My top five pub discoveries in 2021

It was a late start to pub travelling this year with Covid restrictions keeping pubs closed until April. Even then it was only outdoor opening, and it wasn’t until 17th May that pubs were allowed to open inside. Even so, I managed to get to quite a few pubs I had not visited before. Most were very good and it really was quite hard selecting just five of the best. They are listed in chronological order of my visit, not by preference.

Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater

This pub had been on my must-visit list for a long time but despite several trips to the Lake District I’d never quite made it. A short break in Keswick in May finally gave me the opportunity and on a bright day my wife and I cycled over the Whinlatter Pass to get there in time to grab a table in the garden. 

The view over to the conical peak of Mellbreak is stunning, and is reason alone to visit the Kirkstile Inn. It sits between Loweswater and Crummock Water in the glorious scenery of the north western Lakes. Not only that – the pub has its own brewery, Cumbrian Legendary Ales, now based in Hawkshead but supplying all of the Kirkstile’s cask beer. Normally six of their ales are on draught but restrictions had reduced the offer to just two, Esthwaite Bitter and local favourite, Loweswater Gold. Inside it is proper country inn with stone walls, beams and open fires. It has rooms too and we decided that next visit we had to stay overnight.

Queen’s Head, Newbiggin by the Sea

Early June saw us on a trip up the Northumberland coast and first stop was in Newbiggin by the Sea. The Queen’s Head is a corner local rebuilt in Edwardian times and the interior is pretty much unchanged since then.

The original bar counter, complete with brass footrest, the fixed seating around the walls and the distinctive oval tables are all still in place. Also still there are four original cut glass windows showing the names of the pub rooms. We arrived late afternoon to join a few holiday makers and a couple of locals and had a good chat over a pint of Almasty IPA. There’s no food so after a heading off for some fish and chips we returned to a more crowded and lively bar for the evening. 

The pub has become a cask ale specialist in recent years and the pump clips proudly displayed above the bar counter evidence the huge range of beers that have been served.

Shave Cross Inn, Shave Cross

This pretty thatched and flint stone pub is hidden in a maze of hilly lanes north east of Lyme Regis in Dorset. We arrived at lunchtime after a fairly strenuous cycle ride and settled in the magnificent garden with trees, bushes and a covered pond. I got straight into the ale but Pam started with a coffee, served in a beer jug. ‘Well it’s a pub isn’t it?’ said Tom Littledyke, the landlord. We enjoyed the doorstep sandwiches and decided we had to come back so we booked a table for the following evening. And Tom was more than happy to let us park the campervan in the car park overnight. 

The Shave Cross is pretty full most evenings and that is partly down to the pub minibus. It picks up three times a night from a car park in Lyme Regis and takes customers back at the end of the evening. They work closely with the nearby Gyle 59 Brewery and at the time we were there they were organising open days at the brewery with food and minibus provided by the pub. More recently they have opened the Shave Cross Cellar in Lyme Regis, and Shave Cross beers brewed by Gyle 59 are now available at both the Cellar and the pub. 

The morning after our overnight stay the breakfast van was open in the car park and we enjoyed fine bacon and egg butties in the garden. Tom and Georgia have only had the Shave Cross since January 2020 and you have to commend their remarkable energy and resourcefulness in creating a popular and successful community venture in the middle of a pandemic.

White Hart, Midsomer Norton

Our south west trip in the summer also took us to east Somerset. We celebrated Pam’s birthday with an overnight stay in the medieval George Inn at Norton St Philip followed by a contrasting stay at the campsite of the classic cider pub Tuckers Grave, just a mile down the road. Both would have been strong contenders for this list if I hadn’t been to them before.

The White Hart though, just another few miles down the A366, was completely new to me and we weren’t even sure we would try it. It turned out to be a lovely unspoilt locals pub with a friendly landlord and Draught Bass served straight from the cask. It still has its public bar with original counter, a panelled snug, a rear lounge and a skittle alley. We arrived at opening time at Sunday lunchtime but were joined very quickly by several locals, and before long the public bar was full. It wasn’t quite the cliche of one pint turning into several, though we did have another before we had to go. I certainly won’t be hesitating next time I visit Midsomer Norton.

Draughtsman, Doncaster

On a day trip to Doncaster in August with a group of friends we got off the train and headed straight for the Draughtsman, a Good Beer Guide listed bar on platform 3b. This was the buffet bar at the front of the station in Victorian times before the Grade II listed art deco station was built around it in the 1930s. 

It has has tiling and glazed brick from floor to ceiling and and an original Victorian fireplace.  It’s lovely little craft beer bar with a good range of cask and keg plus coffee and pork pies. We stayed for a couple of pints and came back for a couple more on the way home, by which time it was a lot busier. 

The room had been closed for 18 years until it was converted into a bar by Russell Thompson, who now runs it with the help of his sons.

So that’s two country pubs in idyllic locations, two traditional and unspoilt town pubs and a micro pub converted form a Victorian buffet bar. My choice reflects the sort of pubs I like, but I think most people would enjoy most of them. Give them a try if you’re in the area.

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