonards and it’ll take you an hour to walk to The Crown in Hastings, which serves great Sunday lunches in modern surroundings and is close to some of the town’s best antique shops.
The Star, Alfriston, East Sussex
For an afternoon out that combines many of the South Downs’ charms – views, art and local wine – look to the picture-perfect village of Alfriston. From the team behind Hotel Endsleigh in Devon and Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall, glossily refurbished pub-with-rooms The Star is set in a Grade II-listed 16th-century building in the medieval Sussex village. The property has been overhauled with 30 contemporary bedrooms and bathrooms, and lunch in the courtyard is a must in the summer. The Seven Sisters cliffs and the South Downs are both nearby, and are absolutely worth exploring before afternoon tea at Badger’s tearoom and a browse through the impressively stocked Much Ado Books.
The Tiger Inn
East Sussex is home to one of the most scenic walking routes in the UK – Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. There are a few routes to take, but for a relaxed 90-minute stroll, follow the path between Birling Gap and the Tiger Inn – you can pick up a beermat with the route on it from the pub and stop for a refreshing drink when you get back. The circular coastal route begins at the inn and continues to Belle Tout lighthouse and Friston Church. Follow the National Trust signposts to Baileys Hill, the second of the Seven Sisters, and Went Hill. Be careful not to get too close to the cliff edge, then walk down the steps by the beach at Birling Gap for one the best vantage points. On the way back, follow the signs which lead back to the pub. The Tiger Inn, a quintessentially British pub, has an open fire, low-slung oak beams and plenty of comfort food. The menu includes pub favourites like fish and chips and homemade pies.
Ardingly, West Sussex
The sister site to Kew Gardens, Wakehurst is now run by the National Trust. Home to the Millennium Seed Bank and over 500 acres of the world’s plants, there’s a 150-acre nature reserve to explore, the Elizabethan Mansion – which houses an impressive collection of paintings – and a number of decent cafés. Opposite the north gate of the South of England showground, the Gardeners Arms is a traditional and homely pub. Dating back to the 17th century, the pub is cosy in the winter, with roaring log fires and traditional oak beams, and lovely in the summer when its garden comes into its own.
For many, the beautiful Thames-side town of Marlow is all about the food. Not only is there the famed Michelin-starred The Hand & Flowers, there’s also Tom Kerridge’s The Coach and The Butcher’s Tap. As the UK’s only pub with two Michelin stars, the former offers bold yet unpretentious reinterpretations of pub classics: think slow-cooked duck breast with crispy duck-fat chips, although we think The Coach is the best spot for a low-key lunch after a decent walk. Away from Kerridge’s empire, the Georgian town offers all the charm of its neighbours, Henley and Windsor. Just north of the town, you’ll find the Chiltern Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. From the town centre, there are two circular walks or visitors can opt for a visit to Cliveden, where a stroll around the estate is a must if you’re after something gentler.