Behind the doors of Donnington Brewery

  • Donnington Brewery

In the heart of the Cotswolds lies Donnington Brewery which owns and supplies locally brewed beers to seventeen of the best-loved pubs in the area.

Closed to the general public, the peaceful Donnington Brewery seems like something of a secret. Yet for well over a hundred years, this picturesque riverside building has been industriously producing the beer for which it is famed, its characteristic wooden wheel stirred by the water that passes by. Today, it owns and supplies seventeen of the Cotswolds’ best-loved pubs.

Incredibly, the building itself dates as far back as 1291, when it was one of the mills of Broadway Manor. Over the past seven or so centuries, these mill buildings have been used for various purposes. Purchased in 1827 by the Arkell family, the mill became a brewery in 1865 when Richard Arkell began to brew and sell his beer to the gentry in the hunting fields, competing with small breweries that were kept on some estates. Some of the ledgers in which Richard recorded the results of his early experiments were recently discovered during a spring clean - ‘Too heavy’ says one entry. ‘Not the right colour’ sighs another.

The surrounding fields originally grew barley for the brewing process - this continued right up until the mid 1960s. (Today, the Maris Otter malt is bought from trusted growers in Norfolk and is still milled at the brewery). Inside the structure, many of the original corn-grinding mechanisms still exist, including the two stones, cogs, gearing and the exterior waterwheel. Spring water (or ‘liquor’ in brewing terms) is drawn from a natural spring besides the millpond. The brewery’s beautiful black swans were introduced to the pond by Claude Arkell, who came back from WWII as an RAF Officer in 1951 and remained with the brewery through to 2007, when he left the brewery to his cousins Peter and James Arkell.

Today, the brewery is much unchanged, having successfully preserved many of its original features. Having remained in the family for nearly 150 years, it is a beautiful, living link to local history. In 2010 it was named ‘Brewery of the Year’ by the Good Pub Guide, and in the same year its public house at Naunton, the Black Horse, raised over £7,000 to assist Haiti in just ten days. Television presenter Richard Hammond even visited the brewery in 2009 whilst filming on location for Top Gear – bringing it to a national audience.

The Beers

B.B. - abv 3.6% - a pleasant amber bitter with a slight hop aroma, a good balance of malt and hops in the mouth and a bitter aftertaste.

S.B.A. - abv 4.4% - malt dominates over bitterness in the subtle flavour of this premium bitter, which has a hint of fruit and a dry, malty finish.

The Donnington Way

A 62-mile walk incorporating the fifteen public houses which belong to the brewery, the circular Donnington Way takes in some of the most stunning scenery of the Cotswolds.

Named The Donnington Way, this beautiful trail meanders through Stow-on-the-Wold, Longborough, Ganborough, Lower Swell, Great Barrington, Naunton, Guiting Power, Kineton, Ford, Snowshill, Stanton, Willersey, Moreton-in-Marsh, Little Compton and Broadwell before taking a contented walker back to Stow-on-the-Wold. Each of the pubs is easily identified by their iconic black and white signs, introduced by Claude Arkell.

An alternative option is minibus and private vehicle hire, which will take larger parties around each of the pubs. The idea of doing a ‘Donnington Run’ has become a tradition amongst beer connoisseurs and merry-makers alike. Visiting all of the pubs is an ambitious undertaking, but it amply rewards the adventurous with fantastic views, excellent pub atmosphere and, of course, top-quality drinking.

The Pubs

The Black Horse Inn, Naunton

The Black Horse Inn, opened in 1870, is now a thriving village pub and a regular meeting place for villagers, visitors and horse-lovers alike. A great community, courtyard garden, separate restaurant and original flagstone flooring round off its rural charms.

The White Bear Inn, Shipston on Stour

Shipston's White Bear Inn has had new management since 2015 and boasts 9 en-suite rooms, 2 bars, one restaurant and a private dining room.

