The summer heatwaves have faded into memory and the long nights are drawing in.
At this time of year the cosy pubs and cafés dotted across our beautiful county take on a special appeal as havens from the vagaries of the ever changeable weather. It’s only natural to want to sink into a snug chair and share a hot chocolate, or retreat to the local for a pint of ale and some hearty seasonal fare during the long winter months. Whether you want to meet friends, catch up with family you haven’t seen for a while, chat with the neighbours or just enjoy a quiet hour alone, you’re spoilt for choice in Staffordshire.
When the gales are howling and the drifts are piling up, these are a few of our top picks for places to hole up and shelter from the snowball fights.
The George at Alstonefield
On the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshire in the tiny village of Alstonefield sits The George. This family-run pub in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is just a stone’s throw from Mill Dale and Dovedale, close to Ashbourne, Bakewell and Buxton. All in all it’s splendidly positioned as a refuge from the biting cold after a good old-fashioned ramble.
The wooden beams, quarry tiles and crackling log fire create the perfect atmosphere to enjoy real ales and carefully selected wines. The snug and dining room have been restored with lime plastered walls and antique farmhouse furniture. While the butcher’s block and exposed stone give a rustic feel, candlelight from the hurricane lanterns adds a touch of elegance. This is matched by the elegance of the food coming out of the kitchen, which has received recognition in The Good Food Guide since 2009, and from Michelin and Sawday’s among others.
Quality local produce is the foundation of the menu, and the owners work with nearby allotment holders, farmers and businesses to keep food miles to a minimum. Across the lunch, dinner, and tasting menus, all dishes are prepared fresh on the premises with ingredients sourced, wherever possible, from within a 15 mile radius.
Alstonefield, Nr Ashbourne, DE6 2FX
The White Lion
At this charming country pub on the border of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire everyone is welcome to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Julian, Helen and their team. The White Lion pride themselves on sourcing only the highest quality seasonal ingredients and cooking them beautifully and simply. As you can read elsewhere in the Autumn/Winter issue, the fish specials are not to be missed. With local ales alongside continental beers and an array of speciality gins on offer, you can while away many a pleasant hour here. The snug is a cosy hideaway with comfortable leather chairs and soft lighting, while the bar’s flagstone floor, armchairs and roaring open fires will welcome you (and your dog) in from even the coldest of days.
London Road, Knighton, Market Drayton, TF9 4HJ
It’s in the picturesque little mid-Staffordshire village of Gnosall that you will find this family and dog-friendly pub. At the heart of the parish, The Horns has undergone renovations recently and prides itself on serving homemade, locally sourced food and cask ales in a wonderful setting with a lively atmosphere. The beamed ceiling, exposed brickwork and log burning stove complement the menu perfectly – it is full of hearty but imaginative food using seasonal ingredients, including produce from Neil and Michelle’s own allotment. Duck in out of the cold to enjoy the daily specials, and check out the multiple vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options on the menu.
High St, Gnosall, Stafford, ST20 0EP
Whites Coffee Shop
A side shoot of the family-run Whites Sporting and Clothing outlet at Oakedge Park, Whites Coffee Shop will draw you in with its log burning stove, which can be found roaring on a winter afternoon. With trained baristas on hand to prepare the freshly ground, locally blended and roasted Chartley Coffee, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a toasted tea cake or crumpet after a wintry walk at nearby Shugborough Hall or some clay pigeon shooting at Oakedge Shooting Ground. There are also gluten free, soya and skinny options available in the recently expanded coffee shop. The team place an emphasis on low food miles, so the milk comes from Wells Farm Dairies and the apple juice is pressed at Haywood Park Farm less than a mile down the road. What’s more, everything is served on Milton China.
Oakedge Park, Stafford, ST17 0XS
The Jervis Arms
Sitting on the banks of the River Hamps in the tiny Staffordshire Moorlands village of Onecote near Leek, The Jervis Arms has undergone a significant programme of renovations over the last few years. This whitewashed Peak District pub has everything you could ask for from a winter hideaway, including warm woollen blankets on stove-side pews under a cosily low-beamed ceiling, with brass candlesticks and fairy lights contributing to the welcoming glow. The menu of ‘pub classics with a twist’ features clearly marked vegetarian and gluten free options. Enjoy a pint from nearby Whim Ales at Hartington, or any of a wide selection of gins from the bar.
Onecote, Leek, ST13 7RU
The Rambler’s Retreat
A hidden gem in the beautiful surroundings of the Churnet Valley, you can sometimes hear the screams of thrillseekers enjoying Alton Towers, just a mile away in the next valley, at The Rambler’s Retreat. However, between November and March the theme park is closed and you can appreciate the peaceful woodland surroundings in all their glory – perhaps even under a blanket of snow. Discover comfort food and cockle-warming hot drinks in this cosy tearoom, which is housed in a striking 19th Century lodge with the Staffordshire Way running right past the front door. Open all year round, there’s nothing better than settling in with a huge slice of their home-baked cake or lemon meringue pie and a sumptuous hot chocolate after a muddy walk through the woods.
Red Road, Dimmingsdale, Alton, ST10 4BU