Feasts fit for a king in the Cotswolds


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - REG STEEL

THE Royal Stan­dard of Eng­land has been haunting me for years — not the flag that flies atop Buck­ing­ham Palace when the Queen is at home, but the hostelry, said to be the old­est pub in Bri­tain, snug in a ham­let sur­rounded by an­cient beech wood­lands, graz­ing pas­ture and quiet coun­try lanes. Nor does the haunting have any­thing to do with its two ghosts.

It’s bug­ging me be­cause the last time that I sat in front of the huge fire­place tuck­ing into a feast fit for a king, the mes­sage chalked on the black­board by the front door de­clared: ‘‘Closed to­mor­row for film­ing of Mid­somer Mur­ders.’’ As a devo­tee of that fine tele­vi­sion se­ries, this was splen­did news to me and from that day I’ve been on a mis­sion to tune into the all-im­por­tant episode, but frus­trat­ingly it has not come to my screen (un­less I missed it, which would be just too much to bear, ex­cept that some­where down the track there’s sure to be a re­peat).

The Royal Stan­dard of Eng­land is an ideal lo­ca­tion for mild- man­nered sleuth De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Barn­aby (then Tom, now his cousin John) to un­ravel yet an­other mys­tery in the Cotswolds. It’s been sell­ing ale and bon­homie for 900 years and has wit­nessed some pretty tor­rid times.

It was known as The Ship when first opened in 1213, and so it stayed un­til halfway through the 17th cen­tury, when Charles II al­lowed the name change as a re­ward to the build­ing for its role in of­fer­ing his fa­ther’s sup­port­ers a safe haven dur­ing the Civil War.

In the fight be­tween the Cava­liers and the Round­heads, the pub was used as a mus­ter­ing place for the Roy­al­ists, where Charles I raised his per­sonal stan­dard to rally sup­port­ers for his cause against the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

That’s where the first ghost comes in. At one stage the Round­heads took con­trol of the premises and sav­agely be­headed a dozen Cava­liers and raised their heads on pikes. Among the vic­tims was a 12-year-old drum­mer boy whose ghost can be heard to this day, some say, drum­ming in the carpark.

The sec­ond ghost is a shad­owy fig­ure that can be seen walk­ing across the bar and dis­ap­pear­ing into the wall next to the old fire­place in the Can­dle Room.

Be that as it may, what is more ap­par­ent is that Charles II en­joyed a tryst or two there.

As Lon­don’s The Daily Tele­graph recorded a cou­ple of years ago in de­scrib­ing the pub as a gem of a place: ‘‘Best of all you can dine in the room where King Charles II used to en­ter­tain his mistresses.’’

‘‘It’s a proper pub,’’ noted the pa­per. ‘‘Great at­mos­phere, su­perb lo­ca­tion, hearty tra­di­tional English food (al­ways cooked from fresh in­gre­di­ents) and an im­pres­sive range of beers. Sit­ting by the fire in the evening, drink­ing lo­cal ale and eat­ing mut­ton pie, you get the won­der­ful im­pres­sion that you are do­ing ex­actly the same as the first pun­ters did when the pub opened all those hun­dreds of years ago.’’

My per­sonal pref­er­ence at the fam­ily lunch I en­joyed in front of the fire­place was the roast beef and York­shire pud­ding, but I was sorely tempted by the shep­herd’s pie and the fish and chips (huge fil­lets of cod from the Baltic), the wal­nut and stil­ton salad and, of course, the English pud­dings.

The ar­chi­tec­ture of the Royal Stan­dard is quirky by mod­ern stan­dards, with one part of the rooftop slid­ing steeply from a great height to eye level, and the in­te­rior, with its cosy al­coves, much as it has been for cen­turies. Small won­der it was a favourite haunt of roy­alty and vagabonds, not to men­tion the high­way­men who dropped in now and again. Was the no­to­ri­ous Dick Turpin one such vil­lain to quaff a mead or two? That’s a mys­tery wor­thy of a Mid­somer Mur­ders in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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