An ode to a summer’s pub walk

Published on June 11, 2015

By Matt Wright

Two pints of local scrumpy (cloudy, in dimpled pint glasses), two Wadworth 6X (same), a couple of Cokes, one metal tray swimming in warm beer and five packets of Seabrook’s crisps, all sitting on a wooden table in a sunny pub garden somewhere in Cornwall. This image dominates my memories of childhood holidays. I can still feel the drips from my beer-soaked crisp packet hitting my bare legs. And few thoughts bring on such contented happiness.

This snapshot is the climax of the pub walk in progress, of course. Spool back a few minutes and you might see coastal paths, woods, sea views, the occasional tantrum, parental promises of ice cream and the intense studying of OS maps. Spool forward half an hour to witness people intermittently ducking behind bushes as the scrumpy takes effect.

More recently, the Yorkshire Dales have supplied my most memorable pub walks. Armed with wife and terrier (and now toddler), I’ve tramped through Wensleydale, Swaledale, Nidderdale and, more recently, Dentdale, where I’ve enjoyed some of our finest countryside and best traditional pubs. The experiences I’ve relished here are almost sacred to me, and I’m sure I’ve found nirvana in those sunny Yorkshire pub gardens next to trickling streams, views to green hills beyond, beer in hand, studying menus promising great things.

So it’s no wonder that in times of stress, memories of pub walks with loved ones often supply the shot of relaxation I need to see me right. The simple act of strolling in sun-soaked countryside punctuated by pubs is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures. Maybe one reason for this is that, when you think about it, life is one big metaphorical pub walk: you toil up hills enjoying the views when you can (work), sustained by the promise of reward – a window of relaxation when you can sit back in the sun, enjoy a pint and wait for someone else to cook your lunch (holidays).

Of course, as in life, a pub walk doesn’t always go to plan, and for that all professional inn striders should be prepared. Two major potential cock-ups should be avoided where possible, although each must also be experienced at least once if you are to become a pub-walk grandmaster. We’ll deal with the most obvious first – the closed pub. I’ve only made this error twice but each time has been like a walking boot to the belly. You sidle up to the pub hungry after a six-mile hike only to discover it’s shut. If this happens the best you can hope for is a village shop selling sausage rolls. Worst-case scenario is plummeting blood sugar levels, intense anger aimed at the map bearer and a taxi.

The second potential error is time misjudgement resulting in panic followed by a sweaty racewalking-style dash to make lunch service, or begging phone calls to bar staff.

But the chances are you’ll end up in a fantastic pub that’s both open and serving lunch. And if so – and if you’ve chosen a good walking route – you’ll be enjoying two of the finest things available not just in Britain but, I believe, the world: the British countryside and the Great British Pub. And if your children are with you, rest assured that despite the inevitable disagreements, demands for chips and “are we nearly there” chat, you’ll be giving them memories they’ll look back on with genuine fondness. Happy pub walking.

My five favourite UK pub walks
1) Leyburn to Bolton Castle and back, with food at The Sandpiper Inn, Leyburn.
2) Coastal path from Porthleven to the Halzephron Inn, Gunwalloe, and back via the inland route.
3) Chatsworth House to Beeley village and back via Beeley Moor, with food at Beeley’s Old Smithy (café).
4) Dent to Kirkby Lonsdale, with food at the Sun Inn, Kirkby Lonsdale (we got a lift back to Dent).
5) Hawes to Hardraw Force with food at the Green Dragon, Hardraw, and back via Apersett.

Matt Wright
The author:

Matt lives in Leicestershire with his wife, two kids and dog. He is passionate about British pubs, slow food and home brewing. He founded Great Food Club (originally as Great Food Magazine) in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town of Melton Mowbray - Britain's 'Rural Capital of Food'.