Last night I stayed at the oldest pub in the country. At least I think I did. It's pretty old anyway.
The Cridford Inn has medieval windows, open fires, low ceilings (that I banged my head on three times despite repeated warnings from a motherly member of the team), wooden beams, an ancient bread oven and a section of floor, dating from 1081, protected by a glass covering.
Well, the assumption is it dates from then because it has been written out in stone by someone with the initials HJ. I suppose it's possible that HJ was a bit of a wag. He could have done that relatively recently, like say 1180, just flipping a couple of digits like George Orwell would some 800 years later in 1948. But let's go with it. Let us trust HJ. It does look very old.
It feels old too and the staff have told me it is and they seem the trustworthy sort. Plus, lots of tourists from Japan and America come to the little village of Chudleigh in Devon, to have a nose at a proper old English pub.
It's just that, well, it might not be the oldest.
You see, even though the building itself dates from somewhere around 800AD, it's hard to pin down precisely how old it is compared to other old pubs. I don't think record keeping was very good in those days, and it was definitely built sometime before Zoopla, Right Move and Google Earth started keeping a close eye on every property in the land.
It hasn't always been a pub either, so that probably goes against its claim. It became The Cridford Inn relatively recently. It was a nunnery before that, which I think adds to its history. Was HJ a nun? Perhaps he was a she? He was definitely a she if she was a nun. Would she have preferred to have been in a pub? Could she have imagined that her initials would be walked over, and thought over, for 1,000 years? I bet nobody is reading this blog in 1,000 years' time. I'm sure of that.
I put out a tweet about the pub's old age (you couldn't have done that in 1081) to see if anyone would bite on claims that it is the oldest. A couple did, in the nicest possible way, like two old mates laughing in disagreement over a pint.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham says it is the oldest inn in England. And it must be old because it spells old with an 'e' on the end.
I like what they said though, that the important thing is celebrating serving customers and indulging in heritage and great beer:
Another one that joined in was Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans (again, note spelling).
That pub's history can be traced back to 793AD and it is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as ye oldest pub in the country.
Maybe that's the winner - or maybe it doesn't really matter. As Ye Olde Cock (or the person running their Twitter account) suggests, it is a good debate, especially over a pint.
It's good for pubs to have a USP, something that nobody would have said in 1081.
I'll remember the Cridford, partly for its claim to fame but more so for the peaceful night sleep with only birdsong to disturb me, the platter of food cooked by a talented and dedicated chef, the bar lady who also helps her husband run a falconry school (they've got a golden eagle) and the owner to whom I chatted for longer than either of us had planned.
It's great to have a USP but it's even better to have substance.