Saturday 4 December 2010

inns & taverns: the tricorn cow

Sat amid rolling hills a half day inland, the Tricorn Cow is a two-storey tavern and adjoining buildings at the corner of a coach road.  The circular green sign shows a brown cow with a third horn jutting from it's forehead.  A haven for travellers risking the moorland roads, brigands and beasts are known to the locals.  The Cow keeps it's windows shuttered and peat fires banked.  This lets it avoid serious trouble, the three fierce mastiffs also help.

From the outside, the tavern and stables are nondescript and occupied.  Whitewashed stones and green-painted wood are accented with black pottery icons of local fertility gods.  The interior smells of burning peat, leather polish and pipeweed smoke with hints of sawdust, ale and sweat.  The paved floor is stained and worn in places.  The taproom can hold up to thirty people comfortably.  At any given time, between five and eight patrons smoke, sup or talk in low voices.    Candle-light reflects off copper panels behind their brackets, yielding homely ambience and deep shadows on whitewashed walls.   The hearth burns lumps of hardened peat.  A large slate behind the bar is scuffed with chalk marks indicating how many drinks have been bought.  Pride of place overlooking the bar is the mounted head of a brown cow with three horns and staring red glass eyes.  Those wise in animal husbandry see this is no fake.

The Tricorn Cow serves a strong brown ale with a hint of salt brewed in it's cellar and jugs of cordials made from local herbs.  It's proximity to a port provides wine and jugs of rum.  These are served in clay tankards and goblets skillfully made by one of her older children and the locals each have their own personal tankard.  Meat pastries, a thick onion broth and slabs of hard cheese are sold for fair prices.  In cold winters, mulled wine is served to local delight and high demand.  Enough ale is made that Amaret will sell the occasional small barrel to those who want it.  The barrels are decorated with a pot badge stamped with the insignia of a three-horned cow.

The landlady is Amaret, a blowzy, ruddy-faced goodwife with grey-streaked hair.  Clad in patched skirts, dark chemise and woolen shawls, her six children (who share her colouring only) work as stablehands, cowherds, chambermaids and brewers.  Her earthy humour and fiery temper endear her to workers and artisans, courtiers find her coarse.  She tells rude jokes, serves ale and enjoys the occasional pipe.  Handsome travellers may find themselves propositioned but locals find her strictly business.  Versed in herbalism, animal husbandry and brewing, she keeps the Cow running though she says one day she will move back to the coast. She will bring in a cook from the port to help prepare food for the winter.

Accommodation is offered to paying guests.  A common room that holds twelve is often filled by those who won't risk the moors at night, coachmen and their guests.  Two private rooms with scented candles and thick comforters are chill and overpriced.  Despite this, they are still popular.  The stables are well-kept and while the stablehands are young, they are skilled enough to tend warhorses.  The large mastiffs discourage thieves and skulking types and are confident around horses.  For the poor and desperate, Amaret will let them sleep in the cowshed but this is really the court of last resort and the smell will linger until it is scrubbed off.

Amaret and local coachmen spread a story about the Tricorn Cow being a protector of hospitality.  Along the way, the story gained notoriety and spread via the port. Now people far and wide invoke the Tricorn Cow against unruly guests.  The local nobility consider it a quaint story yet the mischevious provide 'evidence' of the Tricorn Cow's existence.  At least one dead brigand was found trampled and pierced by horns so maybe, just maybe... Needless to say, Amaret will not reveal the truth.  It's good for her business.


  1. Exquisitely realised. It's bringing back my appetite just reading this. Brilliant.

  2. Thank you very much :)

    Would you be mortified if I use the above as a testimonial for the blog?


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