Richard James reflects on a journey steeped in history and culture complete with classic coaching inns, conkers and a serenade to a big band leader. First published in Carriage Driving - January 2018

Ten coaching years celebrated

Celebrating ten years of tours, the coaching enthusiasts the Stocktons and the Browns joined forces again this year for a five-day four-in-hand road coach tour, but this time with a difference.

Liz Jarman takes up the reins

We were delighted to welcome a new “tourist” so to speak in Liz Jarman who drove her own big Gelderlander coaching team to her road coach the Regent, which very appropriately is lettered for Stamford. John & Pebs Brown helped to horse the Regent and drove their cross team of bay and grey Gelderlanders along with occasional help from Kevin Stilwell and Mark Jurd with the ribbons. The Monarch was horsed by the dark bay Halloughton Hackney Team, and alongside coachmen Rod and Barbara Stockton guest whips included Bill Ginns, James Hanson and Janice Clough. Colin Pawson was guard on the Regent, and Peter Alder on the Monarch. Interestingly the two coaches were siblings having been built in the same establishment and both being facsimiles of an original Whitlock coach.

Eric Moss, a long time supporter of the Monarch and resident of Rutland, had always fancied taking a road coach back to some of the many iconic old coaching inns which still survive on this stretch of the famous Great North Road. So a tour was planned which, rather than a progressive route from A to B, deviated around the stunning countryside, giving the coaching folk a chance to look in more depth at the history, scenery, culture and watering holes of the area.

From the George to Burghley

We started our journey at the George Inn at Stamford, a very traditional coaching inn, full of character still sporting two named rooms at the front of the hotel the “York Room” (for those heading North) and the “London Room” (for those South bound). If you have any interest in those bygone days of coach travel The George is a must to visit.

An invitation to call at the magnificent Burghley House, longtime home of the Cecil family, which is situated just as you leave Stamford, was not to be missed. After a drive through the park on a glorious Autumn day and then negotiating the carriage driveway in front of the house, to be met by Miranda Rock a direct descendant of the first Lord Cecil, we all felt very privileged. The hot sausage rolls and warming glasses of port was the proverbial icing on the cake.

On to Oundle

The rest of the day was spent on the road to Oundle and we all had our first taste of the lovely countryside and pretty villages, not to mention picturesque bridges - coaching heaven.

Oundle town has a beautiful historic town centre and we were based at the Talbot Inn, another famous old and relatively well-preserved coaching inn. The town is dominated by the buildings of Oundle School and the size of the Talbot probably owes much to the fact that the school was in existence in coaching times. With no railway it was road coaches that transported the pupils at the beginning and end of every term.

Wide high streets are often a feature of towns that saw a lot of coaching traffic and it was possible ‘just’ to get the two coaches parked up in the centre, without stopping traffic in any direction whilst collecting guests.

Palace, pubs and history

From Oundle we drove out for the next three days in different directions, visiting amongst other places, Apethorpe Palace, a favourite royal residence for James I. Then on to Fotheringhay, famous for being the site of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution and birthplace of Richard III.

Culture, conkers and music

We also experienced some of the culture of the area, at Southwick the week before they had held the World Conker Championships and so, as we had passed through the village, we held an inter coach version. Peter Clough represented the Monarch and Lee Bonell the Regent. After a tense conker off, Lee Bonell was proclaimed Champion Conkerer.

At Kings Cliffe we halted for a tribute to Glenn Miller who played his last hanger concert there, a few weeks before being lost over the channel. Colin Pawson played a signature tune on the key bugle and we all drank a toast to probably the finest big band leader of all time.

Stilton to finish

The last day saw us make our way from Oundle down to Stilton and yet another incredible coaching inn, the Bell at Stilton. One of the Halloughton Hackneys had succumbed overnight to a virus and earned his sick note, so Bill Ginns very kindly lent his hackney leaders to the Monarch for the day. They drove beautifully with their new but temporary partners in the wheel.

The artist Cecil Aldin made the Bell unforgettable in his striking painting of a coach arriving at the traditional inn and the Regent and the Monarch re-enacted this in style. There again the incredibly wide high street in Stilton was there to accommodate the forty one coaches a day that would have travelled through in the height of the coaching era. More than one of our coaches’ passengers took home a souvenir of the famous blue veined Stilton cheese which was so successfully merchandised to the passing coaching traffic that its fame spread far and wide.

Our end of tour dinner saw thirty of us sit down to dine, to celebrate five days of unrivalled coaching and camaraderie. The appropriate thanks were given to the horses, the hard working staff and to the proprietors of the Monarch and Regent. Special mention was made of Eric Moss for his hard work on planning the route. Over one hundred miles in five days and as is our custom we raised our glasses for the final toast - “The Road”.