In December 1760, the landlord of the Ragged Cot, Bill Clavers, decided to rob the midnight stagecoach travelling to London. Before setting out, he gave himself Dutch courage and resistance to the cold with liberal helpings of rum. As he staggered from his bedroom with loaded pistols, his wife, with their young child in her arms, tried to dissuade him. In his anger he roughly pushed her aside and she fell down the stairs. Delirious he fled the house.
After robbing the coach, Clavers returned to the Ragged Cot to find his wife and child dead at the foot of the staircase. In desperation, he put their bodies in a trunk. The local constables, following his tracks in the snow, approached the house and, after getting no answer to their knocks on the door, forced a widow. A shot rang out and the figure of Clavers appeared at the door.
As one of the constables prepared to fire, a terrified scream was heard as Clavers saw the ghostly figure of his wife and child silently crossing the floor and disappearing up the stairs. Seriously freaked and unable to provide any resistance, Clavers was apprehended and tied to a chair. The constables began to search the premises. As they entered the bar parlour, they were confronted by the apparition, seated on the old oak trunk. Fearfully they retreated out of the house. As daylight broke, the body of Clavers’ wife and child were found in the trunk, and he was led away a doomed man. He was tried at Gloucester Assize Court, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
One can’t consider this a review, as it’s been on a decade since I’ve stayed there, and I believe it is now under new management. From what I understand the food is still quite good, the bar well stocked and you can never guarantee the appearance of ghosts.
We were traveling on a budget, so the more well known areas of the Cotswolds were out of our reach. I pored over guide books, which were the twentieth century version of the internet when I stumbled across the Ragged Cot. A 17th century coaching inn along the route we’d planned to take anyway, with its own ghosts, landlords with a penchant for Vermeer prints and an ungodly selection of hand-pulled ales and single malt scotches, I booked the room at once.
Some people can’t get a taste for hand-pulled ales, which is fine, as that leaves more for me. It’s the warm, flat English beer you always hear speak of. In reality it’s neither warm, as it’s chilled in the basement, and pulled up to the tap, hence the name, nor is it flat, as there is a modicum of foam at the top of the glass. What it is, is tasty once you develop the taste, and quite often it packs a serious punch.
The Ragged Cot is literally across the road from Minchinhampton Commons, 600 acres of scenic walks. It’s a short hike into Minchinhampton itself, which is a lovely little market town, all cotswold stone and the place absolutely reeks with atmosphere. We were escorted into town by random sheep, along lanes hundreds of years old. The commons overlooks what is called The Golden Valley, and despite some evidence of modern building techniques in the distance, it was easy enough to overlook these and feel yourself falling backwards in time.
I can’t say that our stay was disturbed by any ghostly apparitions. The only spirits in evidence were the kind found in bottles, and those were a plenty. I had made it my goal to work my way through all the ales and a good portion of the scotches, and I found ready help at the bar in the guise of a Feng Shui consultant on holidays from Greenwich. The food there was wonderful, traditional English fare, which to some may be a bit on the plain side. But for those raised on meat, potatoes and vegetables, it was filling, tasty and unpretentious.
After dinner each night, and usually for a spell in the afternoon I’d join my Feng Shui consultant at the bar, and we’d drink and chat, till our chats were punctuated with slurs. His concept of a holiday was to get out of the office and into atmospheric accommodations with a well-stocked bar. In addition, he had recently bowled with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull’s father-in-law. A kindred soul.
Our final night there was a Sunday, and a gang from a neighboring pub was meeting a gang of locals at the pub for a brawl. It seems that they get together on Sunday nights for traveling matches of trivial pursuit. On this particular Sunday the Ragged Cot was two men down, and my ex-father-in-law and myself were recruited into the ranks. Why they didn’t recruit our respective wives is beyond me, as if nothing else it would have thrown the opponents off-guard. Perhaps there are rules about such things.
Now neither of us are slouches at this particular game, both being full of worthless knowledge. So perhaps we were a bit more confident than we should have been, for it turns out it was the British version of the game. And at that, particularly questions involving current events, we were as worthless as testicles on the Pope.
Despite the current nature of the game, it did feel in a sense timeless to join in pub games in a pub which has been more or less in continuous operation for over three hundred years, in the dark of the night in the English countryside. Even though we were a drain on the team, they managed to stay close up to the final round, when providence struck. The final two questions, inexplicably involved American television, and after round after round of sitting there looking stupid, we managed the two winning questions. Our reward was our bar tab paid for the night, and a huge basket of chips.
After the pub closed for the night, we sat up late with the landlords, who were a young, very liberal couple retired from politics in London to chase their dream of owning a bed and breakfast in the country. I’m a liberal myself, so far to the left that I almost meet the right on occasion. My father-in-law is so far to the right that he almost meets the left. So as long as we argue the extremes we get along. It’s when we argue points to the center that the problems start. At times our hosts seem to turn for help to our wives to calm down the two drunken yanks, but they found no quarter there either.
Which of course is no problem at all for those who love a good argument, as we all did, so we sat drinking from the single malts till the wee hours of the morning, exploring the difference in thought between the English and the Americans. We argued gun control, the death penalty and of course the role of the monarchy, which included the fact that a certain, to remain nameless princess was barred from the Ragged Cot for unruly behavior. (It seems she was fond of riding her horse to the inn, and finds herself unable mount her horse, let alone to ride home, leaving a stranded horse, overturned tables and chairs and a truly staggering unpaid bar tab). Heated words were exchanged, we laughed till we cried and in the end we found common ground in the fact that we were all human, and as strangers opening up to each other for the night, infinitely interesting to each other.
Cut to the next morning, hangovers on a truly epic scale and trying to stare down a full English breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and blood pudding. More sunlight than I’ve ever seen in one room, illuminating the Vermeer prints which already shone with their own internal light. That’s my most vivid memory of a weekend at the Ragged Cot in, where spirits still flow in the night.