The Parson and the Publican in Ross-on-Wye
PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:57 20 February 2013
The Parson is The Reverend Ian Charlesworth. His co-writer, and navigator is watercolourist and former innkeeper Richard Stockton
In the words of the Parson
What a magnificent erection, exclaims the Old Licensed Victualler. Indeed it is, soaring above the town of Ross-on-Wye the spire of St Marys is a fixed point in the surrounding district.
Many and oft are the times that I have driven by the famous view of Ross, always with the intention, when time allowed, of stopping to have look around so when a dinner companion mentioned that we really ought to visit The Mill Race in Walford it seemed the ideal opportunity to tick this off the to do list.
I suggest as we travel through the Golden Valley that we could have a bucket list of places we had always meant to visit. With the blower doing its best to both warm the Sweet Chariot and de-fug the windows I am not sure that the OLV quite catches my drift so a considerable part of the journey is spent explaining that I wasnt implying that he was going to kick the bucket any time soon, that I had indeed noticed the healthy glow of vitality blooming in his cheeks and his nose certainly appeared nice, cold and slightly moist although I had rather thought that to be due to the wintry wind than anything else. Thankfully he is mollified and ready to be impressed as we pass over Wilton Bridge.
Sitting on its eminence above the River Wye makes the approach a stiffish pull and so we eschew the first car park we come to on the flat plain at the foot of the hill and push on up. Red cliffs of sandstone guard the approach, as does a single tower and the remains of the town walls. It is clear why this spot was chosen when the founding fathers were looking for somewhere to keep the sheep safe from from flooding and depredation.
As we come again into sunlight we are greeted by the Man of Ross not a nice touch by the town council but a pub which is always a nice touch. I file the location for future reference currently I am in hot pursuit of the car park signs. Now there are a number of these but, and Dear Reader, pity his lot the OLV is a little hors de combat having had recently undergone a procedure. Not anything cosmetic but a new knee. He wasnt best pleased at having worn out the old one and rather thought that such complaints should be mine rather than his. It is, he feels, a poor show when the Publicans knee gives out before the Parsons and darkly mutters that I cannot have been using it enough. So as well as finding parking I have to find parking he can manage.
Ross is well supplied and one is found although, in the way of hilltop towns, it is uphill for part of the way nonetheless. I chivvy him on with the thought that it will be downhill all the way back. Really the man, boon companion as he is, can be quite short at times. Not long I think until a painkiller and a pint should see him sleeping nicely all the way home!
He cheers up considerably when we come through into the main shopping thoroughfare. Here is situated a splendid market hall. All in red sandstone weathered by several centuries of wind, rain and sun; the arches enclose a generous space to keep the marker traders dry. A stair through a dark oak door invites us upwards
to a display of local history and the information centre. We resist for the moment drawn rather by the very attractive streetscape rolling down the hill before us.
At street level many of the shops are familiar from high streets across the country although Ross has a good number of independent shops to vary the view. Above the shop fronts there is a delightful mix of styles. Immediately behind the market hall is a black and white building that declares itself to have been the home of John Kyrle, the actual Man of Ross, so named for his numerous benefactions to the town. Across the way another black and white building rewards closer examination as what appear to be bearded faces, fruit and flowers decorate what is clearly a building of some age.
The street narrows beyond this and we are drawn along by its relative intimacy. Here are a number of delightful shops. A cook shop displays a huge range of gadgets and decorative items for the country kitchen; a waft of garlicky, spiced air indicates the presence of a delicious deli. The aptly-named Truffles is packed to the rafters with tempting titbits and tipples. Equally tempting to two bibliophiles is the bookshop further on but since both pantry and bookshelves are packed to capacity it is necessary to resist.
The OLV notes with a hint of sadness that Senior Management has indicated that he is not to bring any more books home until he has found room for the ones already there. I mention that a removal man once told me how they hate moving vicars because of the books; but I comfort myself with the memory of a visit paid to an elderly cleric who had so many books that not an inch of wall space was left for shelving. Even the wall around the cistern in the lavatory had been shelved and contained anthologies for light reading in short bursts.
So, glad we stopped to enjoy the delights of Ross, we make our way back to the car in search of a little light luncheon and some warmth.
The hilltop location ensures Ross many things, including a bracing breeze.
