Porch House, Cotswolds: Ghosts, grub and great ale at AA Pub of the Year
“Do you see that chair over there…there’s an old man who sits in it smoking his pipe. People have reported being able to smell his smoke – and his greasy hair!”
No, not a dodgy regular at your local Wetherspoons…but a ghost.
Lads Holiday Guide had been invited to enjoy a night at Britain’s oldest Inn – The Porch House in the Cotswolds market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. It’s now a boutique B&B and restaurant which originally opened in 947AD, so it’s some 1068 years old.
The timber-framed pub might be years old but it’s still very modern inside, having recently been given a complete refurbishment back in 2013.
And it has been catching the eye of experts – having recently been awarded the prestigious AA Pub of the Year England 2015-16 Award in October 2015 having scooped the The Good Pub Guide’s ‘New Pub of the Year 2016’ Award just the month before.
Then in February this year The AA Guide presented it with Five Gold Stars for Guest Accommodation, two Rosettes for its restaurant and a Breakfast Award. Not bad going, hey.
Manager Alex Davenport Jones welcomed us on arrival and was soon giving us a guided tour of the Grade II listed building to fill us in on its fascinating history – and introduce us to its spooky residents.
“I find myself being nice to him” said Alex, speaking of the old man who supposedly sits in the corner beside the fire, seen below.
“Behind that seat is a filled in entrance tow secret tunnel which used to run from the church in case people needed to escape. Cromwell is said to have used it.
“There’s also been reports of a little girl appearing at the end of the bed in room 5.”
“Which room are we in?”
Any nerves were soon settled when Alex offered us a pint of the pub’s very own ale – aptly called 947. Brewed in nearby Henley, it’s just the kind of comforting hug of a pint to enjoy in front of a crackling fireplace.
“Cheers to the old man”, we thought.
We climbed the short staircase to our room, which sat above one of the two main bar areas – but noise was not an issue. The Porch House has 13 rooms
Inside we found almost an apartment, full of homely touches. A short hall led to the main bedroom, with views out onto the high street from the window and a roll top bath at the other end, perfect for an evening soak. A separate bathroom had a shower and loo too.
Each room also features a desk made from an upcycled Singer sewing machine base with oak top and rustic bedside tables madeby The Furniture Recycling Shop in Bourne End.
All bedrooms feature: Free WiFi, Phillps and LG TV’s, Nespresso Coffee Machine, Alarm Clock, and hand-made toiletries by Noble Isle and the Cotswold Handmade Soap Company. Feature rooms also boast a Roberts DAB Radio.
On the table, Alex had left another Porch House speciality – a bottle of Sloe gin for us to enjoy. A couple of glasses set us up nicely for dinner downstairs in the older of the two rooms which form the restaurant.
We were sat next to a roaring fireplace.
Pouring our wine, Alex pointed out: “If you look closely on the wall there you can see witch carvings dating back to the 1600s”.
A closer inspection did indeed reveal circular symbols carved deep into the fire’s surrounding walls; another nod to the Porch House’s past. Looking around the room, we imagined the tales these four walls could tell from over the years. Deaths, marriages, fights, friendships – and tonight most definitely fun.
We enjoyed a three course meal fit for a king of an era, expertly crafted by executive chef Anthony Ely’s award-winning team.
Soufflés and terrines for starters, steak and duck for mains and cheesecake and sponge for dessert.
An incredible menu which we could quite easily have tried anything and everything from.
Feeling full, headed off to bed to enjoy a final gin nightcap.
Then something strange happened.
Maybe it was the old man in the chair or the little girl from room 5, but during the night our lamp kept turning itself on and off.
If was enough to convince my brother the place was haunted – but for me I think Sloe gin was the only spirit messing with his head.
– Double rooms are from £99 a night including breakfast. The single room is £89 a night. Feature rooms from £159 a night. For more information visit porch-house.co.uk/home
– HOW TO GET THERE: Stow-on-the-Wold is situated on the highest point in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Oxford and Cheltenham are half an hour away by car, and Burford is a 15-minute drive away. London is a 1hr.40min drive. The nearest train station is at Kingham or Moreton-in-Marsh. Both on mainline services from Paddington and take 1.20min to Kingham and 1.30min to Moreton-in-Marsh. Stow on the Wold is a 15-20-min taxi ride from either station. There is off-road parking for four cars to one side of the property.