One recent Sunday afternoon, I found myself at a loose end in Nottingham. Obviously, the first thing I did on checking out of the hotel after a heavy session the night before was to find a J.D. Wetherspoon’s and get a traditional English with a beer chaser. That business concluded, with about three hours to kill before my train came, I decided to take a stroll over to the castle, which was (almost) on my route. Being Welsh, I have a thing for castles. No disrespect, but as it happened, Nottingham Castle has nothing on any castle I’ve seen across the border. I don’t know why, I’m not an expert. It just didn’t seem to have much character. Not enough to make me stop for long, anyway. So I kept on walking, and down the road a bit I stumbled across a cute little whitewashed pub set in a courtyard called ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.’ Sometimes you find the best things when you aren’t looking for them.
I remembered thinking what a strange name that was. A lot of pubs in Britain are named after something connected with the local history. The Plough, The Hope & Anchor, or The Railway Inn. As far as I knew, Jerusalem was a long way from Nottingham. I could tell the pub was old. It had that clumpy, uneven look about it. But I didn’t realize how old until I saw the sign outside that said, ‘The oldest Inn in England, Est. 1189AD.’
That settled it. There was only one place this path was leading.
Inside, it looked just as old as it did on the outside. Wooden tables and chairs, sloping ceilings, there’s even a suit of armour standing in the corner. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a cheap imported lager in a place like this, so I got a pint of Fuller’s Wild River, took a seat in a quiet corner, and whipped out my Kindle. That felt weird too, and I found myself wishing I’d brought at least a paperback, if not some form of ancient scripture to read instead. It was like being in a time slip. I kept expecting a buxom blonde waitress with a massive heaving bosom to come waltzing through. Or I might have just been hoping. Either way, no such luck.
When I got home I Googled Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, and found that the pub is attached to rock caves which were once used as a brewing house, and are believed to date back to around the time Nottingham Castle was built in 1068. As you can probably imagine, it has a suitably grisly history. The pub is said to be plagued by poltergeist activity, and there is a disused condemned cell on the premises where prisoners were shackled to walls and left to starve to death. My favourite story is the one about how they keep a cursed model Galleon in a glass case. Superstition has it that anyone who cleans it will die or suffer terrible luck, so everyone stopped cleaning it years ago and now it’s covered with a thick layer of grime.
I also discovered that Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem isn’t the only place that claims to be the oldest pub in England. In fact, there are two more in Nottingham alone. If I’d had more time I could have gone on a mini-pub crawl and decided myself which one was the oldest, or at least which one was the best, but I had a train to catch.
*All photographs nicked off the internet. If they are yours, blame Google Images.