There is something about a coaching inn - the thought of it conjures up the sound of iron horseshoes on granite cobbles, the smell of rain-soaked leather jerkins, the blast of a post horn cutting through a misty morning. Nobody this side of two hundred can effectively claim to have experienced any of these first hand, but our consciousness has soaked the sensations up from Morocco-bound volumes of Pickwick Papers or Fielding's Tom Jones.
Surely one of the finest voyages of discovery one can embark upon is an expedition to discover what is left of the great coaching inns of Britain, and, along with some old friends, Isobel and I started such an expedition recently. Our first objective was perhaps one of the finest - and most probably the most luxurious, coaching inns of the old Great North Road - the George at Stamford.
There has probably been an inn at this location close to the river in Stamford, Lincolnshire for nine hundred years or more, but the current building "only" dates back to the end of the sixteenth century. It is a wonderfully rambling buildings with ancient rooms set at wonderful angles, overlooking gardens and courtyards and the main road that once took travellers from London to the north. King Charles stayed in those rooms as did any eighteenth or nineteenth politician, writer or artist worth his or her salt. If you were travelling north you would wait in the York Room, whilst travellers heading south would congregate in the London Room. If you were wanting an excellent breakfast to see you on your way, and here I speak from experience, you would make your way to the Oak Panelled Restaurant.
The George has set the bar high as far as judging the standards of coaching inns we are yet to visit is concerned. But what fun we will have discovering whether or not they meet it.