We all remember old coaching inns from childhood reading. Dark nights, clattering hooves, the grinding of wheels as the carriage pulled into the yard. Then shouts as the horses were led away and the innkeeper welcomed arrivals to a fire in the hearth and a simple meal of broth and bread, or perhaps a hunk of meat. Beds may even have been shared with strangers and the welcome was functional – a stopover not a stay. But such was the relief to reach safe shelter that the word "inn" is still associated with a sense of impending cosiness.
Modern inns still provide relief – but from stress rather than from highwaymen. They're not full-blown hotels, purveyors of luxury and exotic choice, although some of them are pretty swish. But they give you what you need – a welcome, delicious food, a comfortable bed and even good company. Good value is at the heart of it. The traditional British inn is not as hard to find as you might fear. Try these; you'll feel at home as soon as your feet hit the flagstones.
Alastair Sawday's new 'Special Places to Stay British Hotels & Inns' is available now (£15.99). To buy a copy and for more information and booking details for all these properties, go to sawdays.co.uk. All quoted prices are based on two people sharing a double room
The Anchor is one of those wonderful places that resists the urge to be precious. A cool seaside inn where informality reigns: kids are welcome; staff are lovely and dogs fall asleep in the bar. You're 500m from the sea with a vast sky hovering and waves breaking in the distance. There's a big terrace, a lawned garden and, inside, beautiful simplicity – Cape Cod meets English rural. Books are everywhere, along with wonderful art, roaring fires and old leather benches. The food is the big draw. The fabulous garden chalet suites have just been superbly refurbished.
From £110 per night, including breakfast (01502 722112; anchoratwalberswick.com)
Kilberry, Argyll & Bute
It's a little like the film Local Hero: a patch of heaven in the middle of nowhere, with vast skies, forested hills and the Sound of Jura pouring past. As for The Kilberry, it stands on the road in this tiny village. Outside, the phone box is soon to become the smallest whisky bar in the world. Inside, there's oodles of rustic charm and an open fire burns most nights. Half-bottles of champagne wait at the bar, as do local ales and excellent malts. Plus, Clare's cooking is some of the best on the west coast. Spotless bedrooms with pretty colours, comfy beds, and a hot tub on a private terrace.
From £200 per night, half board (01880 770223; kilberryinn.com)
Jacquie's eye for interior design has recently turned The Pheasant into a small-scale pleasure dome. It sits above the village pond with a terrace for drinks, but the drawing room is utterly gorgeous, so you may well choose to hole up inside. You'll find elegant sofas, walls of books, an open fire and a smart bar with candles flickering at night. Outside, a converted stone barn houses a pretty swimming pool and you can potter across in bathrobes for a dip. Beautiful bedrooms are scattered about. There's a suite in the garden and a couple of lovely family rooms with bunk beds for kids.
From £155 per night, including breakfast (01439 771241; thepheasanthotel.com)
West Hatch, Somerset
A lovely inn lost in peaceful hills on the Somerset Levels with a new team in charge. Outside, cockerels crow, cows graze and the glorious views drift downhill for a couple of miles. Inside, you'll find friendly natives, sofas in front of an open fire and a timber-framed bar, where one airy room rolls into another and delicious food flies from the kitchen. There are beamed ceilings and logs piled high in the alcoves. The bedrooms – some big, some huge – come with cast-iron beds, varnished floors, power showers or double-ended baths. There are local stables if you want to ride, and great walking.
From £95 per night, with breakfast (01823 480980; farmersarmssomerset.co.uk)
Brampford Speke, Devon
This lovely little inn is humble, gracious and not like those fancy places that always want to blow their own trumpet. Clive rears sheep and grows food on their land behind, and Mo cooks it to keep the locals smiling. You're in a tiny Devon village with a church and a river you can walk along. Back at the pub there's a cobbled yard and small lawn behind; in good weather, both make a lovely spot for lunch. The interior has a warm cottage style throughout: painted settles, a wood-burner, the odd sofa, good art. The three bedrooms have irresistible prices. (Two more are coming soon.)
From £75 per night, with breakfast (01392 841591; thelazytoadinn.co.uk)
Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire
You arrive in style: a fine sweep though the Fonthill estate and under the Triumphal Arch. Expect to be seduced by this country-house inn that has risen again, phoenix-like, after a severe fire. Outside, the half-acre garden is ridiculously pretty and the Georgian house is equally sublime. Inside, the drawing room is warmed by a roaring fire; the restaurant has a wall of glass that opens on to the terrace, and the bar serves excellent local beer. Bedrooms are small but well formed with prices to match: white walls, the best linen, sisal matting, super bathrooms. As for the food, there's much to please.
From £95 per night, including breakfast (01747 870385; beckfordarms.com)
By day you explore the mighty wonders of Snowdonia, then return to this lovely hostelry and recover in style. It's one of those places that delivers just what you want: it's smart without being posh; the welcome is second to none; there's great food and the bedrooms are fantastic. Inside, soft colours and warm lighting create a mellow feel. There's a cute bar with armchairs and games, an airy breakfast room for the full Welsh works, then a smart restaurant cut into the rock, which was once the county jail. Bedrooms upstairs are gorgeous and all equally stylish.
From £85 per night, including breakfast (01341 422554; themeirionnydd.com)
This inn stands at the vanguard of a cool new movement: the village local reborn in country-house style. It's a winning formula with its laid-back informality and chic English style. The inn stands between pretty hills in this ancient wool village on the Fosse Way. Inside, happy young staff flit about, throwing logs on the fire, ferrying food or stopping for a chat. Downstairs, you find armchairs in front of smouldering fires and noble portraits on panelled walls. Outside, there's a smart courtyard garden. Beautiful bedrooms, some bigger than others, all fully loaded with comfort and style.
From £130 per night, with breakfast (01451 860244; cotswoldswheatsheaf.com)
The Swan is gorgeous, a contemporary take on a village local. It's part of a new wave of cool pubs that do much more than serve a good pint. The locals love it. They come for breakfast, pop in to buy a loaf, then return for afternoon tea. It's set back from the road, with a sprinkling of tables and chairs on the pavement. Interiors mix old and new brilliantly. Cool lamps hanging above the bar, lovely old rugs and a wood-burner to keep things toasty. An airy restaurant open to the rafters serves fabulous food. Bedrooms are lovely with vintage French furniture and iPod docks; two have fancy in-room baths.
From £85 per night, including breakfast (01934 710337; theswanwedmore.com)
Weston Subedge, Gloucestershire
A cute Cotswold inn with simple ingredients: lovely Georgian interiors, delicious local food and super rooms with honest prices. Inside, ancient flagstones lead through to the bar; you'll find a roaring fire, local ales, window seats and half-panelled walls. Next door is the charming restaurant with fresh food, mostly from local farms. The bedrooms are scattered, some in the main house, others in the converted stables (dog friendly). They differ in size, but all have a cool style and excellent bathrooms. You'll find a sofa if there's room, perhaps a double-ended bath. The Cotswold Way is close.
From £95 per night, including breakfast (01386 840192; seagravearms.co.uk)