Kent Beer Festival. I of course know the city well as it was a regular place to visit and shop in during my teenage years. Back then my family lived in a small village, called Brook, close to Ashford, but even closer to the much larger village of Wye. Wye is first stop on the Ashford to Canterbury railway line, so my friends and I would often cycle over there, leave our bikes at the station and catch the train into Canterbury.
This visit had involved a rather longer train journey, but there is
still a half-hourly service from Tonbridge, where I live, through to
Canterbury; one just has to remember to board the correct portion of the
train, as it divides at Ashford. We could not have picked a worse day,
weather-wise for our trip though, as not only was it raining, but there
was a bitingly cold north-westerly wind blowing. Still our hour long
journey was in the comfort and warmth of the train, and we had high
hopes that the weather would brighten up as the day wore on.
How wrong we were! Alighting at Canterbury West Station we were greeted by the same biting wind and driving rain we thought we had left behind in Tonbridge. There was only one thing for it, find a pub to shelter in and warm up again. The Westgate Inn is the smaller of the two Wetherspoons outlets in Canterbury. Situated, as its name suggests, in the shadow of the city's historic West Gate, it provided some welcome relief, and a cup of hot coffee, from the worst of the elements outside. Divided up into a series of interlinked, but almost separate drinking areas, the Westgate seemed a very pleasant old pub. Being in coffee drinking mode I didn't really pay that much attention to the beers on sale, but I did notice a fair few Christmas Ales on offer.
Leaving the warmth of the Westgate behind, we headed into the centre of Canterbury, passing through the imposing stone-built towers of the West Gate itself. We passed a number of pubs en route, including the Black Griffin and the Cricketers, before calling in at the tourist information centre to pick up a map, and some additional visitor information. Turning left, away from the High Street and towards the cathedral, brought us to a small square in front of the cathedral gate, and to the second pub on our itinerary.
The Old Buttermarket is a Nicholson's house, an upmarket chain of historic pubs, with a good selection of ales to match. Entering the welcoming warmth of the Old Buttermarket we perused the ales on offer which, alongside Adnams Broadside, included a couple of Christmas ales specially produced for the group. Our eyes settled though on Navigation Pale Ale, a 3.9% offering from the Navigation Brewery of Nottingham. This well-hopped, straw-coloured beer was just right for the start of a session, but tempted as we were to linger in this comfortable and pleasantly decorated pub we decided to move on.
A work colleague had told me there was a Christmas Market held in Canterbury, but after trying, unsuccessfully to locate it, we gave up and sought again the warmth and sanctuary of a pub. The pub in question this time was the City Arms, in Butchery Lane, again in the shadow of the cathedral. This pub holds a particular affection for me in so much as it was the place where I attended my first ever CAMRA meeting back in the summer of 1974.
There has been a lot of changes since then, including the disappearance of the rare and historic "snob-screens". These changes though were down to a disastrous fire in 2001 that badly damaged the pub. This is ironic considering the City Arms survived the wartime bombing intact, when the properties on the opposite side of the street were destroyed. Today the City Arms remains a traditional pub with a modern feel to it. Of particular interest to the beer lover is the fact that the pub is one of three outlets owned and operated by Stoneset Inns, and serves beers from Canterbury Brewers, who are based in the Foundry, on the other side of the High Street.
We ordered a pint each of their Canterbury Haka, a pleasantly bitter 4.1% ale brewed using New Zealand hops, and grabbed ourselves a table. Also on the bar were Foundry Torpedo, a 4.5% amber ale, sampled earlier in the year at the Foundry itself, plus the 5.8% Street Light Porter. The latter was the next beer we tried, but not before we had ordered ourselves something to eat. I went for the homemade chicken and mushroom pie, whilst Don opted for the fish and chips. Both meals were tasty, well-presented and reasonably priced.
There was a pleasant buzz to the City Arms with a good mix of customers, so we were sorry when the time came to leave. We had decided to make our way past the cathedral and the historic King's School towards the St Radigund's area of the city. The wind and rain had not relented so, despite some interesting looking shops en route we didn't hang about. On the way we passed the Parrot, reputed to be the oldest pub in Canterbury, but not under that name. Although the pub looked inviting and comfortable from the outside we decided not to venture in as it is tied to Shepherd Neame. Neither of us are fans of Shep's beer; a pity really as the company own some fine traditional pubs, as was all too evident from the look of the Parrot's interior.
