Winning tip: Riverside at the Princess of Wales, Clapton, London
There’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than on the decked outdoor area of the Princess of Wales. Narrowboats on the River Lea are virtually within touching distance, while towpath joggers, cyclists and walkers provide people-watching entertainment. Tables spill out of the pub and there’s a cushioned bench for perching with a pint. The food is a cut above, with brunch sandwiches till 4pm, sharing boards, restaurant-style mains and a weekend burger shack exuding irresistible smells. The staff are young, friendly and professional, and there’s a bus stop directly opposite.
Reopening on 12 April
Proper pub grub at the Horse and Jockey, Pontypool
This beautiful old pub and restaurant on Usk Road has been meticulously restored to its former glory of 30 years ago, when droves of customers would line the road, hand in hand, singing Auld Lang Syne. Just off Monmouthshire Canal on the outskirts of New Inn village, it’s quiet and peaceful, with a fantastic beer garden complete with gazebos, a tree swing and picnic tables, surrounded by open, picturesque fields. It’s also one of the best places around for proper pub grub: have a burger – you won’t regret it.
Reopening dates for pubs in Wales will be announced by the Welsh government from 22 April
Bowled over at the Cricketers, Redbourn, Hertfordshire
The Cricketers is your quintessential village pub: welcoming locals, food and drink that has won awards (with the plaques behind the bar to prove it), and a lovely view – in this case of a very large common. The pub also offers reservable “dining pods” for those of us who may need to ease ourselves back in to the idea of mixing with others. If you’re one of those masochists who thinks a trip to a pub garden needs to be earned, the many walking and cycling routes of the Nickey Line and the Ver Valley will justify your stop.
Reopening on 12 April
Traversing the Thames at the Isis Farmhouse, Oxford
The great thing about the Isis Farmhouse is that it’s only accessible on foot, by bicycle from the Thames path, or from the river itself. The spacious garden has lots of picnic tables, where you can sup your pint while you watch narrowboats chugging idly past, or the river path traffic of walkers and cyclists. It’s a welcome stop for many hikers walking the Thames Path, a short cycle ride from Oxford city centre, and just a few narrowboat lengths from the gently swishing weeping willows of Iffley Lock. There’s a good range of drinks, the food is imaginative, and the garden is fenced so your children don’t fall in the river.
Dogs and dates at the Inn Deep, Glasgow
The riverside terrace of the Inn Deep is my favourite place in Glasgow to grab a drink with a friend, or go for a second date, or simply sit with your pup on the way back from a walk. It’s an institution, as well as the most dog-friendly business I’ve ever visited. It’s in a cosy, partially hidden spot, next to a 19th-century bridge and a picturesque bank of the River Kelvin. Inside, its arched wooden ceiling, dimmed lights, great craft beers and unpretentious atmosphere make it a pub you wish you never had to leave.
Bookings from 1 June at inndeep.com. Pubs and restaurants in Scotland can open outdoor areas from 26 April
Bucolic beauty at the Rising Sun, Pensford, Somerset
I can’t wait for the Rising Sun in Pensford, on the A37 near Bristol, to reopen. Its garden sits by the River Chew with a disused 19th-century railway viaduct rising on the other side of the river. There’s also a centuries-old pedestrian bridge linking the pub to the riverside path that takes you on a three-mile circular walk. This takes in a converted mill and the river, which is alive with grey wagtails and damselflies in summer. That just leaves the garden to sit with a pint of Somerset cider on a sunny day.
Reopening on 12 April
Cider house rules at the Live and Let Live, Bromyard, Herefordshire
The Live and Let Live is a 16th-century cider house and Herefordshire’s only remaining thatched pub, with a large garden and rustic views. Sheltered out of sight of the nearby A44, the pub stands on Bringsty Common, which centuries ago was used as an overnight stop by livestock drovers from mid-Wales heading to markets in England. Between the wars the common – and its pub – was a popular destination for cyclists coming from Birmingham. You can still find apple trees – laden with small, tart, golden fruits in autumn – scattered around the common, a testament to the area’s cider-producing pedigree.
The Live and Let Live plans to open at the end of May
Joseph Alexander Smith
Birdlife and bracing air at the Harp, Wirral
From the beer garden of the Harp at Little Neston you can look out across the Dee Estuary to Moel Famau and the Clwydian range. It’s a haven for birdlife and it is possible to simultaneously drink top-quality beer and breathe some of the freshest air you can imagine. On a sunny day there are few places as uplifting, as one savours the sound of the breeze and the occasional bark of a marshland dog celebrating its retrieval of a stick thrown by its master.
Reopening on 12 April from 12-8pm, likely to return to normal hours from 17 May
A warm welcome at the Blue Moon, Cambridge
The beer garden of the Blue Moon isn’t typical of a Cambridge pub. Brightly coloured picnic benches under awnings festooned with fairy lights and dotted with plants can’t hide the fact that you are sitting in a pub car park – but it is a more inclusive and more pleasant place to be than many pubs with idyllic gardens. Sophie, Duarte and the team have worked their arses off to create a place that is both Covid-secure (every table is sanitised after use) and welcoming to everyone (note the pride flag above the front door). An inclusive oasis in a city that struggles with huge wealth disparities and a lack of diversity. Plus great beer and handmade pizza!
Harbour views at the Mussel Shoal, Porthleven, Cornwall
At the risk of being controversial, my recommendation, the Mussel Shoal in Porthleven, doesn’t quite encapsulate what a beer garden is in the traditional sense, but it’s one of the best outside spaces to enjoy a drink or three. Right by the harbour wall, hidden from view of the main road, the Shoal is loved by visitors and locals alike. The menu is small but the food is great (its slogan is “fun not fine dining”) and it offers locally brewed ales and spirits. The seating overlooks the harbour; in the summer, kids can be seen jumping from the harbour walls, and once a year the bar area is the diving board for an annual belly flop competition!