My Five Favourite Hiking Pubs

Beers at the Drovers Inn on Scotland’s ‘West Highland Way’.

When it comes to choosing hiking destinations, I don’t have any specific formula or preferences.

Sometimes I look for pure wilderness experiences in remote locations. Other times I’m drawn by historical, cultural, culinary, and in the case of this particular article, libational elements.

Indeed, when I look back over the past twenty-five years, some of my most memorable travelling experiences have occurred whilst sharing a drink or two with strangers, who subsequently became friends.

While these beverages may not always be alcoholic (e.g. Tibetan monks seemingly drink little other than Yak Butter Tea), if truth be told they often are. So without further ado, here are my five favourite hiking pubs:

(Note: For more information on the hikes in which I visited the following inns and pubs, click on the respective title in which you are interested).

The Dying Cow | Wicklow Way, Ireland, 2009

A small room on the side of a farmhouse, The Dying Cow is one of my favourite pubs in all of Ireland – and that’s saying quite a lot.

I arrived around 5 pm after a long day’s hiking on the Wicklow Way. Besides the barkeep, I was the only person there. I planted myself at a small table and began to catch up on my journal over two or three pints of Guinness.

During my years of travelling, I’ve lost count of the amount of spiral notebooks I have filled whilst seated at pubs, coffee shops and tea houses.

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The Dying Cow

Writing and drinking. I’m not sure whether the stimulus to put pen to paper derives from the beverage, the location or my mood at the time. Possibly a combination of all three. Best not to think about it too much. Overanalysis is the death knell of imaginative thought and in my own case, generally a sign that I’m overdue to take a long walk in the woods.

By 7 pm a few locals started filtering in. By 9 pm it was standing room only. Rounds were bought, stories recounted and and my facial and belly muscles started growing weary from so much laughing.

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“Guinness is good for you.”

I remember talking for an hour about the 1991 World Rugby cup quarter-final between Ireland and Australia. It was a classic contest, with the Aussies escaping with the win in the final minute of the match. The gentleman that I was speaking to, Ron, had attended the game at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road stadium. He said it was the best game of rugby he had ever seen.

That’s one of the reasons I like the Irish; win, lose or draw it doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a good time and a few laughs.

By 11 pm the bar was about to close and patrons started heading for the door. The bartender had been kind enough to allow me to pitch my tent in the field behind the pub.

I shuffled my way through the dew-laden grass to a relatively flat spot at the northern end of the property. I pitched my shelter and was asleep within minutes. It had been a memorable day of rolling green hills, an atmospheric pub and excellent company. Hiking in Ireland. It’s great craic.   

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Back on the Wicklow Way the following morning……..actually it was almost afternoon.

The Drovers Inn | West Highland Way, Scotland, 2005

A Scottish institution that dates back to 1705. Supposedly used to be a haunt of the famous Scottish rebel Rob Roy. The Hobbit-like ceilings and assorted stuffed animals which decorate the walls give you the feeling that the decor hasn’t changed much in the past few hundred years.

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The Drovers Inn

Much of my night at the Drover’s was spent drinking and chatting with Frank and Alan (pictured below with yours truly), two serial West Highland Way hikers (six times each) who never met a pub they didn’t enter.

However, during one of multiple excursions to the bar, I randomly struck up a conversation with another Scottish hiker, an elderly gentleman that I estimated to be in his mid to late 60’s. The topic of conversation was the inordinate (at least for someone hailing from Queensland, Australia) amount of precipitation the Scottish Highlands received.

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(L to R) Yours truly, Alan and Frank.

After a few minutes of listening patiently to my observations, he looked at me, put a paternal hand on my shoulder, had a long, glass-emptying swig of his beer and said, “son, it never rains in the pub.”

With that he walked away, leaving me to pay for his drink. The price of wisdom. Scottish style.

South Sea Hotel | Northwest Circuit, Stewart Island, New Zealand (1994 & 2010)

It rains about three hundred (not a typo) days a year on Stewart Island. Along with southwest Tasmania it is perhaps the world’s muddiest hiking destination. The sandflies are particularly ferocious; even by New Zealand’s lofty standards.

