THE claim is still contested, but even the brown tourist signs assert that the Bingley Arms is England’s oldest inn.
If you visit Nottingham, you’re left in little doubt that this singular honour belongs to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a remarkable warren of beamed rooms built into solid rock beneath the castle. Its brazen claim to the title – an affront roughly equivalent to them commandeering Yorkshire’s Robin Hood as one of their own – is picked out in tall black letters on the whitewashed stone, along with the date 1189, the year the Lionheart came to the throne. Its name honours his holy warriors who mustered there before the Crusades.
The Bingley uses much smaller type, its relative modesty characterised by a blue plaque advising that details of its historic merit “may be found within”. Yet its list of licensees, stretching back to Samson Elys, who was brewing here in 953AD, is an astonishing genealogy none of its rivals can match.
Tenth century records mention roast lamb and ale being served here; the Guinness Book of Records, which once listed a string of rival claimants to this prized title, has now acknowledged the Bingley’s priority.
I’m not sure any Crusaders drank here, but its history entwines with Christianity all the same. For its first 800 years it was known as The Priests’ Inn, a rest stop for monks travelling treacherous forest roads between Kirkstall Abbey and York. The giant fireplace has two priest’s holes which hid Catholic clergy during the reign of Elizabeth I. The local gentry held private masses here during that dangerous age.
Though the central section of this imposing stone building dates back to Elys’s day, you get no sense that the Bingley is a relic of something long gone. Instead you sense a bloodline which connects us to the past, and a pulse which still taps to the heartbeat of the changing times.
Heading upstairs, past heraldic shields and a tapestry depicting chivalric scenes, is like stepping into the heart of a medieval banquet. Giant beams and rafters of English oak form an impressive roof space; wrought iron candelabra and wall lights echo the flickering candles and blazing torches of old. In places, red brick has shored up crumbling stone, while wooden lintels have bowed under the weight of masonry and time.
Downstairs, light floods from the vast terraced beer garden into the atmospheric main bar of wooden panelling, a stone fireplace and more oak beams.
A fixed price Sunday lunch offers a great value £16 for two courses, and for me this means a hearty wedge of steak pie, chips and gravy, all washed down by lovely Timothy Taylor Landlord; for my partner the roast beef and a large glass of the house red. The huge portion of steaming vegetables – swede, carrot, mange-tout, broccoli, courgette and chunks of celery – defies our collective efforts to finish.
We have started with a slab of coarse chicken liver pate and a rich leek and potato soup; it’s just an extra £2 if you can make room for dessert.
The potatoes and Yorkshire pudding would be as startling to the average medieval monk as the Sky Sport in the cosy taproom. But as these weary visitors shook the dust from their robes, they would surely begin to recognise the commitment to good food, quality beer, genuine hospitality – and great value – which remain the hallmark of this very special public house.
Church Lane, Bardsey
Type: Atmospheric real ale and food pub
Opening Hours: 4.30-11pm Mon, noon-11pm Tues, Wed and Sun, noon-midnight Thur-Fri, 11.30am-midnight Sat
Beers: Tetley Bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord plus John Smith Smooth, Stella Artois, Coors, Moretti and Carling
Wine: Quality wine list
Food: Pub and restaurant food served from opening until 9pm Tues-Sat and noon-7pm Sun
Children: Welcomed - kids meals and high chairs available
Disabled: Slightly tricky access and some split-level areas
Entertainment: Quiz Thurs, Sky Sports. Parties and special events catered for.
Beer Garden: Attractive terraced area to the rear
Parking: Large area to the front
Telephone: 01937 572462