Friday, 30 December 2016

A late December walk to the Windmill

My three walking companions

Boxing Day is the traditional day for going out for a walk and trying to shift some of the excess calories consumed over the Christmas period. A walk in the country to a nice rural pub therefore had an obvious appeal, but having checked beforehand as to what people’s family and other social commitments would be over the extended seasonal break, December 29th came up as the best day for most people within our circle of friends. Even so, a number of them were already back at work but we managed to muster four of us for a walk out to the Windmill at Weald; an old favourite amongst West Kent CAMRA branch members.
Wealden scenery

Two of us caught the train to Hildenborough; just one stop from Tonbridge, where we met up with two more fellow walkers. After the fog and gloom of the previous few days, Thursday morning had dawned bright and sunny, but very frosty; so much so that I nearly slipped over on several occasions on the way down to the station. This was despite wearing a decent pair of walking boots!  We followed our usual route, partially along roads, and partially over the fields. Fortunately the frosty weather, combined with the lack of rain, meant that conditions underfoot were firm, making the going nice and easy once we set off across open country.

Village sign
With hardly a cloud in the sky the countryside was looking its best in the winter sunshine. We passed several people out walking their dogs, but as we got closer to Weald village, it dawned on us that we would arrive at the pub a good twenty minutes or so before opening time. We therefore decided on adding an additional loop to the walk, which led us through a pleasant area of rolling countryside which I hadn’t seen before.

We arrived at the Windmill just after midday. There were a few customers there already, but an enquiry about a table for lunch brought the response that the pub was pretty full so far as pre-bookings were concerned, but they would be able to squeeze us in. As usual there was a good range of beers on offer, which included a couple of welcome surprises. Strangely enough, given the choice on offer, I opted for a pint of Adnam’s Southwold to start with. Not only was this the weakest beer on offer, it is also a personal favourite of mine. Southwold is also an Adnam's beer which we don’t see that often in these parts, despite the stronger Broadside being a regular feature on the bar of our local Wetherspoon’s.

Also on sale at the Windmill were beers from Kent Brewery, Rockin Robin, Springhead and Big Smoke. At the strong end of the range was Tally-Ho, a 7.4% dark barley wine from Adnam’s. I have a bottle of this beer sitting in my cupboard at home, but I had never tried the draught version before. I sensibly made Tally-Ho my last beer of the afternoon, but between the two Adnam’s beers I enjoyed the Pale Ale from Kent Brewery and Sunshower Extra Pale Rye 4.6% ABV, from Big Smoke Brewery. The latter company specialise in un-fined and un-filtered beers.

Some 90 minutes after our arrival, three other members of our circle turned up. They had driven over from Tunbridge Wells, for a spot of lunch, having gained news of our visit to the Windmill via WhatsApp; talk about the power of social media! We joined them for lunch; a last minute cancellation having left a large table free. I opted for the fish pie and found the Sunshower Extra Pale Rye to be the perfect accompaniment. 

As well as “pub-talk”, the main topic of conversation over dinner was the inordinately large number of famous people (I detest the word “celebrity”), who have passed away this year. With typical British “gallows humour” and, it must be said, in extremely bad taste, we drew up various short-lists from the worlds of film, entertainment, music and sport as to who would be the next to go. Matt the landlord came over and joined us for a while, as this was subject close to his heart. In his previous pub, a number of the regulars had run a book along the very same lines, with people paying in and betting on a certain person, from the worlds already mentioned, as being the next to depart. We know another pub where a similar ghoulish “book” called “Dead Pool” is kept by the regulars. Subscribers must have had a field day this year!

Moving on to happier and less controversial things, the Adnam’s Tally-Ho was excellent. Mellow, slightly sweet and with plenty of chocolate and coffee notes, it was the perfect beer to end on. Some brave individuals opted for pints, and seeing as the beer was on sale at just £3.50 a pint, it was tremendous value (the other beers were also keenly priced at £3.40). 

That would have been the end of our session had Matt not brought us over each a glass of the next beer due to go on. Arbour – The Devil Made Me Brew It, was a 5.5% “Dry-Hopped Stout”, which divided opinion amongst our party. Some thought it was that real abomination – a Black IPA, whilst others thought it was “as described.” I have to agree with the protagonist of the former viewpoint that the pronounced citrus hop aroma did make tick many of the boxes for a Black IPA, but another friend thought that as it lacked that harsh roast aftertaste, often associated with the style, it wasn’t a true Black IPA.

Both individuals left much of their complimentary glasses in favour of more Tally-Ho, so I ended up finishing what was left. The party from Tunbridge Wells had already left, and as we sat there watching the sunlight, reflected on the building opposite, starting to fade, thoughts turned to the homeward journey. One friend, who lives in Hadlow – a bus ride away from Tonbridge, phoned his wife, who agreed to come and collect him. He offered the remaining three of us a lift as well, and whilst we had come fully equipped with torches for a walk back in the fading light, we decided to take him up on this kind offer. With all of us squashed into his wife’s car, we were treated to some fantastic red-sky vistas as we headed roughly due south along, it must be said, some rather narrow roads.

The fog was starting to come down, along with a corresponding drop in temperature. It was more or less dark by the time we arrived back in Tonbridge, and the pavements were even icier than they had been that morning. I consequently made my way home carefully and managed to arrive back without slipping over. Despite the ice at both ends of the day, we had been extremely lucky with the weather. 

As I look out my window, exactly 24 hours after I’d set off the previous day, the contrast could not be greater. In place of blue skies and bright sunshine, all I can see is a dense wall of fog. I have already been out this morning, in order to drop my wife off at work. Fortunately the roads are quiet, so once I have picked her up, in  a few hours time, and we’ve done a bit of shopping, it will be time to light the log-burner, and curl up in front of the fire with a good book and a drop of something warming.

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