From a miniscule pub that proudly counts a mummified cat as part of the décor to a bar occupying a former public lavatory, Britain has a wealth of unusual drinking establishments bristling with weird histories, odd features and wonderful stories.
Here are 10 of our favourites…
The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds, England
This pocket-sized pub claims to be the smallest in Britain and with room for only 10 drinkers it can feel very cosy. Quaff a pint or two in a space no bigger than your average family bathroom. If the mummified cat that hangs from the ceiling ever fell off, there’d be no room to swing it.
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, London, England
Secreted in an alley off Hatton Garden, Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is a snug, welcoming and ancient London pub that was once in Cambridge. Yes, that’s right - as the ancient seat of the Bishops of Ely, the pub, Ely Place to the east and the nearby St Etheldreda’s Church were all technically part of Cambridgeshire. Well into the 1970s, thieves fleeing raids on Hatton Garden jewellers would hide out here beyond the jurisdiction of the London police. Nowadays, its tucked-away location still lends it a timeless, otherworldly charm and the beer, staff and atmosphere are as good as the history.
The Crooked House, West Midlands, England
The jaunty Crooked House slants alarmingly sideways – a bit like the leaning tower of Pisa but with better ales. In fact, the irregular beams, sloping floors and agreeable sense of drunken wonkiness are caused by mining subsidence. The crazy angles inside create an optical illusion that makes beer bottles appear to roll up hill; you’ll feel drunk before you’ve touched a drop.
The Temple of Convenience, Manchester, England
Pop in for a pint at this former public toilet. It can get cramped and could charitably be described as a bit of a dive but it’s got one of the best jukeboxes in town, a great selection of continental beers and a loyal crowd of regulars, students and party people.
The Well House, Exeter, England
This excellent city pub is built over an old Roman well which you can still see in the basement. But the Well House also holds a more grisly secret. The intertwined bones of a man and a woman that are on display are said to be those of a monk and his lover who threw themselves into the well when their illicit affair was discovered.
Lord Nelson, Norfolk, England
Admiral Nelson’s local still has the benches that were graced by the naval hero’s behind as well as stone floors, real ales and a warm welcome. Try the homemade ‘Nelson’s Blood’, a rum based tipple inspired by the story of sailors taking sneaky sips from the barrel in which his brandy preserved body was shipped home from Trafalgar.
Haunch of Venison, Salisbury, England
The Haunch of Venison has been around since the 14th century. Its two bars have several unique features including England’s last surviving complete pewter bar top and the ‘horsebox’ - a small bar reputedly used by Churchill and Eisenhower during the planning of the D-Day landings. The House of Lords bar proudly displays a severed, mummified hand said to be that of a cheating cards player.
Canny Man’s, Edinburgh, Scotland
"No credit cards, no mobile phones, no cameras and no backpackers" reads one of the grumpy signs that adorn this curmudgeonly pub in Morningside. The owners are legendarily grouchy to strangers but this is part of the charm in a pub where the décor looks like the collection of a Victorian kleptomaniac and you write your food orders on betting slips. Sit amidst the crazy hoard of bric-a-brac, sample one of hundreds of whiskies, including one blended by the pub itself, or retreat to the sunny garden.
The Old Forge, Inverie, Mallaig, Scotland
The most remote pub on mainland Britain has no roads in or out and can only be reached via a 7-mile sea crossing from Mallaig or an 18-mile hike across mountainous country. But the Old Forge is certainly worth the trip. You’ll find superb Scottish folk music with ceilidhs, regular gigs and impromptu sessions and some terrific local seafood. The menu includes Loch Nevis Langoustine, Isle of Skye Crab, Smoked Mallaig Haddock as well as homemade haggis, game and Aberdeen Angus steak.
The Skirrid Inn, near Abergavenny, Wales
This historic inn stands in the shadow of Skirrid Mountain near Abergavenny and claims to be the oldest public house in Wales. During the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 the Skirrid doubled as a courtroom and place of execution. Almost 200 rebels were hanged here from a beam in the pub’s stairwell. You can also see the slab on which the bodies were placed. Despite this grisly history you’ll find a warm welcome, comfortable accommodation and, if reports are to be believed, the odd ghost.