This picturesque 17th century inn is located in the village of Highclere, Hampshire close to the Berkshire border. Highclere Castle, where most of the filming for Downton Abbey took place, is just up the road and the attractive market town of Newbury a fifteen minute drive away. The Pheasant has ample parking and for guests arriving by public transport, Newbury station is a short taxi ride away.
Arrival and Check-in
Guests are able to check in from 3.00 p.m. and on the chilly October afternoon of our visit, we felt warm and cosy as soon as we stepped inside the door with two wood burning stoves set in large fireplaces casting a welcoming glow. Our first impressions were good with the inn’s old world charm of low beamed ceilings and stone flagged floors contrasting beautifully with its stylish, contemporary furnishings.
We enquired at the bar on arrival and were soon shown through an old oak door leading up a narrow staircase to our room on the first floor. It was so nice to be accompanied to our room as so often we are just handed a key and left to find our own way. Along with our key we were handed a wooden clipboard containing printed cards detailing everything we might need to be aware of during our stay.
The Pheasant Inn has eight rooms, six of which are above the inn with a further two garden rooms located around the rear of the property. Instead of having boring room numbers, each bedroom is named after a tree. We were staying in Sycamore with Willow just along the corridor. For such an old building, the room was of quite a reasonable size, featuring a small sash window to one side with views over the surrounding countryside.
Everything had been thought of to make our stay as enjoyable as possible with a Nespresso type coffee machine, kettle and a generous supply of coffee pods and several varieties of tea. A note on the clipboard informed us that we could pop down to the bar at anytime for a jug of fresh milk so I did just that, returning a few minutes later to put the kettle on.
Other thoughtful little extras included a tartan hot water bottle which we didn’t need to use but would be comforting to snuggle up with as winter approached. Hanging from the door in a small hessian bag was an emergency kit containing a small torch in the unlikely event of a power cut and a map clearly setting out evacuation procedures. Amenity kits were to be found in the top drawer of one of the bedside cabinets including such items as a small sewing kit and shower cap.
The spacious en-suite bathroom featured stylish tiling and a large rainfall shower head. To pamper ourselves were three generous sized bottles of Bramley citrus fragranced toiletries, a pair of luxuriously thick dressing gowns and some fluffy towels.
We slept soundly under the crisp, white bedlinen on an extremely comfortable mattress, our heads resting perfectly on the large, soft pillows and although the rooms are above the pub, we encountered no noise at all. You might think a 17th century inn would be cold and draughty but the room was lovely and warm throughout our stay and we even turned down the heating at one point.
Meals are served in the attractively furnished open-plan bar lounge with several tables being tucked away in cosy corners of the higgledy-piggledy inn, ideal for romantic candlelit dinners and family gatherings.
Tables had been set for dinner in gastro-pub style and we settled down at a circular oak table by a bay window to one side of the bar. Menus were brought to us by a friendly waiter who also pointed out the specials board in case something on there took our fancy. The menu is divided into Small Plates, Pub Favourites and Grills sections and the chef / landlord, Ryan Stacey sources local ingredients wherever possible. We learnt that the new autumn menu had just been launched the weekend of our visit so we looked forward to some seasonal fare.
The Catch of the Day on the Specials Board caught my attention as it was pan roasted stone bass. I’ve long been a fan of sea bass but this was the first tine I’d come across stone bass so I was curious to try it. Whilst waiting for our food to be prepared, we ordered glasses of Revisionist, a hoppy flavoured light beer which hit the spot very nicely.
Our main dishes arrived beautifully presented and my pan roasted stone bass with fennel and capers in a beurre blanc sauce tasted delicious along with its accompanied sides of spinach and saffron potatoes. I was pleased I had opted for this as the firm white fillet had a slightly sweeter taste than sea bass and the combination of flavours complimented each other extremely well.
For once, we’d both opted for fish, as across the table, fish and chips from the Pub Favourites menu was going down a treat, with thick cut chips, peas and The Pheasant’s own version of tartare sauce. I insisted on sampling a small piece of fish and agreed that the batter was light and crispy and cooked to perfection. Both of our main courses were of a good size and reasonably priced at £16.50 for the catch of the day and £13 for the fish and chips including sides.
We’d refrained from having one of the tempting starters but couldn’t resist a dessert especially as one of my all time winter favourites was on the menu. This modern take on a traditional pudding was styled as Lotus Biscoff bread and butter pudding served with clotted cream and blackberries. Perhaps not the best choice for those watching their weight, but mouthwateringly delicious nonetheless and I savoured every spoonful.
Other desserts were equally tempting if perhaps not so fattening and my son’s salted caramel custard tart with peanut ice cream got a big thumbs up too. After finishing our desserts we lingered awhile over drinks whilst soaking up the cheerful atmosphere from our comfortable chairs.
