Thursday, 20 April 2017

Up the creek on Good Friday

In my last post I wrote about the north Kent town of Faversham, and the time my son and I spent in the town, in the company of a group of friends from Maidstone and Mid-Kent CAMRA. I also described how easy it was for us to get there, by train, from Tonbridge;  the town where we live in the west of the county.

The main  purpose of our visit to Faversham was to take part in MMK’s  Good Friday Ramble; an annual event which is now in its 41st year.  Keen rambler, Dick Wilkinson, has organised and led all but one of these walks, helped by his wife Pam; and whilst they are perhaps now shorter and gentler than they were a few decades ago, they are still very enjoyable.

The ramble provides an opportunity to catch up with old friends; some of whom we only see once a year. On meeting up, the usual remark is that none of us are getting any younger; or as one wag so eloquently put it, “It’s always interesting to see how many of us have survived another winter!” Somewhat worryingly, this particular gentleman was absent this year, although I understand this was due to a minor illness, rather than something more serious.

There is no getting away from the fact that age is creeping up on many of us, and with our children now grown up, and some even with children of their own, the walks are gentler and less arduous than they were 40 years ago. They are shorter in length; typically between six and eight miles, and with less hills and other natural obstacles, but we all still enjoy these walks, which have been held in various locations, all over the county.

We invariably start from a convenient station, and then walk three or four miles to an accommodating country pub, where we stop for a pub-lunch plus a few pints! After the lunchtime halt, we return to the meeting point, via a different, but similar length, route.

Faversham station was the meeting and starting point for this year’s Good Friday event; our destination being the Shipwrights Arms at Hollow Shore. This isolated pub stands at the confluence of Faversham and Oare Creeks, on the edge of the Ham Marshes, to the north of Faversham. It’s a place I last visited 30 years or more ago, and I remember this old weather-boarded pub being both timeless and atmospheric. 

I didn’t do an accurate headcount of the assembled party, but I was told there 22 of us. We set off in two groups, and I made sure that son Matthew and I were in the first group. The reasoning behind this was to get to the pub in time to place our food order; especially as the landlord was reported as only expecting around 15 of us. This proved to be a wise move, as I will recount later.

Heading out of town
We walked towards Faversham town centre, passing on our  right the impressive bulk of the buildings which were once the brewery of George Beer & Rigden and latterly Fremlins. One of the three buildings has now been converted to a Tesco supermarket, and I understand the retail giant has also made the other two structures safe, so they too can be converted for other purposes.

We turned into Court Street and passed the attractive offices of Shepherd Neame; Britain’s oldest brewery and a major employer in Faversham. We skirted the brewery site and headed towards Faversham Creek, crossing it by means of a bridge. We then continued on the opposite bank, in the direction of the sea. The tide was out, and with just a small trickle running in between the mud banks, at the bottom of the channel, the creek was not looking its prettiest.

Saxon Shore Way
Before long, we had left the houses and boatyards of the town behind us. We continued along the raised bank which here, forms part of the Saxon Shore Way, coastal path. There is not a lot to say about this stretch of countryside, apart from it being flat and featureless.  I imagine it being cold and desolate during the winter months, but despite the weather being dry, there was a cold off-shore wind blowing, so I was glad I had come suitably attired.

We basically followed the course of Faversham Creek, as it first headed northwards, before turning off in a westerly direction. To our left we could see back towards Faversham, with the North Downs rising gently behind the town. To our right we could see the Isle of Sheppey, with its low hills standing out against the sky.

Eventually we arrived at our destination, and found our way inside; glad to get out of the wind. We had also worked up quite a thirst, so were eager to order our first pint of the day. The beers at the Shipwright's are all on gravity, and are dispensed from a row of casks stillaged beneath the window, behind the bar.

Beers from Goacher’s of Maidstone (Kent’s second oldest brewery after Sheps), feature prominently, and include a 3.8% “house beer”, called “Shipwrecked”, brewed especially for the pub by Goacher’s, alongside the company’s Dark Mild.  Just to keep everything Kentish, there were also beers from both Kent Brewery and Gadd’s. During our stay in the pub, I enjoyed the two aforementioned Goacher’s beers, plus the excellent  No. 3 from Gadd's.

We ordered our food as soon as possible; steak and ale pie with mash and vegetables for me, and the same for Matt, although he went for chips instead of mash. As the photo illustrates, the pies were “proper”, meaning the meat and gravy filling were completely encased in pastry. We weren’t tempted to move outside, despite a brief appearance from the sun; instead we were happy to stay where we were, and to soak up the atmosphere of this timeless old inn.

The Shipwright’s prides itself on its old-fashioned approach, and with no TV, fruit machines, piped muzak or Wi-Fi, conversation was very much the order of the day. The only fly in the ointment was there was no food left for the stragglers, as it appears the pub had taken Dick’s estimate of 15 souls, strictly on face value.

We left the pub shortly after 2.30pm, but as we again left in two parties, there wasn’t the usual obligatory team photo taken outside the pub. Before leaving, I climbed the embankment for a final look at the creek. The tide had come in whilst we had been in the pub, giving a completely different outlook to the view towards Sheppey. We walked back into Faversham via a slightly shorter, and certainly less exposed route, which basically followed the track and the road from Hollow Shore.

Most of us found our way to Faversham’s micro-pub, Furlong’s Alehouse, before visiting the recently opened Corner Tap, which is owned by Whitstable Brewery. I wrote about these two excellent establishments in my previous post, so I won’t repeat myself here.

As with all these annual rambles it had been a great day out, combining healthy exercise out in the fresh air, with good company, good ale and good food. There was a slight tinge of sadness though, as Dick announced this would be the last such walk he would be leading. After 40 years though, few could blame him for wanting to step down and let someone else take up the reins.

Fortunately I think there is someone waiting in the wings, but I’ll state categorically, here and now that it isn’t me!


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, tinged with melancholy. A great pub too.
I did feel a little sorry for the seven souls that had to starve !

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

By jove that's a proper pie indeed.
And a proper ramble.
Kent is one of the few areas of England that I know virtually nothing about but you make them come alive.
Time for another early-summer visit to my chum near Sevenoaks.