You just can’t beat a great British country pub for toasting your cockles as the days crisp up and the nights grow longer. Fortunately, West Oxfordshire boasts some of the country’s cosiest inns and taverns offering everything from local ales and artisan gins, to modern tapas and inventive a la carte (some even offer unique accommodation so you don’t have to get a taxi home). 

By my reckoning, it’s our great British duty to seek them out and root ourselves in them for an afternoon, evening, overnight or for a long weekend. So, to help you plan your next autumn pub jaunt, I road-tested 10 Oxfordshire Cotswolds’ pubs for comfort, connection, and quiet pleasures. 

What I found were pubs with huge hearts, standing strong against rising costs and ready to offer a hygge hello for anyone who wants to arrive as a stranger and leave as a friend. 


The Rose & Crown, Shilton

The Rose and Crown, Shilton
Best for fireside peace and quiet 

The Rose and Crown is everything a traditional village pub should be. Low-slung ceilings, braced by heavy-set original beams. 17th-century stone walls worn with age and swollen with stories. Wood-stacked fireplaces crackling with heat, lived-in tables and chairs and a timber-fronted bar where villagers park themselves after a hard day’s graft. This Grade-II listed pub is tucked away in the small village of Shilton and is an ideal for a spot of quiet respite as golden autumn light tumbles through the window. You won’t be out of place with a thick book to read and a dog at your heels. Equally, you can come for a quick local ale or a swift lunch or dinner. 

Food is served in either the bar or dining room (which seats up to 45 people) and the menu is delightfully uncomplicated. Expect affordable pub classics, cooked with style, that compliment woolly jumpers and thick walking socks perfectly. I devoured the haddock and triple-cooked chips, inhaled the sticky toffee pudding and washed it down with a Wood Brothers’ Oxfordshire gin. 


The Harcourt Arms, Stanton Harcourt

The Harcourt Arms, Stanton Harcourt
Best for unrivalled luxury overnighters

This is the clever choice when you want a bear-sized hug from a giant of a pub, which has 2 AA Rosettes and 5 AA Gold Stars to its name. The original 400-year-old building of honey-coloured stone is flanked by modern red-brick extensions both sideways and upwards. Downstairs, there are flagged-stone floors and criss-crossing timbers uniting the bar, dining bar and restaurant. Gilt-framed paintings hang at the walls. Timeworn leather sofas laze in front of brooding fireplaces. Long, low wooden benches and antique chairs gather around candlelit tables in secret conversations, whilst cheerey chalkboards greet you on arrival. 

Upstairs, 10 exceptional rooms await, named after local towns and villages. Each one a masterclass in countryside comfort, decorated individually so you can make a return stay and not get bored. The Blenheim Suite (where I stayed) could've been plucked from the Tudor court with its soaring timber ceiling, stately four-poster bed, grand objet d'art and huge free-standing copper bathtub. On the ever-changing seasonal menu, there’s some seriously good food to try before slipping to bed. In the morning, a hearty traditional breakfast awaits to start your day with a spring in your step. 


The Royal Oak, Ramsden

The Royal Oak, Ramsden
Best for feel-good community vibes

Quite simply, The Royal Oak has set the blueprint for a new generation of independently-owned pubs. Threatened with permanent closure, this magical 17th-century inn was saved by a local couple who poured energy and passion into every cosy nook, making it the cornerstone of the village once again. Between them and their exceptional bar team, headed up by manager Luke, they’ve nailed everything you could want from a country boozer. 

The pub’s centuries-old character remains ever palpable: exposed stonework, wood floors and timber beams weighed with history. Then, alongside the delicious antiquity, are the pub’s values: sustainability here is key, with choices being made to help you feel good about what you eat and drink. People are clearly valued and respected, too. The team camaraderie is obvious and the pub’s service to the local community is inspiring with an ever-changing roster of events including supper clubs, bar talks, craft activities, themed food nights. Luckily, they’ve also five gorgeous rooms upstairs which mean you don’t need to head home once your evening is over. Bonus


The Back Lane Tavern

The Back Lane Tavern, Woodstock
Best for terrific tapas with in-crowd kicks

Rumour has it that the Back Lane Tavern, Woodstock, is where Winston Churchill learnt to drink. It’s a claim that’s not as far-fetched as you might think. The pub virtually adjoins Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace, connected to the vast estate via a network of back lanes. 

What awaits inside is an ambitious inn which feels like a proper old pub but comes with an exciting twist. Here, you can sup local ale at the centuries-old bar before heading into the busy, Tardis-like restaurant for some of the best tapas you’ll ever have. 

Plates come when they’re ready, not all at the same time. The roast Dorset wild sea bass is worth crossing counties for and the rose harissa marinated cantabrian anchovies saw my anchovy-hating husband licking his fingers in delight. The desserts are equally sublime. By the end of evening, you want to hug the staff, swap praises with other diners and book in immediately for a second sitting.  


The King's Head, Bledington

The King’s Head, Bledington
Best for rural escapism 

This 16th-century former cider house stretches out, like a farm cat, next to the picturesque village green of Bledington and is, as owner Archie Orr-Ewing puts it, “a broad church”. Inside, under the ancient beams and low ceilings, a wonderful cross-section of the community soaks up the pub’s ruddy-cheeked atmosphere. 

It’s not hard to see why the pub’s silverware includes The Good Pub Guide’s Inn Of The Year 2020 and Pub of the Year for 2018. An inglenook fireplace dominates, overhung with regimental lockers plates. Red rugs laze on the flagged-stoned floors, whilst twin-shaded old-fashioned lamps throw out a golden glow over oak settles and cushioned seats. There’s a huge menu of seasonal, locally-sourced food to sink your teeth into as well. I kicked off with gazpacho and focaccia bread, followed by half a rotisserie chicken, dressed slaw, and chips (let’s call it winter insulation shall we?). Don’t skip on pudding if you can help it: sticky toffee pudding, affogato and lemon posset were just some of the treats to choose from. Beyond that, 12 delightful bedrooms await, offering a classic Cotswolds’ base for the weekend. 


