Quick! Out of the car park (thank goodness it’s too difficult for coaches to get here), across the narrow road (eyes right for the even narrower medieval bridge), through the porch (note the Stonesfield slate roof), over the flagstones (part of the original seventeenth-century fisherman’s cottage), along the refurbished interior (smells of ‘artisan breads’ and ‘rustic thick-cut chips’), under the beams (old oak), through the doors (new glass), and at last we’re where we want to be, out on the terrace by the river’s edge, gulping in the fresh air.
In front of us, in the midst of the river, is a little island linked by a picturesque wooden bridge (often featured in TV episodes of Inspector Morse and Lewis but tantalizingly locked to pub patrons). Beyond lie the quietly sad ruins of Godstow Abbey where Henry II’s beloved mistress, Rosamund the Fair, lived out her final days. Beside us, the river gushes through the roaring weir, helping our drinks slip down more sweetly.
The Trout Inn. It’s one of Oxford’s best known tourist spots. And let’s face it: we’re all tourists here. Mostly middle-English, mostly middle-class, and mostly middle-aged (though there’s usually a smattering of students being treated to lunch by proud parents.) Chances are it was one of the first places to which you were brought when you arrived in Oxford, and you may still bring people here yourself if they’re visiting for the first time – especially if they are fans of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust in which it features prominently as home to eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta.
Lewis Carroll sometimes rowed here with Alice Liddell and her sisters. C.S. Lewis liked to dangle his legs over its river wall, enjoying cheese sandwiches with his Inkling friends. Intrepid Victorian undergraduates were wont to venture upstream for an ‘eel tea’ – stewed eels washed down with flagons of cider-cup. In earlier centuries, fishermen, boaters, farmhands, and especially pilgrims sought it out as a place of rest and refreshment …
Pre-pandemic tourism in Oxford generated some £800 million per annum. Tourism more than two miles beyond the city centre generates significantly less; but on a warm summer’s afternoon one could be forgiven for thinking that much of it seems to be passing through the coffers of The Trout. It was restyled in 2019 and the colourful old pub sign changed into something altogether more restrained; but the ‘Hey Guys, what can I get you?’ factor seems, if anything, to have intensified.
The only long-time local here is its most exotic attraction: a peacock struts imperiously around the river terrace and the small garden yard behind, occasionally exploding into a fanfare of colour and noise. His name is Krug. He is decorative, self-preoccupied, not especially friendly, occasionally even annoying; but despite it all there’s something compelling about him, somehow unforgettable – not unlike like the place itself.