I have a blog already about my travels round Crete, unfortunately I seem to be encountering a few problems accessing this, or indeed ever finishing it. So as there are two prongs to my travel interests, I have started a second, about interesting, out of the way or unloved pubs, as well as ones that are none or all of the above and sell cracking real ale.
For pubs to feature, the qualifying criteria is not in city centre's, not owned by Greedy King ( although this is proving difficult ), not being places to buy or sell goods, and not being packed with aggressive simpletons. Ideally the pubs are either in the Good Beer Guide, or better still on the national inventory of unspoilt pub interiors.
These are details of my jaunts around the U.K on public transport, on foot, driven by car ( can't drive ) and usually accompanied by devotees of good beer and exploring.
The first post is an article that I penned for Sheffield Camra's beer matters. They were very kind to print the first 3 parts of it, but then stopped, citing advertising space being required. I have to admit to being a bit put out by this, they were at the time in possession of a lot of prose on this favourite subject. So the first few blogs are intended as a catch up. This does mean that the info is likely a couple of years out of date, but am travelling about on trips all the time so more up to date details and posts will follow.
Below is the whole Kentish casks article.
Wee Beefy’s Kentish Casks
In a quest to visit the best pubs in the UK I recently decided to travel east, to the Garden of England. Wee Fatha offered to drive and Mr P joined us to share in the experience of drinking Kent beer in Kent pubs.
We set off early, and headed into Rutland, where Wee Fatha announced that the Grainstore Brewery Tap in Oakham opened at 11.00 AM (on a Sunday). Despite my looking forward to this I did wonder if this had been double checked. Despite the sign proclaiming food from 11am, all the lights being on and a full compliment of staff present, the brewery tap was steadfastly not going to open up. Normally, publicans refuse to open to save electricity and staff costs - Grainstore however were content to fully staff their premises and remain closed.
Unfazed, we crossed into Northamptonshire and the village of Gretton, a rural utopia based on it having 4 pubs yet only being the size of Bradfield. The Hatton Arms is hidden away down a narrow back street but still appeared busy. They sell beer from Great Oakley brewery nearby and we had their 3.9% What's Occurring along with Elgood's Cambridge, and Pedigree, all between £2.20 to £2.40 and a good accompaniment to the food.
Travelling back into Rutland we visited the Exeter Arms at Barrowden. Fatha and I had been here a few times before and we weren't disappointed by the 4 real ales from their brewery, Beach boys, Bevin Boys, BBC and a new beer Hop Gear. The weaker beer Beach boys was a bit disappointing alongside the Bevin and the Hop Gear but all were well kept.
We headed on through the rain to The Red House on the great North Road at Longstowe. This is a regular outlet for Potton beers but we had just missed their regular brew so tried the Woodforde's Wherry and Fullers Chiswick. Only enough time for a half unfortunately, we needed to make time to visit Brambles in Buntingford.
This pub is on a quiet road away from the town centre and sells Buntingford brewery beers and guests. I would normally avoid an establishment that sounded like a nursery or B+B but this is a traditional drinker’s pub, where we enjoyed locally brewed Red Squirrel Mild and the 3.8% Highwayman and IPA from Buntingford brewery. Before leaving the county we stopped at the Gate in Sawbridgeworth where we all tried halves of the 4.2% Is It Yourself? which was also in fine form. This friendly pub was very busy, and it was good to see them selling local beer, but we didn’t have long to soak up the atmosphere and soon arrived in Rochester to book in.
Seeking food, Wee Fatha suggested we visit the Horseshoe and Castle at Cooling, hoping for some Kent beers. There was no sign of the Larkin’s toted in the GBG but they were quick to recommend the Master Brew - apparently they turn over 2 or 3 Kilderkins a week, which should explain why it tasted so nice. It didn't persuade us to stop however because we were seeking something a little more adventurous.
We dashed through lanes to Gravesend and the Crown and Thistle, a small friendly pub with a good range of ales and the brilliant foresight to enable customers to order takeaway and eat it at tables at the back of the pub. The beer was very good, especially the Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers, and the Cotleigh Kookaburra.
