1) Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Gough Square, off Fleet Street, London
Normally anything touted by the use of the archaic “Ye Olde” should be viewed as a trap for gullible tourists, but this is the real deal. As the Great Fire of London consumed all timber buildings in the area, this is the oldest surviving pub in the City of London, rebuilt in 1667. Frequented by no less a selection of luminaries as Dr Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, and W.B. Yeats, this small tavern is mentioned in Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”. The pub is a typical 17th-century warren of dark wood rooms connected by creaking staircases, with surprises around every corner. Although women were traditionally barred from going upstairs, this rule is (thankfully) no longer enforced.
2) The Eagle & Child, Oxford
On the broad thoroughfare of St Giles, and almost dwarfed by the regency buildings that flank it on each side, the whitewashed Eagle & Child is traditionally known as the ‘Bird & Baby’. It has played a part in the literary life of Oxford, as it was here that the Inklings met – a loose group of academics including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who came to discuss and occasionally argue over the books they were in the process of writing. Within its panelled interior and small rooms, the pub offers the perfect combination of comfort and intimacy. Lewis’s death in 1963, and a remodelling of the interior of the pub, saw the remaining Inklings move across the road to the nearby Lamb & Flag.
3) Ye Olde Cock Tavern, Fleet Street, London
This narrow pub is a familiar sight on Fleet Street, with its second-floor bay window and intricate carved interior. It is a rare survivor in a street full of modern buildings, and was dismantled and rebuilt on the other side of the road in the 1880s, when its original position was occupied by the Bank of England. The interior is preserved in the Edwardian style, with brass gas lamps and flock wallpaper. A quiz and comedy night on Wednesdays provides light relief in this industrious quarter of the City of London. It is chiefly known as the local pub of the diarist and First Secretary of the Navy, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who mentions being rowed up to the back door of Ye Olde Cock Tavern in the company of two actresses, where they “drank, and eat lobster, and sang” and were “mightily merry.” A later patron, Tennyson, dedicated a poem to the pub’s legendary “chops and steaks”.
4) Jamaica Inn, Bolventor, Cornwall
On the edge of bleak Bodmin moor stands the Jamaica Inn, built in 1750 and celebrated by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. The local squires of this parish were the Trelawney family, who later became governors of Jamaica, and this association gave the inn its name. Stories of smuggling, piracy, and ghosts are still associated with the inn, and proved a fertile source of inspiration for du Maurier, whose novel tells of a gang of wreckers which lure merchant ships to the shore during stormy weather, tricking them into thinking that their huddle of lanterns is a friendly port. The inn’s central position on the main road from London made it a prime location for distributing stolen cargo. The slate-roofed Jamaica Inn is now a welcome refuge for walkers on Bodmin, and on rainy days they can view the smuggler’s museum inside the inn, which includes such curiosities as “Wanted” posters for smugglers, jars of rum and tobacco, and rather improbably, a bag of “Jamaican Ganja”.
5) The Ensign Ewart, Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile offers refreshment for thirsty tourists at this pub, which lies next to the Castle. It is named after Charles Ewart of the Royal Scots Greys, who captured a French regimental eagle at the Battle of Waterloo. The pub contains a lot of memorabilia from the battle, but was later frequented by Robert Louis Stevenson, who had a rejected a career as a Barrister, and spent many hours in the Ensign Ewart, dressing in a fashionably Bohemian style and scribbling. The building has been an inn since the 1690s, and the bar offers an exceptional selection of Scotch whiskies.
If you’re looking for pubs to let, you probably won’t be lucky enough to grab one of these tourist gems. But, if a group of writers start frequenting your pub, who knows – you could go down in literary history!