Hearty Pubs; the Time for Romantic Weekends Is after the Valentine's Day Scrum, Says Lydia Gard. Then You Can Enjoy Some Serenity at These Wonderful Pubs with Rooms and Great Food within Two Hours' Drive of London

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The King's Head Inn, Bledington, Oxfordshire

On arriving at this 15th century inn, I fancied kicking off my wellies and joining the locals at the bar to natter about the rise of the river's water level. Or twiddling my toes in front of the fire and dozing in my chair with a muddy dog I had befriended snuffling about me. It's that inviting - a real flagstone and flat-cap joy.

Instead, I was shown to my room for a welcome soak in a deep bath to rid myself of the stresses of city life.

Later, villagers tumbled into the bar - having walked the dark, blustery lanes or rolled up in mud-splattered Land Rovers - to drink the local ale (Hook Norton) and banter with the jolly barman, or flirt with the pretty waitresses.

Taken over in 2000 by Archie and Nicola Orr-Ewing, the inn has been cleverly converted from chintz to elegant simplicity. Everything you could possibly need is neatly provided, from bottles of mineral water to a hairdryer. The bed linen is crisp and luxurious, while the beds themselves are impossibly comfortable.

Scrumptious-smelling bath plonk and fluffy white towels fill the bathrooms.

The six charmingly wonky ensuite rooms above the pub vary in size - beware the low beams. The corridors are so peculiarly shaped that guests must simultaneously bend, duck and lean to get around.

The contortions are worth it, though, especially if you are staying in Room One, which has a glorious four-poster draped in sumptuous fabrics.

The Orr-Ewings have stylishly modernised the building while maintaining its character, and the attention to detail is impressive. A further six rooms in the modern Courtyard wing are larger and quieter but have less character.

Eat in the bar area with its high-backed settles, little stools and heavy wooden armchairs at chunky tables.

An old piano pines for a thighslapping, tankard-clinking sing-along.

The menu (locally sourced and organic) includes roast lamb with celeriac and horseradish mash.

For a pub there is a comprehensive wine list - handily, Nicola Orr-Ewing is the goddaughter of wine writer Hugh Johnson. The Oxfordshire Way runs past the back door so a good walk is obligatory. It's three miles to the pretty market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, where you can stock up on local produce or expensive antiques before dragging yourself back to the smoke.

. www.kingsheadinn.net, 01608 658365. Rooms from [pounds sterling]70.

The Angel Inn, Heytesbury, Wiltshire

The antithesis of all things frilly, The Angel was reopened last March by owners Tim Etchells and Antony Worrall-Thompson. The bar - painted a luscious red - is sophisticated but relaxed, with a superb cellar and excellent whisky. The rooms have yet to be renovated and are frankly tired and basic, but the plan is to finish them by the end of this year. For now, rates are low to reflect this. Set on the edge of a pretty village and backing on to a web of footpaths, there is plenty to do if you feel outdoorsy. The menu includes rib-eye hung for 31 days and a pistachio-and-foie-gras parfait. …


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