The area of the county covered by West Kent CAMRA is quite substantial. Granted it’s not as large as some branches have to manage, particularly in the more sparsely populated areas of Britain, but there are still parts of our area which receive very little in the way of local support from CAMRA.
The small town of Paddock Wood is one such place, despite it having a good rail service, and the surrounding rural area seems at times, almost unknown territory. The town’s name cropped up during a discussion at last week’s branch business meeting, when a committee member put forward a rural pub which he thought worthy of further consideration.
The pub in question was the Elm Tree; a short drive from the centre of Paddock Wood, but in quite an isolated situation. A number of us agreed we should check it out, so after having breakfast at the Causeway Hall in Chiddingstone Causeway, my son and I decided to pay the pub a visit.
I have been to the Elm Tree a couple of times before, and the last time I called in it has a rather non-descript Shepherd Neame pub. I was therefore rather pleased to discover the pub is now a free-house. It stands on a staggered junction on the quirkily-named Mile Oak Road, and now looks far more appealing than it did during its time under Shep’s.
For a start the exterior has been painted an attractive creamy-yellow colour, rather than the corporate white which is used for most Shep’s houses. We pulled up in the car-park, pausing to look at the attractive garden area, before making our way inside. Apart from a lone punter sitting at the bar we were the first customers. The interior seemed bright and stylish, and there was a log burner blazing away to our left which provided a welcoming warmth.
The bar was adorned by four hand pumps offering the choice between Whitstable Bay Pale, Old Dairy Red Top and two beers from Tonbridge Brewery; Capel Pale and Countryman. I opted for the Red Top, Matt went for a strange hybrid called Spitfire Lager.
My beer was very good, so I’d imagine the landlord had correctly pulled some through at the start of the session. I don’t know what Matt’s was like, but he did finish before me. We had a brief look round, noticing that virtually all the tables had been laid out for diners, along with the names of those who had booked Sunday lunch.
There were a couple of stools at the bar, so we grabbed those along with a bag of Piper’s Crisps each. As we sat there chatting, the first party of diners arrived, followed closely by the second. At this point the landlord’s wife/partner appeared from behind the bar and began taking drinks orders.
I noticed a number of things whilst this was going on, the first of which that most of the diners opted for red wine to drink; either that or lager. The cask ales were all priced at £3.60 a pint, as there was a notice to this effect. Apart from me, only one other customer was drinking cask, and he was on the Capel Pale (good choice!).
The Elm Tree is obviously a popular destination for Sunday lunch, and at just £10.99 a head this was perhaps not surprising. Being a relatively small pub, booking is essential; especially for the Sunday roast. It states this on the pub website, and we saw for ourselves that a family had to be turned away as they hadn’t booked.
I must say I liked it and will definitely return. According to Google Maps it is just over a mile’s walk from Paddock Wood station and apart from a short stretch at the end, there is pavement all the way.
The owners seem to be doing everything right; the pub is nice and clean, there is a friendly welcome from behind the bar, the beer I had was good (3.0 NBSS), and I’m sure the food is equally good. I have already reported this back to my CAMRA colleagues.
“Alternatively, the owners will consider other commercial uses, whether catering or business use, subject to planning consent”.
The reasons for putting the pub up to let, are thus still unclear, but when compared with other commercial premises, the rent appears cheap. Whatever the reason though, it is annoying to have found a decent pub, which is relatively easy to get to and which combines a pleasant rural outlook with a good beer and food offering.
C’est la vie, as they say!