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Staycation: The Hare & Hounds, Berkshire

by Maureen Rice

Looking for the next Cotswolds? You might just have found it!

Let’s say you fancy a weekend away, and your destination of choice is southern England. You want somewhere welcoming and beautiful. My guess is that the first place that comes to mind is the Cotswolds. In recent years it’s scored a double first with Cornwall as the hot spot for urban types seeking a bit of country life. But if you fancy somewhere quieter, then consider looking about 50 miles south and giving Berkshire – and the thriving market town of Newbury – a try.

Set along the banks of the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal, and surrounded by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Newbury has everything for a perfect weekend away, including the Newbury Races, said to be the late Queen’s favourite.

The Kennet and Avon Canal
The Kennet and Avon Canal

We’re staying at the Hare & Hounds, a dog-friendly 17th-century coaching inn in the village of Speen, 10 minutes from Newbury itself. It’s a warm and welcoming place, with its original beams, sloping ceilings and hunting prints alongside more quirky modern art and printed wallpapers. Following a recent refurbishment, it’s a laid-back delight, and comes with the natural fabrics and rustic chic most urban escapees long for in the country, with the kind of luxe touches – rainwater showers, copper baths, decanters of sloe gin in the rooms – that make guests feel cared for.

The bedrooms are cosy with considerate touches, including coffee makers and a sleep spray by your pillow. One word of warning: The Hare & Hounds sits on an A road, which makes it easy to find and to visit local attractions, but inevitably there is some traffic noise. Our room faced the road and was so well insulated we barely heard it, but noise-sensitive types might prefer a room at the back.

A cosy bedroom with luxe copper bath
A cosy bedroom with luxe copper bath

One problem no visitor will ever have is finding something to do nearby. If you get the chance, visit the racecourse for a fascinating day out. It’s a vibrant place with lots of options for eating and drinking, from food stands selling fish and chips or pizzas and pies to quite fancy restaurants and high-end hospitality. It’s thrilling to watch the beautiful horses thundering around the track and be part of the cheerful, cheering crowd. When the weather has been grim and the news even grimmer, it’s an absolute spirit-lifter.


Dine on British classics in the light-filled refurbished restaurant
Dine on British classics in the light-filled refurbished restaurant

Back at the Hare & Hounds we relax with a cocktail in the bar before heading into the restaurant for dinner. The menu is a mix of British favourites sourced sustainably and elevated with delicious twists, including steaks cooked on a Robata grill for that crispy-crusted barbecue flavour, luxury lobster fish pie, and sausages and mash elevated with a Madeira jus and grilled hispi cabbage. I had a zingy tomato and goat’s cheese salad to start, then the mushroom risotto, which was a perfect creamy, umami delight. My husband opted for a cheese soufflé and a rich coq au vin with, he said, ‘next level’ mashed potatoes.

We lingered on for ages after we finished eating – it’s that kind of place. With its Georgian lines and recent upgrade it looks elegant and inviting, but inside, the place is bathed in an atmosphere of unpretentious welcome. Go soon, before the Cotswolds crowds arrive.

How to book

Rooms at The Hare & Hounds, Speen, cost from £120 per night on a B&B basis (based on two people sharing). There are dog-friendly rooms available on the ground floor for an extra £20 per night. For more information, visit

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