In what is now becoming something of a tradition, the Bailey family joined eleven other West Kent CAMRA members and friends last Sunday, for the annual branch Christmas meal. For the third year running, the venue was, once again, the Brecknock Arms at Bells Yew Green; a small and comfortable Harvey’s pub, just one stop on the train from Tunbridge Wells. The pub provided the perfect location, combining the relaxed informal atmosphere of a village local with good food and equally good drink.
I have known the Brecknock for the past twenty-five years. It is a small and comfortable Harvey’s pub, just one stop down the line from Tunbridge Wells, and just five minutes walk from Frant station. It is everything a village pub should be, and it is great to see this Victorian local thriving again, following the turn-around in its fortunes. This is down to the current licensees, Sally and David Fawcett, who took over the running of the pub back in February 2014.
The Brecknock has been altered a few times over the years, principally to make better use of the available space, and whilst this involved combining the former public and salon bars, the layout is such that there are still a number of distinct drinking areas.
Bells Yew Green itself is a tiny village on the B2169 road which runs between Tunbridge Wells and Lamberhurst. The pub is the focal point of the village and as well as providing a place for the local cricket team to meet, is popular with both villagers and people from further afield. Given its location on the main London - Hastings rail line, Bells Yew Green has become increasingly popular location for commuters, and in recent years a number of new houses have been built, along with a village shop.
Most of our party travelled on the 11.41 train from Tonbridge, which arrived at Frant five minutes before opening time. There were already quite a few customers in the pub, but we were the only group dining that afternoon. There was a good range of Harvey’s beers on the bar, with the Sussex Best and IPA joined by XXXX Old Ale and draught Christmas Ale. Talk about beer heaven!
It was close to half one by the time we sat down to eat, but this allowed ample time for a few pre-dinner beers. An open log fire added to the atmosphere, and with the Christmas tree and a few other tasteful decorations, the pub was looking suitably festive.
Eileen, Matthew and I went for the traditional roast turkey, which was very good. The Old went well with my main course, and after the dessert I gave the 7.5% ABV seasonal Christmas Ale a try. This year’s vintage, good though it was, seemed to lack some of the hop character I remember from previous brews, and I was wondering whether this had been due to the surprise order which Harvey’s received for 40,000 bottles, from the Systembolaget; Sweden’s government-owned chain of liquor stores.
This entailed brewing an extra batch of Christmas Ale, so perhaps things were a little more rushed than usual. Still, it sounds like some good extra business for Harvey’s, although I wonder how much bottles of Christmas Ale are retailing for in Sweden?
After our dessert, the landlord popped over and asked if we would be staying for Christmas Carols. These would be starting at around 4pm. We of course said yes, as it seemed an excellent idea. Villagers slowly began trickling in, and the main bar went from virtually empty, to standing room only.
Song books were handed out, and an electric organ set up, and as soon as everything was in order, the carol singing commenced; led by the organist. We worked our way through most of the old favourites, our singing helped by the generous amounts of ale we’d imbibed. It was great fun and a terrific atmosphere, and good too for both the pub and the local community.
Once the carols were over, it was the turn of the local children, with the appearance no less of Father Christmas himself. Fortunately Santa based himself in the far room, but the pub had become very crowded by then. Mrs PBT’s doesn’t do crowds, so we grabbed our coats, said our farewells and made our way to the door.
As we were leaving, to make our way to the station, another group of villagers were standing round the recently erected Christmas tree, on the village green, waiting for the lights to be switched on. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day and really good to have witnessed the true spirit of Christmas.