Herefordshire - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection

Kington is an historic market town on the English/Welsh border, and though on the western side of Offa’s Dyke, it has been English for a thousand years. There was a Saxon settlement on the castle hill, but the modern town is of 13th century origin and rightly claims to be a centre for walking. In the opening chapter of Robert Goddard’s ’Borrowed Time’, the main character, Robin Timariot, is walking the long-distance footpath along the Dyke when he encounters a woman, with whom he has an unforgettable conversation.
"My destination that night was Gladestry, a village about three miles west of Kington, where I'd booked a room at the Royal Oak Inn. The walk to it along Hergest Ridge was a pleasant one according to my guidebook, so I’d decided to leave it until the cool of the evening. I spent the late afternoon in Kington, pottering aimlessly round the shops until the pubs opened and I could slake my thirst. At a corner table of the Swan Inn, I eavesdropped happily on the local gossip while trying to do some of the thinking my week in the hills was supposed to facilitate".
On his return home to Hampshire, Timariot discovers the woman he met had been raped and murdered and he becomes obsessed with the search for the truth behind the crime. By the time we reach chapter twelve, three years have passed and there has been another murder. Still seeking the truth Robin Timariot returns to the area:
"I made my way down into Kington and called at the Swan for a drink, as I had three years before. This time, however, I struck up a conversation with one of the locals, who didn’t seem to mind discussing the murders one little bit".
Robert Goddard is a highly successful thriller writer and Borrowed Time (1995) was his eighth novel. As I write in 2011, he has gone on to write a new novel each successive year. Born in Hampshire, Goddard read History at Cambridge and worked as an educational administrator in Devon before becoming a full-time novelist. He is the author of many best selling novels, including ’Past Caring’, ’Set in Stone’ and ’Into the Blue’ (the first Harry Barnett novel which won the first ’W.H. Smith Thumping Good Read Award’ and was dramatized for TV in 1997 starring John Thaw.
The Swan is a 19th century renovated coaching inn with nine ensuite bedrooms. The building is grade II listed and full of oak beams, wooden floors and solid oak furniture. They serve decent ale including Herefordshire brews and the food ranges from bar meals to substantial steaks and roasts.

Kington – Swan Inn – Robbert Goddard

In the late 1850s Charles Dickens began to contemplate a second visit to America, tempted by the money he believed he could make by extending his reading tour - hugely successful in Britain - to the New World. The outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861 put those plans on hold. After the war, renewed offers from America of huge profits if he would read there convinced him to go, despite questions of poor health and objections from his friend and biographer, John Forster.
Forster lived at Wilton just across the river from Ross, in what is now the Castle Lodge Hotel. Dickens came to Ross in September 1867 and stayed at the Royal with the purpose of meeting with Forster to discuss and arrange the trip. Forster was very much against the adventure because Dickens had been involved in a train crash in Staplehurst in Kent a couple of years before and had never fully recovered his former health and strength.
Dickens went ahead anyway but found the undertaking a great strain. He arrived in Boston on November 19, 1867. Though a few articles appeared in the press concerning comments he made following his first American visit, more than a quarter of a century before, these were quickly forgotten and Dickens was again adored by the American public. His health, however, was in rapid decline and he suffered greatly during this trip. He died three years later at the age of 58.
Situated near the town centre, and built high above the horseshoe bend of the River Wye on a sandstone cliff, the Royal enjoys some of the best views of the surrounding countryside. The Hotel had been built just 30 years before Dickens'os visit specifically to cater for the burgeoning Victorian tourist market. They are proud of their association with the author and promote the connection with a plaque on the building and various framed tributes and prints of Dickensian characters inside.
The Royal has undergone recent extensive refurbishment but still retains the elegance of a real grand old hotel. There is a small bar with a bistro and terrace leading off (all with spectacular views) where they serve a bar/bistro selection of lighter meals. And the grand restaurant serves a newly launched a la carte menu.

Royal Hotel - Ross on Wye - Herefordshire - Charles Dickens

Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the review.

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