We passed through several woods carpeted with bluebells, and it was nice to hear the birds singing in the trees. The weather, whilst still cool for the time of year, at least stayed dry and was certainly a lot warmer than it had been for most of the weekend and preceding week.
After being cooped up in doors, decorating for two days, it was really nice to be out in the fresh air! However, following April's record rainfall, the ground was very wet and soggy underfoot and we were all glad we'd chosen stout walking boots to wear. At least our feet stayed dry, but I have to question the Environment Agency's assertion that we are still in a drought situation, as given the saturated nature of the ground underfoot I feel that the reservoirs and underground aquifers must surely be well on their way towards being replenished by now.
Our route was a familiar one; up past the Victorian grandeur of Somerhill House, through the woods at the back of this stately pile, and then through the estate to Tudeley. From here we followed an undulating course that took us through more woodland, the occasional orchard and a very soggy field of rape. We arrived at the Dovecote shortly after midday, and after removing our muddy boots, made our way inside and grabbed a table.
The Dovecote doesn't have a website, so a few words first about the pub itself. It is situated in the small settlement of Capel, which lies to the south of Five Oak Green, on the back road between Colts Hill and Tudeley. From the outside it is a typical Victorian building, that has been extended at the front and the side, whilst to the rear there is a part-covered terrace, plus an extensive garden and large car-park.
Being in such a rural location the Dovecote has to have something different to offer its customers. It does this by selling a wide range of cask beers (up to six), direct from the cask together with good, home-cooked food all served in comfortable and uncluttered surroundings. On the day of our visit there were four beers on tap, and whilst some of us were slightly disappointed not to see any local beers on sale (the Dovecote is a regular outlet for beers from Tonbridge Brewery) we were compensated by the choice of a couple of beers that we don't often get the chance to drink in this area. These beers were Brakspears Bitter and Gales HSB, served alongside Harvey's Best and Taylors Landlord.
Most of us opted for the Brakspears to start with, and it was so good that I chose it for my second pint as well. At just 3.4% this beer manages to pack in bundles of flavour combined with that unmistakable Brakspears taste that comes from the use of the original yeast and the famous "double-drop" fermentation system. It certainly is the perfect session bitter. A couple of us were bemoaning the demise of the company's Special Bitter, but with the ordinary being so good, the absence of the Special didn't seem to matter quite so much.
The pub was starting to fill up quite rapidly, with a good mixed clientele, including a couple of groups of bikers who had ridden back from Hasting following the annual May Day Run. What is nice about the Dovecote is there is no recorded music or other electronic distractions to disturb the gentle art of conversation.
We ordered our food and didn't have long to wait for it to arrive. When it came it was as good as the beer; my prawn baguette being a meal in itself, especially as it arrived accompanied by a plateful of chips as well. I was going to have Landlord for my final pint, but after a friend had pointed out how good the Harvey's was I decided to go for the more local brew instead. Apart from at the brewery it's not often one gets the chance to drink this beer straight from the cask, and I have to say it really was in tip-top form.
We left the pub some time after three, but not before having a brief chat with landlord Nick. After we'd complemented him on his beer and his food, and saying how pleased we were to see the pub so busy, he told us that they had been like that for some time. It was good to see somewhere that is bucking the trend, but just goes to prove that if you give people what they really want, namely good beer, good food with fast, friendly and efficient service in pleasant surroundings, then they will come back for more. Incidentally the beer prices ranged from £3.25 for the Brakspears through to £3.40 for the HSB, which are pretty good for the area.
Our walk back followed a slightly different route and led us through both Capel and Tudeley churchyards. There had been a heavy shower whilst we were in the pub, but the weather remained dry on our homeward route, and the sun even came out for a while. All in all it was most enjoyable day out and a good way to end what would otherwise have been a disappointing Bank Holiday weekend.