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Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Walk to Pembury

 
After my last post about pubs struggling to survive, it was good to visit one on Friday that was thriving. Seeing as the walk Eric and I had  planned along part of the Wealdway was thwarted by the closure of the Hare and Hounds in Bidborough (see below), we were debating where to go instead, and in what direction to walk. We eventually decided to walk cross-country to Pembury, have a couple of pints in one of the villages four pubs and then catch the bus back to Tonbridge.
We had more or less made up our minds beforehand as to which pub we would visit, deciding against both the Camden Arms Hotel and the King William IV. The former establishment, an old coaching inn, was ruled out as it has recently been purchased by Shepherd Neame. Neither of us are fans of this brewer's beers, and neither are we fans of Greeme King, who own the latter named pub. In fairness to the King Will, the current licensees have done an excellent job in turning round what was once a rather run-down establishment. In fact, last year it was voted as the "most improved pub" by my own local  CAMRA.branch, (West Kent). This made the Black Horse, on the village High Street,  the obvious choice, as we had also ruled out the sport-oriented Royal Oak on the northern fringes of Pembury.

The weather was dull and overcast when we left, with a chilly wind blowing. This was in complete contrast to  the previous day when I had gone out for my lunchtime walk without a coat! Not to worry, at least it wasn't raining, but the rather overcast conditions did mean that as we climbed toward Pembury the views the views back towards Tonbridge and across the Medway Valley were less than spectacular, being shrouded in haze.

Our route took us through the grounds of Somerhill House, once the manorial seat of the d'Avigdor Goldsmid family, but now home to a couple of fee-paying schools, and then down towards the hamlet of Tudeley. From here we followed the busy B2017 for a short while before turning off and beginning the ascent towards our eventual goal. We passed the racing stables of Daniel O' Brien, who runs a highly successful stud farm, before crossing the interestingly named Dislingbury Road. We were passed by several jockeys on their steeds out for a morning's ride, before turning off through woodland. From here we skirted the grounds of Pembury College, an elite fee-paying girls school. The path then passes through the churchyard of St Peter's Old Church, a most attractive building constructed from local sandstone, before joining up with the road that leads from the college passed the slightly less attractive, but still interesting looking water works that in part reminded me of a brewery.

We crossed the busy A228 Pembury Northern Bypass by means of a footbridge and then passing through more woodland arrived in the village itself. We gave the Royal Oak a miss, and headed into the centre of Pembury. Neither of us have done much walking during the last year or so, so we were a bit foot sore and weary by the time we arrived at the Black Horse, an attractive tile-hung pub fronting the Hastings Road, which before the opening of the A21 Pembury Bypass was a very busy thoroughfare.

Arriving around 1.30pm on a Friday lunchtime we expected the pub to be quite busy, which it was, but we nevertheless managed to find a seat at a table next to the fireplace. The beer selection was perhaps on the safe side with Fullers London Pride and Taylors Landlord complemented by the pubs "own" Black Horse Bitter, but as the latter is just re-badged Courage Best  we opted for the guest beer, Adnams Ghost Ship. This pale-coloured beer has a good assertive bitterness with a malty background and  a citrus flavour  from the use of  Citra, and  other American hop varieties. This was my first taste of this 4.5% abv beer. and it didn't disappoint. I also tried the Landlord which was equally good.

There was quite a crowd in the rear of the pub watching the racing from Chelternham, perhaps connected to the racing stables we had passed earlier. I have been visiting the Black Horse on and off for the best part of the last 25 years, What surprised me was that this was Eric's first visit to the pub since 1973 and he's more of a local lad than me! Apart from the pub being extended to the rear, Eric reckoned it hadn't changed all that much, so after checking on the pub's website it was comforting to see that it has been in the capable hands of landlord and landlady Gary and Michelle  for the past 22 years. The couple are obviously doing something right!

From the Black Horse, it was a short walk along the High Street to the crossroads, and then a similar distance downhill to the new Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury. From here we were able to catch a bus back home to Tonbridge, after what had been a most enjoyable day out.

Pembury is a large just to the north-east of Tunbridge Wells with a population of around 6,000.  The village centre, including the village green and High Street,  is a conservation area.

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