Full up after more beer and a massive curry we headed back to Rochester and tried to remember where the Man of Kent was, based on me and Wee Fatha's last visit 10 years ago. On finding it we fought our way to the bar to get served ( as it was gone 10 ) whilst Wee Fatha parked. The pub was packed out and we were very lucky to spot space enough to sit down. We chatted to a couple from London who wanted to know why we'd come such a long way. The answer of course was in our hands. All the beers sold were from Kentish breweries; on this occasion Goacher's Fine Light and Gold Star, Whitstable East India Pale ale and Hopdaemon Incubus, whetting our appetites for more Kentish beers the next day....
After a refreshing walk in the rain to clear our heads, ( scrambling up a muddy slope to see kits Coty House is a sure fire hangover smoother, it has been alleged ) we headed across the county and set about finding a pub with no sign. Our first refreshment was at another Old House, this one being situated in a country lane in Ightham Common. Once known as the pub with no name, this national inventory listed pub has 2 rooms, with a small lobby as you enter through what looks like someone’s front door. The only way we deduced that we’d found the pub (in addition to knowing which lane it was on) was the 10 cars parked outside.
Once inside there are two rooms leading off, a large public bar on the left with an enormous fireplace and a smaller lounge or parlour on the right with its own small serving hatch. Regular beers are Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers and Flowers IPA with two guest beers. Mr P opted for the Flowers which I avoided on account of having grown sick of it when I was just a fledgling drinker. The guests were Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers, Oakham JHB and Purity UBU on gravity. These beers are brought from the back of the bar from behind a curtain; only the Flowers is on handpump.
The pub has that knack of lulling you into a feeling of relaxation and belonging and had it not been for inconvenient concerns like food I could have happily stayed all day. Alas we needed to move on, and opted to try the Padwell Arms in Stone Street. Overlooking hop fields and orchards this small pub is set back from the road and seems very popular. This may be something to do with excellent Larkin’s beers and guests with up to 8 beers in all. The food was also excellent which helped.
We had pints of Larkin’s Best, Westerham Freedom Ale, and halves of Badger Stinger and Whitstable IPA. I was disappointed by the Westerham beer; it was a bit tired and had a bizarre malt flavour, which transpired to be a feature of other Kent micros as we later discovered.
One exception to that however was at the Swan at West Peckham, home of the Swan on the green brewery. This pub is in a picturesque setting, on the green, as you'd expert, and uses local hops to flavour the beers brewed on site. The beers are light and hoppy and we tried them all – the Bewick was my favourite. At this point I should mention prices. Typically in Kent we were paying £2.30 to £2.60 for standard strength beers and 20 or 30p on top for stronger ones. The Swan was no different, I should point out, but we averaged £6.30 for a two and a half pint round and some topped £7.00. Whilst I recognise that things in general are more expensive in Kent it brings the lower duty paid in France into sharp focus when they are so close by.
With Larkin’s beers being an early favourite we head off to find another outlet. The Dovecote at Capel sells an impressive range of real ale, but the friendly couple behind the bar explained with some dismay that before they took over the owner had sold the lease to a large pubco with the result that Larkin’s was no longer available. They make up for it with a friendly welcome and up to 8 beers on gravity. We tried fantastic Gales HSB, 1648 brewery St Georges Ale and Harvey’s best, all tasting better for being on the stillage behind the bar.
Before we left they mentioned that we might get Larkin’s at the Tudeley Oak nearby, but the Larkins proved very popular and had gone, so we turned our thoughts to food. We ate at the Halfway House at Brenchly, who were having a real ale festival and we were able to sample some interesting beers. The Ballards Wassail is a favourite of mine and its rare to see it on draught so I was glad to find it. Between us we also tried Otter Ale, Bank Top Samuel Compton and Vale Wychert. The pub is very old and inside they have left the beams that showed where the walls were - without the walls. Novel and interesting at first, they should be given credit for trying to keep the original floor levels and layout, but if I'm to be honest, I soon got fed up with wandering through the medieval scaffold.
