I’ve always had a thing about inns. ‘Bars with rooms’ don’t really exist where I come from (Ireland), so my image of them has been gleaned from fairytales and Tolkien.
They exist in my imagination as cosy resting spots when you’re weary from long, dusty travels and need to rest your horses, refuel with tankards of foamy ale and rest your head, clear of the threat of Orcs or highwaymen. In books, they’re often a place of intimacies – travellers gather in hidden corners to take time out from the drama (and any sketchy characters at the bar) to learn something crucial from their comrades.
Recently, a colleague and I hitched up our wagon, a borrowed Nissan (already, the dream seemed pitched too high), outside The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds. But things improved when we stepped over the threshold.
We were in England’s ‘oldest inn’, with carbon-dated beams to prove it. Flagstones lined the floor, ceilings were authentically low, and there was foamy ale – and a much-needed G&T – minus any sketchy characters. We were led through twisty-turny corridors to the dining room, where the innkeeper (sorry, manager), pointed out a protective ‘witch’s mark’ cut into the huge, 16th-century fireplace in the dining room.
We sat down at a lamplit table to a hearty repast far better than anything on offer in the inns of my books – pea and ham soup, local venison, ‘hedgerow’ crumble. We shared the sort of stories that only get told in the quiet corner of an out-of-the-way place.
Afterwards, we climbed uneven stairs to bath and crisp-sheeted bed with the news that hot buttered toast would be served in our rooms before breakfast. It was just like in the stories – only with better food.
Double rooms at The Porch House start from £99 per night on a B&B basis. For reservations, call 01451 830670, or see porch-house.co.uk