Hark! The very floor you stand judders softly. If you listen close enough, you could pick up hoof-falls from battle-ready horses. And clang of swords. And hushed whispers of devout pilgrims who think destiny has summoned them to this inn in Nottingham in England, only to set them off on a pilgrimage to a far-off land in the following morn, a pilgrimage, where they would fight and die or perhaps win, for their deep faith in the church.
The inn, clung to the side of a rocky castle is one of their last stopovers before the journey to their final battleground in the east, at Jerusalem, begins. They call the sport the Crusades.
Drinking at ‘‘Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem’ in Nottingham, the oldest inn in England, today is a trip back in time, to happening moments some 800 years ago, where you could conjure up incidents the inn had witnessed after perhaps downing a mug of ale: spectres of brave men shuffling back through dark corridors of time, settle around in rickety chairs, bellow out for drinks, oblivious of a snoopy visitor from future. Over there, Richard the Lionheart, surrounded by his generals, sits hunched over a pitcher of ale, and knights, generations of them, roll in to the hall with tumultuous uproar and settle over here to broach their strategies over freeing the Holy land from Saracen infidels.
Much courage, much foolishness, much hope, much despair, much dreams, much world-weariness could all have dunked their souls in coarse ale poured and sloshed around inside these dim-lit rooms.
There are intricate caves deep below, where a brewstore once functioned; that serpentine cellar still holds in its dim-lit entrails, 900 years of miasma, from with the breaths of men, from the exhales of ale, quaint ancient flowers (which they say still come alive at times), musty walls and creaking timber. Mind it. The inn was born in 1189 AD. That means, the world has to wait nearly 200 years more to see the knight, the miller, the reeve, the cook, the friar, the summoner, the physician, the pardoner, the monk, the nun, the wife of bath, that odd company of 29 pilgrims promise one another a meal at Tabard inn, a reward in a story-telling contest they would enter into, on their long pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket – Read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
What holds your eyes in rapt attention at the Rock lounge as you climb a short flight of stairs from the entrance of the inn is a model ship hanging from the ceiling. Caked with decades of dust, veiled in beds of cobweb, the galleon, which could have been gifted to the inn by some sailor, is now but a cursed spectre, set to haunt you. Local legends warn you from brushing your hands against the ship that tempts as much as it could to dust up its length.
Three men who tried to clean the ship in the past met gory ends, the stories tell us. None attempted again since the tragedy.
The inn’s fascination with spectres does not stop with the galleon.
Keys disappear, an old-world perfume – lavender or rose water- suddenly wafts across the hall, glasses and bottles fly off shelves and smash themselves open when no one is around (they never found any shards of glass on the floor as they went looking to clean the floor. The ghost in the inn is more aural and olfactory than visual), dogs avoid a clock hanging on a wall, but only howl at it from distance with terror gleaming in their eyes.
Many hold the ghost of ‘Yorkey’, George Henry Ward, who owned the pub between 1894 and 1914 responsible. But, if a place has a history of nearly a 1000 years, it is foolish not to look beyond what is obvious, closer, and in the immediate neighbourhood in time.
Fingers point at Roger de Mortimer, English nobleman and de facto ruler of England after he had colluded with his lover Queen Isabella, in disposing off the body of her husband, Edward II.
Eventually the villain was hunted out and hanged by Isabella’s son, Edward III.
Legend has it that Montgomery met his ladylove in a secret chamber somewhere deep in the cellar which is connected to the castle far above through one of its serpentine arms, yet to be unearthed.
At the inn, you’d feel all 800 years of history in a single glass of ale you hold in your hand. Thus begins your crusade.