Helen Peacocke on some great county inns for food and atmosphere

Easter is quite late this year. However, one positive thing about a later date is that spring should be in full swing and the weather will probably be mild. So a holiday in England will work well. Who wants to stand in endless queues at Heathrow waiting to fly to sunny climes when Oxfordshire pubs are able to offer some delicious meals and scenic delights?

I thought it might be fun to write about a few of the splendid places in the county that can provide you with a happy and very satisfying family day out revolving round a pub meal and a walk. The Boars Head, Ardington, is a good place to start if you are looking for a lovely meal which has been prepared by a chef who really cares. It is served with style, offering everything you need at a reasonable price. Sisters Doreen and Angela, who took over this pub last year, really are trying to come up with the best, and it shows.

Ardington is an attractive red-bricked village set on the Lockinge Estate. This is where champion racehorse Best Mate — three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup — was trained. The village stands at the foot of the Berkshire Downs in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just two miles east of Wantage. The Ridgeway Path runs through the southern part of the parish, which is where you can head if you are looking for a walk with views to die for, along with the feeling that you are treading in the footsteps of your forebears.

If you fancy striding in the foot-steps of famous men such as William Morris, then a picturesque village two miles east of Lechlade is the place to visit.

The Plough Inn, Kelmscott, in the centre of the village, is where friendly service is assured. The food is hearty, modestly priced, and carefully prepared. The menu offers everything a family needs for a jolly lunch. If you call on a Wednesday or Saturday bet-ween April and the end of October, you will be able to combine a delicious pub lunch with a visit to Kelmscott Manor where William Morris lived from 1871 to 1897.

The Thames is particularly beautiful at this stretch of the river, especially Willow Walk, which will take you to Lechlade if you turn right. Little has changed since William Morris lived here, so a walk besides the river will be walking in his footsteps too. The village of Standlake also offers families a great walk if they follow the Windrush Mosaic Trail which begins in Shifford Lane, just outside the village, a two-minute walk from The Black Horse. The mosaics are the brainchild of the late Ariana Clarke Windle, who along with a team of local enthusiasts created the mosaic way-markers that line the path. You will find a Kingfisher mosaic marking the entrance at Shifford Lane. Children will love this walk as they search for the markers.

This area and the lake it surrounds is now a nature reserve. Many birds and aquatic plants can be found in this area.

The Black Horse, Standlake, is an exceptional pub. It stands on what was originally part of the Standlake Manor Estate which was given to Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII. This is a great family pub, often offering cut-price lunchtime specials. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and the food superb. Strange though it may sound, one of the tastiest Chinese meals I have ever had in a pub was served at an Elizabethan hostelry reputed to be one of the oldest in the country. It was placed before me by one of the most cheerful young bar assistants I have ever met. I am talking about my visit to The White Horse Inn, Woolstone, where Barnaby and I lunched after visiting Wayland’s Smithy and the Ridgeway. Then there’s The James Figg, Thame, named after a famous English boxing champion, which serves good honest pub food with fresh ingredients in a welcoming atmosphere.

I write here of pubs that deserve to succeed in the hope that I can do my bit to encourage readers to use them, to enable the pubs to remain open. I accept there are bad pubs as well as good pubs and that some are indifferent to the basic hospit-ality codes and produce food that should not be served, but there are some great pubs out there. It’s just a matter of seeking them out.