The dark streets are overcrowded, noisy and foul smelling. The air is heavy and wet. The smell of rancid waste fills your nostrils and hits the back of your throat. Lowering your eyes to the ground, anxious to avoid stepping in the sludge of filth that carpets the street, you notice an old man stumble and fall heavily in front of you. His death is not your concern.
You turn and guide your horse off the main path of the street and onto the cobbled courtyard of a posting house. A stable lad is grooming a fine black stallion as you emerge into the yard.
“Any chance of a drink for my horse?” you ask, noticing a trough of water to the side of the yard. The lad nods in the direction of the trough.
It is 1680 and you are watering your horse at what is now known as ‘The Olde Starre Inne’ - York’s oldest licensed public house.
The air around you fills with the desperate cries of wounded and dying men and the unmistakable smell of blood and death hangs in the air.
Fear grips your soul as the sound grows louder and closer - but there is no one there, except you... and the stable lad.
The lad shrugs, “Ignore it! It is nought but the cries from the surgeon’s blade. Before my time, you know... back in ‘44, after Marston Moor. Them Parliamentarians, they brought their injured and dying here. Used it as a bloody billet hospital and morgue, they did. It is said the landlord was none too happy, him being a Royalist and all. Don’t suppose he had much choice, them filthy Roundheads havin’ taken the city from Charles. Mind it wasn’t long after that they took his head too.”
Today you can visit the pub in much the same way as you would have done in 1680; I do frequently. It is my favorite public house in the city of York; warm, welcoming and always filled to the brim with fabulous folk from near and far. The bar staff are entertaining, knowledgeable and always on hand to recommend a new cask ale to my husband. Being a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) pub there are always at least five good quality ales on tap. Nothing beats a leisurely drink at the Olde Starre Inne on a Friday night after a hard day’s writing. I like to sit outside in the courtyard staring up through a gap in the ancient buildings at the towers of the Minster.
On cold, rainy evenings it is a small room to the left of the front door in which I enjoy my glass of white wine. But be warned, the two black cats that are often seen running playfully around this room do not belong in our time. I have seen many a tourist bend to stroke the friendly cats, only to rise, confused from their stoop to stare comically at their drink as they discover the cats were never there.
It is not just humans who are fooled by the specter of mysterious haunting at the pub, for there is a ‘thing’, never seen by the human eye that appears visible only to dogs. On several occasions unsuspecting pooches have been seen to suddenly bare their teeth and launch themselves with a terrified howl at a hostile phantom by the bar. Passing straight through the ‘thing’ they have been known to collide with the back wall, bouncing straight off it and falling in a gangling heap on the floor. In fact, one dog is reported to have actually knocked itself out in the 1980’s attempting such an attack.
So, if you are ever in York, I dare you to wander up Stonegate, look for the banner stretched across the street and take the entrance below to York’s oldest licensed public house. Go hear for yourself the cries of the dead as you lift your mug of ale and sup to King Charles and his head.