In the words of the Publican
What bit dont they get about a warm welcome? I enquire of my old chum the Parson in a whisper as the barman complete with name tag endeavourers to light the log burner (a task we suspect he was interrupted at earlier in the day). We are in the bar at the Mill Race in Walford near Ross-on-Wye, it is nearly one oclock and we are hungry, thirsty and cold.
Unfortunately, I continue in the same pompous vein, these places with grey toned floors, brown furnishings and minimalist pallid dcor arent the warmest looking places either.
We take our pints off the polished pink granite bar counter with the menus and sit at a table in stony silence. I feel crabby and keep my heavy tweed coat on raising the blue-spotted, yellow cravat a couple of notches further up the neck. I soon become aware of faint rattling beneath us and say to the Parson that perchance one of the establishments green heating systems has kicked in, which (so we read) uses spent cooking oil; only to realise that in fact it is my knees shivering and knocking together underneath
Its all right for you, I say swanning about in the draughty rectory in your Viyella nightshirt but I am a tad older, the bloods thinner.
His bushy eyebrows bounce heavenwards like a brace of leaping hares.
What blood, he exclaims (rather cruelly I feel) as he stares at my half empty pint of the pippin juice.
Mm, heavy on the game, says the ecclesiastical font of all knowledge as he ponders the list of runners.
Hardly surprising, says I, they have their own estate shoot which presumably keeps the game larder well stocked.
The friendly barman comes and takes our order and as the spirits rise with the warmth now emanating from the log burner and the high octane juice from the orchard I discard the worn Norfolk jacket. Our spirits rise further as the hefty game terrine topped with lightly fried quails egg is placed in front of the Parson and my scotch egg, served warm with a perfectly-cooked yolk and smoked barbecue sauce is as good as any I have had. and we start to reminisce about bygone shooting days.
Next in line after Senior Management, but before Nanny, the greatest love of my life was a female black labrador whose name I regrettably am unable to put to print dear reader owing to recent race relations legislation. Whether it was my scintillating wit after the port or the well behaved labradors brilliant nose I know not but we were in fair demand for picking up on the local shoots.
An old school chum of impeccable pedigree would invite me and the lab to pick up on his familys shoot. The main part of the estate was owned by his uncle, a tall, rangy, woollen hweaded old duffer whose love of field sports was only matched by his enjoyment of the chase, not only of the fox but also the fair sex. So the beaters cry of cock over my Lord was often met with knowing looks among the guns.
I am interrupted by our amiable and busy barman who clears and I notice that our main courses are waiting patiently at the pass. Now my old chum cant resist a faggot and this plump venison specimen sits contentedly on a creamy mash with some winter kale garnered, we wonder, from a patch frequented by the pigeons which, thus plumped, flavour the game terrine.
They certainly follow through on the green credentials here, says I before turning my attention to the juicy Hereford beef burger with a tasty-looking salsa all on a bun that has appeared before me.
We dig in as the good trenchermen we are and I continue the saga.
On this particular day one of the guns had invited a guest, a scrap metal dealer from Brierley Hill who, it soon became apparent, was unused to the finer points of shooting etiquette. He shot across his neighbouring gun, poaching his birds, shot low endangering the beaters and their dogs and, much worse, took no notice of the keepers whistle signalling the end of the drive. By lunchtime his Lordship had been told of his guests misdemeanours.
The rituals of the shooting luncheon were rigorously observed. Hhis Lordship would kick off with a good slug of Club Amontillado and while everyone else took one glass he never counted his own. The man from Brierley Hills second glass was noted with annoyance by his host. The end of the repast was heralded by the appearance of the half-stilton. It was a particular point of pride with his Lordship that, with due diligence, it would last the season. As the port progressed around the table each guest knew to cut horizontally, thus enabling cook to cover it afterwards with a sheet of buttered grease proof paper to keep it moist. The miscreant, when it arrived in front of him, without any thought or hesitation cut a hefty wedge as one would attack a Victoria sponge cake. There was what one could only describe as a deafening hush; knives were returned to plates, glasses to table in unison. His Lordship overcome at last with fury and wrath arose from his chair and bellowed: I dont mind you nearly shooting your neighbours, wounding my beaters and killing
their dogs but you, Sir, have just buggered my stilton!
Tell me, I ask, as the ecclesiastical chauffeur presses the starter button amid the polished veneer did I ever tell you about the maggots racing around the Wedgwood and the to-do with the EHO? And with this wealth of tales we make our way home, warm and satisfied after an excellent lunch.