There’s no shortage of teashops, pubs and little restaurants in pretty Stow-on-the-Wold. But our favourite place to recuperate after a bracing Cotswolds walk is at The Porch House in Digbeth Street, a short stroll from the town square. It claims to be the oldest inn in England, with parts of the building dating back to 947AD and huge 16th century stone fireplaces throughout. Chunky timber beams in the main bar (mind your head), dining room and some of the upstairs rooms also add to the bygone feel of this place, as does the flagstone floor.
Begin at the recently-refurbished bar (the whole inn was given a very expensive makeover in 2013), where a decent selection of ales are on tap as well as a fantastic Porch House Bloody Mary made from home-roasted tomatoes and thyme vodka. Sit at the chess table for a leisurely game, or cosy up next to the fire if it’s cold out. Be warned, though: it’s a bit on the posh side… bar snacks are more venison and black pudding scotch egg than a bag of Walkers.
For the big event, walk through a warren of stone passageways to the dining room (pictured below) – a warm, cosy space distinguished by huge stone fireplaces either end, complete with 16th century markings originally etched to ward off witches. The tables are actually parquet flooring samples stuck to cast iron bases, and the windowsills are decorated with stacks of aging books, protected by bell jars. It’s all very Hogwarts, but on a somewhat slighter scale.
Tables are candlelit, seats are comfy (something we always notice) and the lighting dim, although it’s not quite as romantic as you might imagine – The Porch House attracts just as many big groups as it does couples. Highlights on the menu include salmon (cured in black treacle and fennel seeds) or a delicate twice-baked Cheddar soufflé for starters; followed by the slow cooked Cotswold lamb with traditional trimmings for main, or a perfectly grilled 8oz salmon fillet served with some of the chunkiest chips we’ve ever seen. It’s polished pub grub, and as such the portions are mighty – one pudding between two is more than enough. Service is courteous and knowledgeable, although during busier times it’s stretched to the max.
After all that food, the best idea is to stumble upstairs to one of 13 individually designed rooms, including three feature rooms complete with ancient beams and stand-alone baths. The rooms are stylish (even the radiators are a feature), the beds incredibly comfortable, and the bathrooms spotlessly clean. It can be a bit noisy up until closing time downstairs, so if you’re with children request a room as far away from the bar as possible.