Instead we pressed on to the Dolphin, described by one guide as a "gastro pub". Despite this the pub was warm and welcoming and with a choice of Taylors Landlord, Hopdaemon Skrimshander alongside the dreaded Doombar, provided a welcome interlude from the conditions outside. I ordered the Landlord, whilst Dom went for the Skrimshander and I think he made the better choice. The Landlord wasn't off or anything, in fact it appeared bright and well-conditioned. To me though it just seemed a trifle on the bland side, and lacking in character; it certainly wasn't how I remember this legendary beer.
From the Dolphin, we headed back towards the city centre, stopping on the way for a look around the cathedral precincts. We had discovered earlier that these were out of bounds until 4.30pm, as they were included as part of the extortionate £9.50 entrance fee to the cathedral itself. We didn't linger too long though, and exiting through the impressive medieval gateway we headed down Burgate towards the equally ancient city walls. Our destination was the Thomas Ingoldsby, the larger of Canterbury's two JDW outlets, but also the least characterful. Converted from a former furniture store the pub is named in honour of Richard Harris Barham, who was born in 1788, at 61 Burgate, just across the road
from the pub. Using the pen name Thomas Ingoldsby, he wrote
"The Ingoldsby Legends", which first appeared, in 1840, in a periodical. .It is a large open plan pub, and being early Friday evening was starting to fill up with a largely student clientele, (this was hardly surprising seeing as Canterbury has two universities). It seemed a bit early to be drinking shots and pitchers of strange coloured fruity concoctions, but then what does a bloke like me in his late 50's know about da yoof of today?
So far as beer was concerned, there was a range of so-called Christmas ales on offer, none of which appealed to me, but after a taster, Don decided to go for a pint of JW Lees Plum Pudding (too plummy for me, but then I suppose that's the point of the beer). I opted for a local brew in the form of Wantsum 1381; a pale and well-hopped 3.8% beer, from Wantsum Brewery who are based at Hersden, a few miles outside of Canterbury.
Time was marching on and we had one further pub to visit. The Unicorn is situated conveniently close to the station, so provided the ideal place for a farewell drink to the city. It was heaving inside but we managed to get served and also find a vacant table. I only remember two of the beers on sale, namely Dominator - a 5.1% strong beer from Hopdaemon, plus our final selection of the evening Hooky, which appears to be the new name for Hook Norton Bitter. At just 3.5% abv, this pale coloured beer is full of flavour, and was a good pint to finish on. We were just on our way out when we bumped into Gill and Gerry Keay, leading members of CAMRA's Canterbury branch, who were sitting the other side of the central fire place from us. We stopped for a brief chat, and to give them some feedback about the pubs we'd visited that day, before saying goodbye and completing the short walk back to the station.
There was one final place to visit though before catching the train home. Right next to Canterbury West station is The Goods Shed. Opened in 2002 and, as its name suggests, housed in former railway premises, The Goods Shed is a covered farmers market which is open daily. It also houses an onsite restaurant which makes use of the local market produce. It has evolved to
include a ‘food hall’ which includes a butchers, cheese makers, fishmonger, bakers and The Beer Shop. The latter claims to offer the largest number of British bottled beers in the South East of England, including London. Customers can buy beers to take home throughout
the day or enjoy table service in the historic surroundings of the Goods
Shed from 6pm onwards.
The Beer Shop is THE place for the serious beer connoisseur, with a wide range of craft beers from both Britain and around the globe. With a massive range of different styles, barrel-aged bottlings and all manner of rare and hard to get brews, this place really is beer geek paradise! The only trouble was knowing where to start. I limited my purchases to a 7.1% , Four Hop India Pale Ale and a 7.2%, London 1890 Export Stout, both from The Kernel Brewery, an outfit I have read a lot about, but not had the pleasure of sampling yet. I also bought a bottle of No.1 Connoisseur's Choice Quadrupel, from Sharp's Brewery. These should all make interesting drinking over Christmas!
Our train home was slightly delayed, but it didn't detract from an excellent day out, and after an hour's journey we arrived back to a cold, windy but by now dry Tonbridge. Ironically the next day's weather was dry and bright, but then I suppose you can't win them all.
Not much in the way of photo's I'm afraid; the weather was just too appalling for standing around outside taking pictures!