The Coach and Horses Inn, Longborough

This compact and cosy inn offers a traditional Cotswold village welcome, offering fine home-cooked food and traditional Sunday lunches with unique Donnington beer and cool Guinness. Look out from the beer garden and you'll be transported back 100 years - the village cross, cottages and church look like the set of a period film drama.

The Farmers Arms, Guiting Power

A unique village pub with a skittle alley that doubles as a function room when necessary, The Farmers Arms is a real local’s pub in one of the Cotswolds’ prettiest and most community-minded villages, offering great beer and traditional home-cooked food.

The Fox Inn, Broadwell

Winner of the CAMRA North Cotswold Pub of the Year 2007 Award, The Fox Inn is a friendly, family pub offering traditional pub food. With a generous beer garden and village green opposite, the Fox is a quintessentially Cotswold pub.

The Fox Inn, Great Barrington

A traditional 17th century Cotswold inn sat next to the River Windrush, offering accommodation and delicious homemade seasonal dishes made from local produce. With a truly lovely local atmosphere, The Fox Inn has log fires, good food and is dog friendly. A picturesque country setting with riverside aspects make this a summer must-visit.

The Golden Ball, Lower Swell

Built in the 17th century, the Golden Ball has been a pub for one hundred years and sits in the very pretty and historic village of Lower Swell. This is a great venue for the family with food for all ages, a gourmet burger menu and a friendly atmosphere. This pub also offers a veranda with excellent panoramic views looking out towards Stow.

The Half Way House, Kineton

A characterful 17th century inn based in the peaceful hamlet of Kineton, halfway between Temple Guiting and Guiting Power. Up until 1975 it was owned by Corpus Christi College of Oxford. Now it’s a comfortable local pub with good traditional food made using local ingredients. Children are welcome and there's a pretty, sheltered back garden.

The Mount Inn, Stanton

A traditional 17th century Cotswold inn which started life as a farmhouse, then became a cobbleshop, a tea room and then an off-licence. The Mount Inn is of special interest to a 'numismatist' as there is an extensive display of bank notes and coins from all over the world. The Inn offers breathtaking rooftop views of Stanton extending to the Malverns, and beyond to the Welsh mountains.

The New Inn, Willersey

A lovely pub with plenty to do in the games room and skittle alley - although if it's a quiet drink you're after, there are lots of quiet nooks and crannies too. Very family and dog friendly.

The Plough Inn, Ford

Beloved of racing enthusiasts, The Plough sits opposite the famous racing stables of Jackdaws Castle belonging to Jonjo O’Neill. Its excellent menu, grand sporting heritage and truly beautiful situation make this one of the very best pubs in the Cotswold area. Voted Channel 4 Racing Pub of the Year 2013.

The Queen’s Head, Stow on the Wold

Situated right in the marketplace-heart of Stow on the Wold, The Queen’s Head is bursting with old world charm and is popular with visitors and locals alike. A mix of heritage, atmosphere and pub grub provides a winning formula.

The Red Lion Inn, Little Compton

Warwickshire’s most southerly pub, The Red Lion Inn is a traditional honey-coloured stone retreat located at the edge of Little Compton. Set in a large, mature garden, the building features exposed stone walls, beams and inglenook fireplaces. Hearty fires are provided here throughout the colder months.

The Snowshill Arms, Snowshill

Neighbouring the spectacularly interesting Snowshill Manor, this pub has plenty of charm. Children are kept entertained in a generous play area and animals are also welcomed, making this a good place to take the family.

The Black Bear, Moreton in Marsh

A spacious pub occupying the highly-visited High Street in Moreton in Marsh, the Black Bear is known for its warm welcome and its 40-seater restaurant area, where good old Sunday roasts are served aplenty.

The Pheasant Inn, Toddington

Toddington's Pheasant Inn is the most recent addition to Donnington's collection of pubs. Renovated in 2016, it's located next to the historic GWR steam railway station. 

The Red Lion, Castle Eaton

The most southerly of the pubs in Donnington's stable, The Red Lion is a traditional village pub situated just off the A419 between Cirencester and Swindon. With a garden on the edge of the River Thames, you can even visit by boat!