What better time to explore Exmoor National Park than autumn, when the red stags are rutting and the wild moorland setting ablaze with russet hues? Post-ramble and stag spotting, settle in at one of these cosy Trencherman’s dining pubs for excellent feasting and drinking by a crackling log fire
The Swan, Bampton
Exmoor’s most decorated dining pub continues to thrive, delighting locals and tourists who visit to experience its smart cooking in casual and cosy surroundings.
Chef owners Paul and Donna Berry, along with chef Finn Hutchinson, craft scrumptious food from carefully sourced fresh fish, locally shot game, moorland-reared meats and the best of the Devon veg patch (veggies and vegans are well catered for).
Despite excellent cooking and attractive decor, The Swan is most definitely a pub – and all the better for it. And while you can stand at the bar and sink a well-kept ale, you can also order Champagne by the glass.
Three comfortable guest rooms upstairs can turn a visit into a weekend jaunt. There are loads of wonderful walks nearby, as well as the pleasures of Dulverton and nearby National Trust property Knightshayes Court.
The Swan’s sister restaurant Spelt offers further unique dining experiences on Exmoor – read more here.
The Masons Arms, South Molton
This beautiful thatched 13th-century country pub deals in cosy pints by the fire while also being home to a tour de force of fine dining.
For 16 years, Mark and Sarah Dodson have run their Michelin-starred restaurant (they were awarded the star within six months of opening and have held it ever since) and created a much-loved dining destination to which people travel from all over the country.
Nestled in lush rolling hills between Tiverton and north Devon, the dining room offers views of a bucolic scene which is the source of many ingredients on the plates. Local produce is key for Mark and Sarah and, as you’d expect, the cooking is on point: elegant, cleverly executed and pleasingly appropriate to the surrounding coast and countryside. Happily, The Masons Arms isn’t somewhere to be reserved for special occasions only as the dishes are pleasingly priced.
Pyne Arms, East Down, near Barnstaple
Delightfully rustic surroundings (proper pub decor, dark beams, wood burner, ancient wooden settles, and locals propping up the bar) belie the contemporary culinary cleverness going down at the Pyne Arms.
Forget self-conscious styling; authenticity rules at this rural Exmoor gem. Hearty dishes such as unctuous slow-braised ox cheek with herby mash, and rib-sticking suet pudding feature alongside fresh local fish and crowd-pleasing burgers. Whatever you plump for, you can be sure of being well fed (and warmly welcomed) by owners Amie and Ellis Pannell.
Pyne Arms also has two contemporary guest bedrooms on site, so it’s possible to turn supper into a mini-break on Exmoor. The opportunity to wake up in the verdant wilds and spend the day stomping over the moor, or exploring nearby National Trust property Arlington Court, before returning for a hearty supper and a pint of chocolatey stout Mena Dhu the bar is more than a little appealing.