Feasts fit for a king in the Cotswolds
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
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.