Sounds great, no?

Thankfully the challenges are more than compensated for by the island’s incredible vistas (if you’re lucky), pristine beaches and a unique opportunity to witness New Zealand’s national bird, the Kiwi, rambling its flightless way around the island.

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Northwest Circuit | One of my favourite multi-day treks in New Zealand.

Back on point, Stewart Island also boasts what is arguably the best pub/fish and chips combination in the whole country (Note: In 2010, the fish & chips place was situated around the corner from the pub in a little gypsy caravan).

After finishing one of NZ’s premier long distance tracks, the Northwest Circuit, there is simply no better way to enjoy a post-hike celebration than to sit on the patio of the South Sea Hotel, enjoying a well earned pint or two whilst swapping Stewart Island mud stories with your fellow hiking buddies.

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Tavern With No Name | Pindos Horseshoe, Greece, 2001.

Mikro Papigo is a beautiful stone village situated in the Pindos Mountains of Northern Greece. After a memorable first day’s hike through the Vikos Gorge (the world’s deepest), I arrived late afternoon, greeted by a picture-perfect rainbow.

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Mikro Papigo

I wandered into the village and headed straight for a hole-in-the-wall restaurant/tavern, the name of which I can’t recall. Not long after sitting down, I struck up a conversation with a gay couple from Germany over a few beers. We shared numerous funny stories about the colourful night life scene in Berlin.

After a while, the girls and I were joined by a Greek husband and wife, who upon overhearing our conversation and having spent quite a bit of time in Germany themselves, pulled up a couple of chairs and our international group became five.

Many more beers and quite a few Ouzos later, we eventually said our goodbyes. It was around this time that it occurred to me that in the process of the night’s festivities I had forgotten all about finding accommodation. Not to worry; I knew where I needed to go.

I made a beeline for the centuries old village church of Agioi Taxiarches, where I lay down my mat in the vestibule (see photo below), slipped into my sleeping bag and drifted off to the land of nod.

Postscript: I was awoken the next morning by a middle-aged Greek lady, who upon spotting a stranger sleeping in the local church, had come to the conclusion that I was down on my luck foreigner who couldn’t afford accommodation. As a result of her semi-accurate supposition, I was brought a breakfast of yoghurt, olives, bread and one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had!

Home sweet home; the vestibule of the Agioi Taxiarches church.

The Lion Inn | Coast-to-Coast Walk, England, 2009

Situated on a windswept moor in North Yorkshire, the Lion Inn (est. sometime in the 1500’s) is one of multiple classic pubs along England’s Coast to Coast Walk.

I arrived early evening, absolutely soaked from head to toe. After procuring accommodation and cleaning up, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with a group of veteran walkers from different parts of the UK. As you might expect, much of the conversation centred around hiking, however we also spent a lengthy spell chatting about the very subject upon which this article is based; classic hiking pubs.

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Aerial view of the remote Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge (photo from Lionblakey.co.uk).

They definitely knew their subject. Decades of field experience had left all of the gentleman in the group with perfectly rounded potbellies and an encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly every hole-in-the-wall pub from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

After a huge meal, half a dozen drinks and hours worth of memorably funny conversation, I said my goodbyes and went to pay my bill. It turns out my new found mates had already taken care of it.

On the very remote chance that any of my companions from the Lion Inn are reading this post, thanks again for both a wonderful evening and just as importantly, the excellent tip about The Dying Cow!

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Lion Inn (photo from Lionblakey.co.uk)


Comments

My Five Favourite Hiking Pubs — 4 Comments

    • Forget the Mallaig ferry – the best way to reach the Old Forge is from Kinlochhourn over the tops of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart! A memorable walk: https://goo.gl/WKwaVG.

      Cam, if you do come back, don’t bother with the trails – that’s not the best we have to offer. We have great maps and the right to wander and camp where we will. Make your own route along the ridges and around the remote sea-lochs. And come in the Spring before the midges get going – most visitors come in August when the bugs and weather are at their worst. Or we have great winter walking too…

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