I’ve said it before (probably several times), and I’ll say it again, but in the quest for that perfect pint in the perfect pub, it’s often all too easy to overlook what is right in front of you. I realised this today when I decided to get my bike out and go for a ride.
On a whim, I decided to make for the Fleur de Lis pub, which is situated in the village of Leigh, just a few miles to the west of Tonbridge. I drive past the Fleur everyday, on my way home from work, and until I altered my route into work in the morning, I used to drive past it on the way in as well.
It is an attractive mid 19th Century building sited a short distance from the village centre, on the junction of the road which leads down to the station. Like much of Leigh the Fleur is built in a particular style, and this is due to the influence of two wealthy families who constructed many of the distinctive buildings present today. The stately pile of Hall Place, is the best known, but there are others which include the East and Old Lodges, Forge Square and the School Master's House.
The Fleur De Lis was originally built as cottages in 1855, by Thomas Baily; one of the wealthy benefactors referred to above. It was bought by, Bartrum and Company, in 1870, who were a local brewery, based in Tonbridge. When I first became acquainted with the area, the Fleur was a Courage pub, but today it is owned by Greene King. Since the closure of the Bat & Ball, several years ago, the Fleur De Lis is now the only pub in Leigh itself; although the Plough Inn is located to the east of the village in Powder Mill Lane.
|Have bike, will travel|
I can’t honestly remember the last time I had set foot in the Fleur, although I was obviously aware that it had undergone some substantial renovations and alterations several years ago. It was a conversation with one of my son’s friends, in Fuggles the other week, which persuaded me that a visit was long overdue. As I said earlier, deciding to go for a bike ride provided the perfect excuse for a visit, especially as much of the route would be off road.
We are fortunate in Tonbridge to have a large expanse of public space behind the town, know as the Sports-ground. There is also a cycle route running around the periphery, which leads to Hayesden Country Park; another open space. My route from home, took me along the River Medway and around the Sports-ground, before turning off along a tarmac path which leads to Leigh Powder Mills. From there, it is a relatively quiet stretch by country road, under the A21 flyover, and then into Leigh.
I stopped for a short while at the village green, pausing to take in the quintessentially English view across the cricket pitch, to the Parish Church of St Mary’s, which is purported to occupy the highest point in the village, before continuing past the school and Post Office to the Fleur de Lis.
The pub had been altered since my last visit. The two bar layout had been opened out into two distinct areas, one offering dining around an open fire while the other smaller bar (originally the Public Bar), is more for drinking and socialising. I grabbed one of the comfy armchairs by the window, having first ordered myself a beer.
I opted for a pint of Taylor’s Landlord; good at 3.0 NBSS, but expensive at £4.40. I overheard the landlord talking to one of the regulars sitting at the bar. The former mentioned that Larkin’s would be the next beer on, which pleased the customer as he said the local beer would be cheaper. “No,” said the landlord, who went on to explain he has to buy all his guest ales through Greene King, even though Larkin’s are situated just a few miles up the road!
Also on at the bar, were Pearl of Kent from Whitstable Brewery and Grasshopper from Westerham, alongside the ubiquitous GK IPA. The pub was busy with diners, which included several family groups, but like me there were a few people just relaxing and enjoying a drink.
It was all very pleasant, but I wasn’t tempted to stay for another. Rain had been forecast for later in the afternoon, and it had been raining slightly in the wind during my outward journey. Not only didn’t I wish to get wet, but I also had a few items of shopping to pick up in Tonbridge, before the shops shut at 4pm.
I cycled back following pretty much the same route, managing by and large to avoid the rain, and arriving home shortly before 4pm. According to the app on my phone I had cycled a distance of 8.5 miles and burned off 851 calories. I’m not sure about the latter, but I certainly knew that I’d cycled those miles!