Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Wye - revisited

I wrote briefly about the village of Wye in my last post, primarily because it was the starting point for the walk I undertook along a section of the North Downs Way last week. I also mentioned that I spent most of my teenage years living in the neighbouring village of Brook, and having been a member of both a youth group in Wye, and the local scout troop, I have fond memories of the place.

The memories include my first time getting intoxicated – drinking cider, aged just 14, at a party hosted by a girl from the aforementioned youth group, getting stood up for the first (but not the last) time by a girlfriend (not a fond memory, but an essential life lesson) and most important of all, my first glass of beer! The latter experience took place at a Country Fayre which was held on the Recreation Ground behind the village hall and scout hut (the latter now sadly demolished, as I discovered the other day). A couple of bottles of Whitbread Light Ale enjoyed at the Fayre and bought for me by one of the patrol leaders – and yes we were all in scout uniform, and no, Baden-Powell would not have approved!

A much younger (and slimmer me) outside the New Flying Horse, Wye
Over the course of  the four years I lived nearby, I had several girlfriends who lived in Wye - not including the one who stood me up; although I did meet her at a party there! My sister had a job working in the kitchen of the Kings Head – still trading, although now very much an upmarket “gastro pub”, and the first time around, my other sister held her wedding reception at the Wife of Bath restaurant in the village.

So good times, and some of these memories came flooding back when my companions and I stepped off the train at Wye station last Friday evening, following our rather lengthy (for me anyway), walk along the North Downs Way. We turned left and crossed the River Stour by means of the now re-built stone bridge, passing the aptly-named Tickled Trout pub on the opposite bank.

Tickled Trout
Back in the day the pub was called the Victoria, but I remember it being extended and getting a makeover along with a new name. With the shallow, crystal clear waters of the River Stour flowing past the grounds, it was just the sort of place to imagine trout in abundance. The garden looked busy when we walked by, but with the possibility of a beer festival, we weren’t tempted to call in.

The beer festival was something of a mystery. Two of my companions had seen it advertised, on a previous visit to Wye, in the window of the Barber’s Arms; a micro-pub which opened in 2013. The idea of visiting the festival as a “reward” following an arduous walk along the NDW appealed to them, which is where I came in. The only trouble was I could find no reference of the event on-line and neither could the fourth member of our party.

Barber's Arms  micro-pub
The festival was supposed to be taking place on “The Green”, so thinking we knew where “The Green” was, we traipsed up the hill, fully expecting to see the event laid out before us on the large stretch of green space just down from the parish church. Perhaps the lack of signposts pointing to the event, or indeed posters advertising it, should have acted as a warning, but when we reached the said area, it was completely devoid of anything remotely connected with a beer festival.

Disappointed, but not undeterred, we decided to head for the Barber’s Arms micro-pub instead, but as we walked along Church Street, towards the Kings Head, I noticed a street sign attached to a building on the opposite side of the road. The sign said “The Green”. Two of our party were too far ahead to be within hailing distance, and the friend who I was walking with was, like me, too tired to turn down this unassuming side street for a closer look. It was only when we neared the end of Church Street that we met the other two walking back, accompanied by a stranger dressed in a hi-vis jacket.

Apparently they had found the Barbers Arms closed, with a notice in the window saying the proprietor was at the Wye Beer Festival. The stranger, who just happened to be passing, had offered to show them where it was, and lo and behold, it was down the very same side-street we had walked past, called “The Green”.

Now I don’t ever recall venturing down that street during my previous acquaintance with Wye, so I was pleasantly surprised with what we found, for tucked away round the corner was a “green”, area enclosed, enclosed on two sides by a low stone wall, and bordered on the other side by a variety of buildings. There was a large marquee at the far end which, as we soon discovered, was the beer tent, with two smaller marquees on either side. The one on the left was for the live music acts, whilst the other acted as the food stall.

Strategically scattered straw bales provided the
majority of the seating, but we were quick to grab one of the few benches. Already aching from our walk, the last thing we needed was to be perched on these makeshift seats; instead we wanted proper back support. Ensuring there was always a member of our group “guarding” the bench, we took it in turns to investigate the beer tent.

We discovered it was necessary to buy a wristband, which acted as admission and also went towards the live entertainment. Costing £3.50, the wristband covered all three days of the festival, but as we were just “passing through”, we managed to negotiate a pro-rata reduction to just a pound each, which we were quite happy with.

Beer was paid for by tokens, and priced at £3.50 a pint, or £1.75 a half. The beer was served in disposable plastic glasses which whilst not particularly environmentally friendly, were quick and convenient. There were around 35 beers available, all served on gravity, and sourced from a wide variety of decent and well-respected breweries. I have reproduced both sides of  the beer list above, and you will see names like Arbour Ales, Blue Monkey, Kelham Island and Thornbridge featured.

I sampled Arbor Ales – Blue Sky Drinking 4.4%,  Bespoke – Going Off Half Cocked 4.6% and Tickety Brew – Jasmine Green Tea Pale 3.8%, and all were good. I also enjoyed a Thai Red Curry, although nit-picking a bit here, I would have preferred a little less rice, plus a little more curry!

The Green - Wye
The event wasn’t packed by any stretch of the imagination, as evidenced in the photos, but it was still quite early in the evening. The band had only just finished tuning up by the time we left. We came to the conclusion that by holding the event in a tucked away location, the organisers had deliberately kept it very low key. With no direction signs and no publicity, either in the locality, or online, perhaps they wanted to keep  the festival strictly local and not encourage attendance from CAMRA or the dreaded “ticking fraternity”.

We enjoyed our visit, and felt slightly privileged to have found and attended the festival, and for me it was a particularly good way of re-acquainting myself with a village which holds particularly fond memories and a special place in my heart.


qq said...

I've been to the Wye festival a couple of times and I'm not sure that it's deliberately badly advertised, more that it is definitely a village event that happens to involve beer rather than a beer event set in the village.

Some of the beer choices are a bit uninspiring too - if I was getting beer down from Cheshire then the last breweries I would be going to would be Mobberley and Robbies. Someone obviously likes Betty Stogs, think that was on every time I've been. It looks like they may have dropped the criterion that beers had to be brewed with at least one hop bred in the village - Wye plays it down these days but when the college was open they used to claim that 2/3 of global hop acreage had some ancestry originating in Wye, one can't understate how important Wye is to the brewing industry.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the update on the Wye Festival, qq. Apologies for not getting back to you sooner.

As I said in the post, I've got rather a soft spot for Wye, so for me, it was good to pay the village a long over-due, return visit.

It was a real shame that the college closed, as it brought students, and staff, from all over the world to that particular corner of Kent. When I lived in Brook, with my parents, the couple next door to us were both lecturers at Wye College. I imagine they're either in their dotage now, or no longer with us, but they would have been heartbroken to have seen the place shut down.

It seems criminal to have lost all the experience and expertise which went into the hop-breeding programme at Wye. I understand some of that expertise has fortunately been transferred to a private organisation - Wye Hops?