The Greyhound Inn, Letcombe Regis

The Greyhound Inn, Letcombe Regis

Best for a la carte staycations 

To have cracked the code as an exceptional countryside boozer, without previous experience in the pub game, is no easy feat. But owners Catriona Galbraith and Martyn Reed have done it - and then some. Their 18th-century red-bricked freehouse, The Greyhound Inn, sits in the uber-pretty downland village of Letcombe Regis, in the Vale of the White Horse, and is everything you could want from an independent rural pub. (Hence the pub’s string of awards and honours that keep on coming.) 

On the menu, which changes daily, are good old pub classics to stick to your ribs and fuel your power walk on the nearby Ridgeway National Trail. Alongside them, is a dreamy a la carte menu, served at lunchtimes and evenings with the exception of Sundays. 

Unsurprisingly, the entire pub brimmed with smiling, relaxed faces. Families out for an evening, overnight guests staying in one of the eight lovely rooms upstairs, regulars sneaking in a pint during their dog walk. Then, making her way from diner to drinker, checking in, was Catriona. Proof that The Greyhound Inn is a pub that takes your happiness very personally. 


The Rickety Press, Oxford

The Rickety Press, Oxford

Best for fast, fun, fabulous get-togethers

When you need a dopamine hit to offset the quiet autumn vibes, The Rickety Press delivers. Find it in the historic, ultra-cool suburb of Jericho in Oxford, set away from the main tourist drag, right at the heart of the neighbourhood. It was the second pub in the Dodo Pub Co portfolio (they now have five), and is another of their self-styled ‘neighbourhood pubs’ - where you can walk in at any time to grab honest food and a decent bevvy.

Don’t expect gastro plates, however. This is fast, fun food that you don’t have to deliberate long over. Posh burgers, pimped pizzas, bunless burger bowls, wings and things - with a great range of plant-based options. On a budget? There’s plenty that won’t overstretch the purse strings. Inside, the pub thrums with energy and colour: long tables and booths, board game stacks and shelves of books, a neon Dodo and plenty of chalkboard quips. It's a pacey, energetic romp of a place - and a great way to blast off the October cobwebs.


The Falkland Arms, Great Tew

The Falkland Arms, Great Tew
Best for go-slow candlelit dinners

You can’t get much more picturebook-pretty than The Falkland Arms in Great Tew. This 500 year-old pub sits at the end of a beauty pageant line-up of gorgeous, old thatched Cotswolds' cottages, facing the small village green. It is the quintessential country inn: a place where you expect to find Knights of the Realm quenching their thirst before setting off on their next quest. Instead, there’s an upmarket older crowd filling their noble bellies at candlelit tables. 

You’ll feel very much at home here drinking real ale alongside the locals or chatting to staycationing couples who’ve booked to stay in one of the pub’s 8 dog-friendly rooms. The food is hearty - more posh pub grub than fine dining - and comes quickly courtesy of a swiftly-moving bar team. But the real winner is the pub’s natural hygge. Its burrow-like core is canopied with fairylights and ceramic tankards, making the small interior twinkle with comfort and conviviality. 


The Red Lion, Northmoor

The Red Lion, Northmoor
Best for keeping all to yourself 

Some pubs are too good to share. The Red Lion in Northmoor is no exception. This remarkable pub is only here today thanks to the tenacity of its community. In 2014, they staged a buy-out when brewer Greene King put The Red Lion up for sale after failing to find a new tenant. Had they not, this fabulous white-stoned rural inn would’ve become a dozen new homes.

Today, The Red Lion roars with pride, under the superb guardianship of tenants Ian and Lisa Neale and their brilliant bar team, led by Gabby. Inside, rugged stonewalls and time-worn timber floors sit under a wonky ceiling with blackened beams. There’s a rota of guest ales from local breweries, carefully-selected wines and Oxfordshire’s entire portfolio of gins waiting for a dash of tonic. 

Ian cooks everything from scratch, plucking ingredients from the kitchen garden or from local producers. The results are first-class. Dinner over,you can head to bed in one of The Red Lion’s three gorgeous Shepherd’s Huts - The Den, The Nest and The Burrow - hunkered down in the immaculate garden just behind the pub. In the morning, as the friendly chickens peck just outside, Lisa arrives like a burst of October sunshine with a continental breakfast tray in hand. Yet more proof that The Red Lion is what every good pub should be: delightful, local and, above all, authentic. 


The Red Lion, Blewbury

The Red Lion, Blewbury
Best for family Sundays

At the foot of the Berkshire Downs, south of Didcot, sits the lovely village of Blewbury - and at the heart of the village, down a sleepy lane, is the charming red-brick 17th century pub, The Red Lion. Back in the day, the pub was frequented by Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows. The pub's three guest rooms upstairs are based on Grahame’s novel, so you can still feel his influence within the 250-year old walls. 

This historic inn is today a freehouse, privately owned by city slickers Annabel Cochrane and John Hunter, who parted company with previous brewers, Brakspear. With the same creative flair that they’ve brought to their boutique property business in London, the pair are currently breathing new life into the pub. 

Go for the cosiness of the main bar with its fire crackling in the yawning inglenook and worn red tiled floor or for the huge garden, which is a kids’ paradise thanks to the selection of outdoor games. Stay a while for the lovely banter that breaks out spontaneously between multi-gen guests as they tuck into their roasts in the small dining room.


Content by Weekend Candy 

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