Spotted Dog at Smart’s Hill, just outside Pensuhrst. I had volunteered to survey the pub for next year’s CAMRA Good Beer Guide; this was after saying a few years ago that I wanted nothing more to do with that particular publication!
My change of heart was sparked much more by a desire to revisit this lovely old 15th Century inn, rather than doing my bit for the Campaign, but having sat through the preliminary meeting, following our branch AGM, when nominations for possible entries were being taken, I put my name forward in a moment of weakness to help out by surveying a couple of outlying rural pubs.
Smart’s Hill is little more than a couple of rows of houses sited on high ground, to the south of Penshurst, overlooking the River Medway which, in this part of Kent, is still relatively small in size. Somewhat unusually, for such a rural part of the county, there is a second pub, called the Bottle House, at Smart’s Hill, although the latter is further up the hill in an even more isolated location. Because of their situation, both pubs rely heavily on the food trade but of the two, I would say the Spotted Dog retains much more of a “pubby” atmosphere.
There were three cask ales on tap, namely Harvey’s Sussex, Larkin’s Traditional and Young’s Bitter; the latter being a guest ale. I gave the Young’s a miss, as ever since this once iconic brewery ceased brewing at its historic Wandsworth home, and threw in its lot with Charles Wells of Bedford, the beer hasn’t been worth drinking. Instead I went with the Larkin’s Traditional, which despite its low strength of just 3.4%, still packs in plenty of flavour whilst being ideal for drivers.
The Spotted Dog itself, is a 15th century white weather boarded country inn that seems to cling to the hillside, and lies below the level of the road. It is a long low building with a terraced garden area between the pub and the road. Many years ago, there used to be some spectacular views, across the Medway Valley, from the rear of the building, but unfortunately this has now been obscured by the trees on the slope below, which are now reaching maturity.
The pub’s popularity is evidenced by the large car park, just across the road, but despite the importance of the car-borne trade, many people do make the effort to walk here, as mentioned earlier, and as I too have done on several past occasions. Providing you time your visit right, it is also possible to travel to the Spotted Dog by bus. The 231 bus from Tunbridge Wells runs along the B2188 road, just below the pub, and you by alighting at the stop just before the turning to Smart’s Hill, you can walk up the hill and enjoy a few drinks without having to worry about driving. Do check the timetable though, and allow plenty of time to retrace your footsteps back to the bus stop, unless you fancy a long walk home!