We headed back to Rochester but did not get to the George 5th at Brompton as planned. The rain and darkness proved insurmountable and we gave up after 20 minutes searching , just in time for the wipers to break. Back at the B+B Wee Fatha retired early, but revived after sleeping all the way to Brompton, I joined Mr P in the Man of Kent for more Whitstable IPA, Goacher’s and Hopdaemon. There was also a beer on from Millis brewery called Kentish Red. This, like the Westerham, also featured an unappetising Horlicks aroma but was clearly as fresh as a daisy. Despite the best efforts of the knowledgeable barman I couldn't enjoy the beer, and went back to excellent Goacher’s gold star to finish the day.....
Whilst Wee Fatha awaited road side assistance Mr P and I went to look around Rochester. As the rain started to fall again we sought shelter in the Coopers, an old black and white timbered pub with Courage beers and guests. Here we both tried Nelson Trafalgar ale and once again ran into disappointing malty strangeness, this time with a tart edge. It’s as if Nelson, Westerham and MiIllis breweries have colluded to pioneer an alternative to the traditional hoppy beers of Kent and make Ovaltine instead. What's strange is I have since tried bottle conditioned beers from the same brewers and found the Westerham excellent and the Nelson odd at the very least. Most disappointing.
Wee Fatha returned with a working car so we went to the George 5th in Brompton. Thus is a deceptively large pub with a room as you go through the corner entrance followed by a bar on the right and a room on the left. Although disappointed not to find the elusive Goacher’s Mild, the Harvey’s xxx Mild was a perfect replacement, and we ate a very sensibly priced lunch accompanied by Dr Johnsons IPA, a wheat beer from Okells and more excellent Elgood's Greyhound.
We headed South West next to the village of Trottiscliffe (pronounced Trosley). We parked up and followed a well worn path to see coldrum long barrow, in an impressive setting looking down a lush Kentish valley. The burial chamber was originally surrounded by standing stones, now laid around the edge, which provides an excellent frame. It was actually now very warm and sunny as we returned to the car so we sought refreshment. The pub in Trosley was shut, as was the Vigo Inn nearby, so we headed across country via numerous road closures and diversion to Stansted, and the Black Horse.
Stansted is a quiet isolated village and the Black Horse has the novel idea of opening all day. We found a good selection of beers, Mr P and I had Larkin’s and Wee Fatha tried the Millis Kentish Red and their Dartford Wobbler. The jury is out - I still didn't like the Millis beers. Retracing our steps we drove to Faversham, the home of Shepherd Neame brewery. Setting off for the old part of the town we took a narrow lane down towards marshland. We soon came to a sign (in felt-tip pen) saying "pub" and followed what was now a track for half a mile to a couple of wooden buildings.
The Shipwrights, at Hollowshore, is a white boarded pub in a spectacular location with views over the marsh and the Oare Creek. Inside is cosy and warm and there is a large stillage behind the bar serving up to 8 beers from the cask. I finally got to try a pint of the Goachers Mild, and it was well worth the wait. From the other choices we tried and enjoyed the Whitstable IPA again, a pint of Goachers Shipwrights ale and a half of Hopdaemon Golden Braid. It would have been great to stay for some food and more excellent beer but we had a long journey ahead of us.
We made up a bit of time so had chance to nip into the Bull at Beneden for a couple of halves of Dark Star hophead, before we arrived at our accommodation, the White Hart at Newenden. We decided to eat here, and were rewarded with good food and an excellent range of beers. Once we'd eaten and got the keys we decided against going out again and stayed to drink a few pints of Harvey’s best and Rother Valley level best, both in excellent condition. There were three other beers on offer but the Rother Valley and Harvey’s were too good in the end.
Breakfast at the White Hart is down to earth - a pot of tea and three full English. Although vegetarian, Mr P probably got more here than his veggie breakfast in Rochester, which prepared him for the day ahead. We aimed to head towards the Eastern tip and then down the coast and inland back to the pub.
