Five best pub lunches in the Cotswolds

After a busy morning in the Cotswolds, exploring villages, visiting gardens or walking on footpaths, lunch in a village pub provides a welcome break. On warm summer days, sit outside and enjoy the beautiful countryside; on cold days, get a table by the open fire and warm up. Many pubs in the Cotswolds are in historic buildings with low ceilings and stone floors, and have been inns and pubs for hundreds of years.

Most of them also offer real ales from local breweries – Hook Norton, Donnington, Uley, and Butcombe, to name a few. And that's not all – pubs pride themselves on their good food, made using locally sourced products, too. Well used by locals and visitors, the pub is the centre of village life, a place where locals drop in to catch up on the day’s news or have a quiet few minutes with a newspaper. You might even see a troupe of local Morris Dancers providing entertainment on the street outside! Here we start with pubs at the eastern edge near Burford, and work our way around the Cotswolds ending near Lechlade.

The Swan Inn, Swinbrook

This pub near Burford sits on the banks of the River Windrush at the edge of Swinbrook, a village made famous by the Mitford family. Nancy Mitford’s novels The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949) describe their eccentric family life growing up here, and today, The Swan Inn is owned by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – the last surviving Mitford sister. Full of family memorabilia, the pub showcases their photos on the walls, a collection of walking sticks over a door, and a stuffed swan in an alcove. The uneven stone floors and low ceilings show the age of the building. It also made the news recently when David Cameron chose the pub for lunch with French President François Hollande.

Food: Good food sourced from local suppliers. Expensive, but worth it. Recommended drink: Ask for a Hooky, from the nearby Hook Norton Brewery. After lunch: Visit the village church and see the six reclining knights on tombs, before visiting the graves of the Mitford sisters. Walk: Take a walk along the river, starting from the churchyard and heading towards Burford.

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The Lygon Arms, Chipping Campden

This family-run hotel on the high street of Chipping Campden started out as a 16th-century coaching inn. Their pub is comfortable and informal, serving locals and visitors, and if the weather is good, you can sit outside in their pretty courtyard. There are several other historic buildings near The Lygon Arms; look for Grevel House and Woolstaplers Hall, both medieval buildings. The church, just off the high street not far from The Lygon Arms, is the best wool church in the Cotswolds. Its origins are Norman, but it was rebuilt in the 15th century. The almshouses across from the church date from 1612.

Food: They have a good range of food for lunch, from traditional pub food to sandwiches, and it's all reasonably priced. Recommended drink: Hook Norton Best Bitter. After lunch: Visit Chipping Campden, before driving to Hidcote Manor Garden (National Trust) to see the best gardens in the Cotswolds. Walk: The Cotswold Way, a 102-mile National Trail that runs from Chipping Campden to Bath, starts (or ends) at the Market Hall.

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The Plough Inn, Ford

One of the nicest drives in the Cotswolds starts in Stow-on-the-Wold and goes on the B4077 towards Winchcombe. About half way along the drive, you find The Plough Inn at the side of the road just before it dips down to the village of Ford on the banks of the River Windrush. The day’s menu is written on a board at the front door, but you'll want to head inside; this 16th-century inn is warm and cosy (though if the sun's out, there is a nice outdoor area). Across the road from the pub is a track used to train racehorses, so as you would expect, the pub is popular with jockeys and trainers. On big racing days, they set up TV screens and watch the races.

Food: The food is excellent. Sandwiches are available at lunch and there is a children’s menu. Recommended drink: This is a Donnington Brewery pub, so try the Donnington SPA, a traditional dark ale. After lunch: Drive to Temple Guiting and Guiting Power, villages sitting on the River Windrush. Walk: There are good footpaths starting from Guiting Power, walking towards Guiting Wood or heading the other way to Naunton.

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The Woolpack, Slad

Slad is tucked away in a valley north of Stroud. The pub, in a 16th-century coaching inn, is perched on the hillside overlooking the village and looking towards Swift’s Hill across the valley. The pub is small and welcoming, but if the day is fine, you'll enjoy their outdoor seating. Slad was the home of author and local legend Laurie Lee who wrote about his childhood here in Cider with Rosie (1959). Lee died in 1997 and is buried in the churchyard across from the pub, and 2014 is the 100 year anniversary of his birth. What better way to celebrate his interesting life than having lunch in his local? Read more about the Laurie Lee Centenary.

Food: The menu changes daily and the food is always fresh and local. Recommended drink: Uley Bitter After lunch: Drive to Stroud, more “gritty” than other Cotswold towns, but a welcome relief after too many “chocolate box” villages. Walk: Explore Slad and the surrounding countryside. Much of this area is a nature preserve and there are several good footpaths.

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The Swan, Southrop

Follow the narrow lanes from Lechlade until you come to Southrop, a pretty village sitting beside the River Leach. At the edge of the village green you'll find The Swan in a 17th-century inn, which – due to its relationship with the Thyme Food School at nearby Southrop Manor – has turned Southrop into a “foodie” destination. Locals and visitors gather at The Swan to enjoy its great food, or simply sit at its picnic tables on sunny days. They have a skittle alley and hold regular matches, too. Even though this is a good food pub, they still offer a children’s menu, and less expensive lunch options on their bar menu.

Food: In short? Excellent. Recommended drink: Cornish Pilsner from Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall. After lunch: Drive along the River Leach to Eastleach Turville and Eastleach Martin (1.5 miles), two villages on either side of the river. There is a lovely stone footbridge here, and in the spring you'll find the river banks lined with wild irises. Walk: There are footpaths along the river. Heading north you walk into the Hatherop Estate.

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