Saturday, 18 September 2010
A Day in the Darenth Valley
I've not long returned from an excellent day out walking in the picturesque Darenth Valley; a day that saw us taking in a number of pubs, as well as enjoying the Kent countryside at its early autumn best.
Five of us met at Eynsford station and then, after descending down into the village and crossing the ancient stone bridge over the crystal clear waters of the River Darenth, headed off on a circular walk of just over five miles duration. We couldn't have chosen a better day for it, as with blue skies and almost wall to wall sunshine, it was the perfect day for exploring this hidden yet scenic corner of Kent. Our walk took us to the top of the other side of the valley, before descending once more and following the Darenth along its course back towards Eynsford.
By the time we arrived back in the village we were both thirsty and hungry, so made our way to the Malt Shovel where we were able to satisfy both of these needs. Harvey's Best, Young's Gold plus the dreaded Sharp's Doom Bar were the beers on offer. I opted for the Young's; the Gold being a new one on me. This proved to be a good lunchtime pint, pale golden in colour, as its name suggests, with a good hop bite to match. The beer proved the perfect accompaniment to the steak and ale pie I'd ordered and after having eaten and drank our fill it was time to move on.
Our next port of call was the Five Bells, just along the road. This was probably the most attractive, and traditional of the pubs we visited, especially as it effectively still had two bars. There was an impressive display of pump clips above the bar, but we must have caught the pub on an off-day as there was only Young's Bitter on offer; the Harvey's having recently sold out. Still, it was good to sit in this thriving village local which was much more a drinkers' pub than the somewhat food-oriented Malt Shovel.
A number of our party departed at this point; two of them heading off on holiday to the West Country. Against my better judgement I was persuaded by my two remaining companions to visit the Shep's pub just up the road. The Castle was pleasant enough inside, having had a bit of a contemporary makeover, but the only cask ale on offer, Shep's Late Red, proved to be undrinkable. The landlady replaced the beer with Master Brew which although not off, was bland in the extreme. I was glad I'd only ordered a half, but even so I ended up giving most of it to one of my friends. I really don't know what Shep's are doing with their beers these days, but without wishing to say "told you so!", I felt vindicated in not wanting to step inside a Shep's house in the first place.
There is one more pub in Eynsford, the Plough, situated back across the river, over-looking the ancient bridge and even older ford. We had passed there earlier in the day, when setting out on our walk. The front of the pub looked given over to dining, so we tried round the side instead. The Plough has been considerably enlarged from what must have been the original building, and on the outside at least, everything appeared to have been painted grey. Inside, things seemed to be on two levels. We asked where the bar was and were told it was to our left. One of my friend spotted a hand pump dispensing the dreaded Doom Bar; I thought I'd spotted a fount dispensing Pilsner Urquell! The techno-jazz-funk muzak emanating from the speakers was very off-putting though, and probably accounted for why most of the bright young things were sitting outside, sipping their glasses of chilled white wine, with the bottles keeping cool in their ice-buckets. Despite the presence of Pilzn's finest I was out-voted by my companions who wanted to move on.
We walked back up to the station, and travelled just two stops down the line to Otford, another picturesque village that, like both Eynsford and nearby Shoreham is home to four pubs. We visited two of them. The Bull is a Chef & Brewer outlet (not my favourite chain), but the pub itself is an interesting old building, parts of which date back to Tudor times. As it was a nice day we sat out in the garden at the rear of the pub enjoying some well kept Adnams Bitter, before moving on to another of Otford's pubs.
The Crown is a genuine free house, boasting two inter-connected bars and a wealth of old beams. The pub also hosts regular live music evenings. Harvey's Best was on sale alongside a House Beer brewed by Westerham Brewery. In addition there were two guest beers; Woodfordes Wherry and Hepworths Summer Ale. I sampled the Westerham offering plus the Hepworths, both of which were very good. We sat on the small terrace at the front of the pub soaking up the mid-September sunshine whilst watching the traffic negotiating the nearby roundabout which, incidentally, must be one of the few roundabouts in the country with its own duckpond in the middle!
Eventually and somewhat reluctantly, we decided it was time to go. A short walk back to the station, followed by a train ride back to Sevenoaks, where we were able to change trains and continue with our journey home, saw the end of what had been a most enjoyable day out. The Darenth Valley isn't all that far away from London and yet it is a world apart from the bustling metropolis. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity do take the opportunity of spending a bit of time there. It is well worth it.