Our first stop was at the Gate at Marshside, our first Shepherd Neame pub. The attraction here is that all the beers are served on gravity so we had a good opportunity to try most of the range in its best condition. I was surprised to find mild on draught - I never knew Sheps did a dark mild – but it was one of the pick of the bunch, with Early bird being the best, and complimented by excellent food. We soon reached Broadstairs via ferry queues, and parked outside the Brown Jug. The pub is packed full of breweriana and other adornments and is run by the friendly landlady who we ended up talking to at length with a couple of regulars. We were a little disappointed to find Greedy king beers but to be fair the Olde Trip was in very good nick and we ended up having quite a lot. The pub was quiet but homely, but if you do go there, be prepared for a bit of a trek to the outside loos.
Nearer the harbour we visited the Neptune’s Hall, an impressive Shepherd Neame pub that is on the national inventory. You enter either through the public bar entrance in the middle or the private bar entrance on the left side. There is another private bar entrance on the right but that only leads to a corridor, but the left sided one is perhaps unique. The bar is actually a small 2 seater booth which could quite conceivably have been separate from the rest of the pub. This is because there is a separate bar counter and a door behind it which I suspect was to allow the affluent and well to do to have their own barman whilst the proles in the middle section vied to get served.
There was Shepherd Neame Master Brew on draught, a good pint enjoyed in a relaxing place to sit and catch our thoughts. All too soon however we had to get back in the car and return to follow the coast to Ramsgate. Overlooking the town is the Foy Boat Tavern. The fact that I don't usually like seaside hotels as drinking venues probably stopped me enjoying this bar., but the beer was certainly not a problem, since there were 3 or 4 real ales on offer including Ramsgate Brewery Gadds No 1. This was a really refreshing beer , so much so in fact that by the time wee Fatha had joined us I had finished my pint.
We continued down the coast to Deal, a town with perhaps the world’s longest street. Regrettably, the pub we were visiting was more than half way down it. Middle street it transpires, runs for untold miles and through the middle of almost all of Deal. It was 15 minutes before we found the Prince Alfred, a small and very friendly pub selling up to 4 real ales. We opted for halves of the Burton Bridge Silver Medal which was excellent. After our hike we decided to head inland to Northborne on the promise of food, and the Hare and Hounds did not disappoint. Along with our meals we enjoyed a good range of beers, particularly the Harvey’s Sussex Bitter and the Mauldons Black Adder.
We didn’t stop long as the prospect of the Red Lion at Snargate pushed us on. However, as darkness drew in, Kent’s councils and highways engineers conspired to close the main road through Romney Marsh and not provide a diversion. Absurd chaos ensued as hundreds of vehicles tried to squeeze down the only country lane to New Romney, only to find that before you entered the town the road was closed again. With just enough space for cars to pass (off road) we pushed on past other traffic refugees to arrive an hour late at Snargate.
We had time only for a half each, but having visited the Red Lion before, even in the dim light I could tell that this national inventory pub had changed little since then. It is unfortunate that we had so little time because the interior is well worth seeing and the atmosphere worth taking in. Whilst Wee Fatha quizzed other Romney evacuees about our best route back me and Mr P supped Gateshead Gold and Archers Mild and one for the road. We arrived back at nearly 11 to find the pub still busy so stopped for another couple of pints of excellent Harvey’s Best and Rother Valley Level Best before retiring.
On our last day we enjoying more honest fat laden fare, but by now I had managed to come down with a shocking cold and stomach upset, which did not sit well with my hangover. Luckily the warm, sunny weather perked us up and we stopped off at Bodiam Castle nearby.
At midday we arrived at the New Inn at Hadlow Down in East Sussex, a pub that for the last 5 years has taken its place in CAMRA's national inventory. I had seen a picture of the pub, so this roadside former hotel was easy to spot. We parked up and found paint peeling, the front door locked and a man sat outside the open cellar drop. We asked if the pub was open and were advised that the landlord had just popped out, but unfortunately he did not open during the day. Other people had just driven away before us but I didn’t want to miss the chance to visit, and when the landlord returned we asked if we could pop in to look around.
