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'Queen Elizabeth nearly slept here'

The great Queen Elizabeth I had a disconcerting habit of ''dropping in'' on local noblemen and even humble hostelries as she traveled around her realm. Today many a hotel wall around England is adorned with a ''Queen Elizabeth slept here'' sign.

Nowadays it is unusual for a monarch to turn up on a common doorstep, asking for accommodation, but that is what happened last weekend at the Cross Hands Hotel, Old Sodbury, on the road from Stroud to Bath.

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Like many other English stories, this one has its origins in the weather. Queen Elizabeth II, traveling with aides in a royal Range Rover, had been visiting her daughter, Anne, at her home, Gatescombe Park, deep in the Cotswolds.

After lunch with the princess, Her Majesty headed home to Windsor Castle near London.

But a blizzard was blowing and soon drifts of snow banked up, blocking the route. The stone-built, 15-bedroom, two-star Cross Hands was the only available haven, so the chauffeur drove in to the carpark. Could Her Majesty shelter from the storm?

Italian-born Roberto Cadei, manager of the inn, swung into action like a squire of old. He immediately ordered snow to be swept from an outdoor staircase , and Queen Elizabeth was ushered into the best bedroom (normal price (STR)27.50 a night) with bath and shower and color TV.

Afternoon tea was offered and graciously accepted.

An hour or two later word came in that the road to Windsor was still blocked. Would Her Majesty care for supper? It seemed a good idea. Mrs. Cadei prepared a meal, which was eaten in the Cadeis' three-room apartment.

Was the really incredible about to happen? Would Mr. Cadei be able to claim next day that the Queen had spent the night at the Cross Hands?

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Soon after dinner the phone rang. The way to Windsor was open.

With apologies to the Cadei children - Adriana and Natasha - for ''keeping you up,'' Elizabeth returned to her Range Rover and left.

''It was unbelievable,'' said Mr. Cadei afterward. ''She told me that if the road had not been cleared, she had decided to stay the night.''

Mr. Cadei is trying to decide what type of sign he should erect outside the Cross Hands. ''Queen Elizabeth very nearly slept here'' is the favorite locally, but protocol demands that the wording must be cleared before any sign is placed in position.

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