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Gone to the Pub - Best of Britain

The iconic British Pub, short for “Public House” is as much a part of British life as Fish and Chips, the Royal Family and the Union Jack.  Considered to be much more than a local watering hole, the village pub is thought to be a meeting place, a place of entertainment and an extension of one’s own home.  No need for locals to leave their dog behind as it’s commonplace for dog owners to bring their pooch to the pub with them.  You’ll often find folks engaged in a card game with a table of friends while they warm up by the roaring fire.  Make no mistake, though, the beer is definitely the main attraction.  After returning to America after 5 years of living in the UK, the cozy pubs of England are what I miss most about the British culture I left behind.  It’s a pastime nearly impossible to duplicate on this side of the Atlantic. 

There are certain unwritten rules associated with frequenting local pubs.  For starters, know that table service is nonexistent.  Customers need to place their orders at the bar.  I’ve had countless friends tell the tale of overseas visitors who popped into the local pub and stormed out after experiencing what they considered “the worst service ever.”  Those stories were always amusing to me so I can only image the pleasure the bar staff takes when foreigners unfamiliar with the protocol visit their establishment.  When it comes to tipping the bar staff, it is not only not expected but it’s simply not done.  You may offer to buy the barman or barmaid a drink but even that’s not considered common practice. 

There are an abundance of choices available when ordering in a pub so they prefer you don’t show up asking for “a beer.”  Among the top picks are Bitters, Pale Ales, Mild/Brown Ales and Porter/Stouts to name a few.  Ciders are very popular particularly in the southwestern part of the country and are usually made from fermented apple juice.  Wines and spirits are also available to order, along with soft drinks, coffee and, needless to say, tea.  My mother came to visit once and ordered a martini at our local pub.  She was served vodka in a spotted water glass with a few drops of lemon juice.  Martinis are not in their wheelhouse.  Stick with what they know.

If you enjoy something to nibble on with your pint then you’re in luck. In recent years the trend has been to offer pub goers more than the traditional bar snacks offered from years gone by.  Some pubs will offer a menu of British classics while many are now offering a large menu selection of higher quality dishes.  There has also been a trend in recent years towards “Gastropubs.”  These pubs are a more formal dining experience offering a variety of higher-end entrees.

Pub names add to the charm of the experience.  One of the most popular pub names is “The Swan”, a symbol used commonly in coats of arms.  Swans are commonly spotted in the UK.  Each one is owned by the Queen and therefore protected by British law.  Some pubs are named to reflect an experience that is believed to have occurred at the establishment.  Among my favorites is the historic tale of the landlady of a pub who one day found all her ducks dead in the garden.  She didn’t want to waste them so she quickly plucked them to prepare them for cooking.  While finishing up, she noticed the ducks appeared to be coming back to life.  She later discovered a leaking beer barrel surrounded by webbed footprints.  As the story goes, she was so remorseful about plucking their feathers that she knit little jackets for them to wear until their feathers grew back.  The pub is appropriately named “The Drunken Duck.”

I couldn’t leave England without having a pint in the country’s oldest pub.  There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding who is the actual bearer of that title.  There is nothing more prestigious to a bar owner than to be known as “Britain’s Oldest Pub.”  I decided to use Guinness World Records as my tie-breaker and went with “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks”, known by the locals as “The Cocks”…true story.  Located in Hertfordshire, this octagonal-shaped pub was once a pigeon house.  It claims to date back to 973 and has the incredibly low ceilings to prove it.  The name is a reference to the sport of cockfighting which at one time had taken place there.  You won’t be able to catch a show there these days but it’s certainly well worth the field trip.

International Vacation Home Exchange has luxury properties around the world including several charming, character homes all across England.  No matter which one you choose there is sure to be a village pub nearby which  you  can call your local.  Order a pint up at the bar like a local before finding a cozy nook by the crackling fire and know that hundreds of years’ worth of thirsty patrons before you have done just that, right in that very spot. 

Thank you to Travel Blogger Lisa Medeiros, follow her on twitter at @lisamedeiros_


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