The landlord, surprised to see so many people said " I take it you want a drink as well?” We couldn't refuse of course and he told us confidently that his Harvey’s was one of the best in the area. I can't say I disagree. The landlord took our correct money and piled it on the bar before leaving us to it. We chatted to his mate whilst admiring the interior of the bar room - an excellent barrelled ceiling and an impressive one piece bar back with three or four large old hand pumps in front of it dispensing Harvey’s and guests. The Hotel part of the building had not been kept open due to the unviable cost of heating lighting and maintaining it ( even as a function room ) so we could only see the two rooms, including the most basic games room I have ever seen - literally just a pool table a juke box and a serving hatch in the corner.
The landlord briefly reappeared and we bought some very reasonably priced bottles of Harvey’s ( creating another pile of coins on the bar) and after a final few photo's we had to move on. The landlord apologised for not having been able to chat but he needn't have, since we'd enjoyed excellent beer in a very unusual pub.
Heading further into Sussex the level of hospitality dropped. Deep in Winnie the Pooh country, The Hatch at Colemans Hatch was a stark contrast to the New Inn. This unfriendly restaurant stocks a few beers to sell to its valued food customers and had no proviso for either welcoming or seating financially unrewarding drinkers. Squinting in pretentious near darkness at the pumps we selected Larkin’s traditional and more Harvey’s before finding a much sought after seat in the garden. The beer was fine, but when my Dad took the glasses back (as a courteous person would) the bar person looked at him with derision, and then glared at us when we said goodbye. Judging by the prices I am sure that the pub can easily afford to alienate drinkers, but it’s disappointing that financial demands should affect visitors to that extent.
We were hoping to find a friendlier welcome at the Queens Arms at Cowden Pound a few miles away, alas the pub does not open until 17.00 - at least they had the good grace to advertise their hours on a sign outside. With hunger setting in we headed to the Wheatsheaf at Marsh Green, arriving just in time for food. Being quite unwell I only managed a half, but my companions tried the Harvey’s, Archers Perfect Guest and more Burton Bridge Silver medal. There is a wide selection of beers available at this pub.
Heading north now we reached the Surrey Hills and the Plough at Coldharbour, in a beautiful setting near Leith Hill. The brewery in the garden was in the middle of another batch as we sat outside in the sunshine, and the smell complimented the beer well. Still feeling grim I missed out on the Crooked Furrow and Hoplily Ever After from the brewery at the pub. I am assured they were tasty and refreshing beers on quite a hot day.
We followed winding lanes through the hills from the pub to Gomshall, where we visited the Compasses. 10 years ago Wee Fatha and I stopped in here for a pint when it was still a Gibbs Mew pub (and the beer was nearly as expensive then). The pub is the Surrey hills brewery tap and we tried all of there ales - Gilt Trip, Ranmoor and Shere Drop. A sure sign we were in affluent Surrey was the price, averaging £2.90 a pint.
Our penultimate stop was abandoned as once again traffic mayhem changed our plans. Only Wee Fatha knows why he opted to take the M25 and M40 in rush hour, but he did and this added 2 hours to our journey. Suffice to say we were a bit tired hungry and thirsty by the time we parked at Bourne End Station and walked down to the Thames ( or it could be the canal based on.... ) and along the towpath to the Bounty at Cookham, a pub accessible only by boat or foot. As we reached the entrance we heard the sound of blues guitar, and inside we got to the bar with minutes to spare for ordering food. Tea came with Rebellion Blonde, IPA and another of their range, the Blonde was very refreshing and perhaps the best on offer, but as soon as we had drained our glasses we had to head home.
Overall, we managed to visit all but one of Kent's national inventory pubs and it seemed that many of the pubs visited were some of the county's best. As always it was difficult to pick a favourite but we probably all rated The New Inn, Shipwrights Arms and George the 5th. And given the other point of the trip, our favourite beer? Well, consistently the best beer was Harvey’s, but Goacher's and Larkin’s came close behind, and the Rother Valley level best was my personal favourite. Finding our favourite beers in Kent from Sussex was a surprise result, but demonstrated only that we had to go again to make sure we were right…......