Breakfast is served between 8.30-10.30 a.m. or earlier by prior arrangement. It was a Saturday morning and we opted for a leisurely start to the day, coming down for breakfast shortly after 9.00 a.m.
On opening the oak door into the bar lounge we were impressed to find that both the wood burning stoves had already been lit. Toby, the cheerful waiter who had served our dinner the night before was already back at work and after showing us to a table he prepared cappuccinos for us to help bring us gently back to life.
Two tables had been laid out with a choice of cereals, fresh fruit juice, bread and pastries so we helped ourselves to some orange juice then took a look at the cooked breakfast menu. There was a varied selection on offer including smoked salmon, eggs benedict, etc. but we both decided to be traditional and opt for the Full Pheasant which couldn’t have been cooked better and set us up nicely for the day ahead.
We finished breakfast with something sweet, a freshly baked flaky croissant with thick cut marmalade and a Danish pastry. Toby suggested a second cappuccino, and we couldn’t resist, and whilst sipping our drinks we planned our itinerary for the day.
Guests are able to relax in the bar lounge and for those seeking peace and quiet there is also a small seating area upstairs. The Wi-Fi signal was strong throughout the inn but, due to its remote location, it was difficult to receive a mobile signal. To compensate for this, guests are welcome to make use of the landline phone on the end of the bar if they need to get in touch with someone, for which there is no charge.
We noticed a pile of board games in one of the windowsills which we didn’t make use of ourselves but would be ideal for keeping children occupied. Dogs are warmly welcomed to the inn and can even stay overnight as long as they don’t jump onto the beds or chairs. There were several well behaved dogs in the bar during our stay and these three seemed more than happy to pose for a photo.
The inn does not have a lift but there is level access from the car park into the bar. The garden rooms are suitable for those with limited mobility but it’s probably best to enquire in advance to check details as I’m certain the staff will do all they can to help.
Out and About
Before checking in, we spent a few hours in Newbury. It’s a very attractive town with a thriving high street boasting a branch of John Lewis and a second independent department store, Camp Hopson along the pedestrianised Northbrook Street. A market takes place each Thursday and Saturday but as we were visiting on a Friday the market place was sadly devoid of activity. Instead, we took a look inside the nearby West Berkshire Museum which is housed in two historic buildings, the 17th century cloth hall and the old granary/corn stores on the wharf. Entrance to this interesting museum documenting the history of the area is free but please note that it is usually only open Wednesday – Sunday.
We then enjoyed a pleasant walk along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon canal passing Newbury lock on our way. It’s always fun to watch a narrowboat enter the lock gates but one had just left as we arrived and there weren’t any others waiting. There were lots of ducks and geese around and we admired the brightly coloured canal boats moored alongside the quay before returning to our car.
The Sandham Memorial Chapel, a National Trust property, is located nearby in the village of Burghclere and as we are NT members we decided it was an opportune time to visit. The chapel was built in 1925 to accommodate a series of 17 paintings by Stanley Spencer depicting his own experiences during the First World War. Photography is not allowed inside the chapel and although interesting, it’s very small and I thought £9 seemed quite expensive for those who are not National Trust members but possibly still worth a look.
Highclere Castle of Downtown Abbey fame is located close to The Pheasant Inn and being fans of this period drama (I wonder who isn’t), it would have been really nice to take a tour. Unfortunately, Highclere was actually closed the week of our visit so it’s best to check their website for opening times and special events. The castle is surrounded by a large estate so it’s difficult to get close enough to view the property. There is a public footpath just off the A34 with a few parking spaces that leads up Beacon Hill from where glimpses of Highclere can be seen. It had been raining on and off for the previous couple of weeks and the path was extremely muddy. As we had not come equipped with walking boots we turned around part way up the hill as it was very treacherous underfoot and decided to wait until we could visit the castle sometime in the future and see it properly.
After checking out of the inn we decided to visit Andover, a pleasant market town in the Test Valley just ten miles from Highclere. A bustling Saturday market was taking place and we enjoyed a wander around the stalls and beside the River Anton which runs through the town centre before returning home.
Our stay at The Pheasant Inn was delightful and exceeded our already high expectations. We were made to feel welcome by the young, friendly staff who were always around to attend to our needs without being over-fussy. The food was of a high standard and the inn seemed popular both with locals enjoying an evening out as well as overnight guests.
The room rate includes breakfast and is good value for a very relaxing countryside break. Whilst staying at the inn we felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere yet we were in fact just a short drive from some attractive nearby towns and local places of interest, in our view, the perfect combination!
Details: The Pheasant Inn, Hollington Cross, Andover Road, Highclere, Newbury RG20 9SE
During our stay we were guests of The Pheasant Inn and as always all views and opinions are entirely my own.
For more inspiration of things to do in the area, you may also be interested in the following: