Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Rose Revived - Hadlow



Yesterday, after visiting my wife who thankfully is now recovering well in Maidstone hospital, I stopped off for a pint on the way home. The other week I called in at the Swan-on-the-Green; an excellent rural brew-pub in the tiny village of West Peckham. I wrote about my visit here.

This time I stopped at a pub closer to home; one which I hadn't visited in ages, until I called in, a few weeks before Christmas, to collect my wife and a couple of her friends following a night out and a meal there.  The pub in question was the Rose Revived at Ashes Lane, a short distance from Hadlow, and just a few miles from the edge of Tonbridge.

On that occasion I didn't stop for a drink, as I was acting purely as a chauffeur, so having driven past the pub numerous times during the past 16 days, I thought it high time I popped in for a pint and gave the Rose proper look over.

Weather-wise I couldn't have picked a more foul day, so the photos of the pub exterior I took are both hurried and framed at such an angle to not include the cars parked in front of the building. The Rose was therefore not looking its best, which was a shame really as it is an attractive, white-painted old building which dates back to the 16th Century.

In recent years the pub has been considerably enlarged at the rear, and now incorporates a large reception-cum- dining room along with a conservatory. This is in keeping with its new title of "The Rose Revived Country Pub & Venue".

I say "new title", because in February of last year, the pub's name reverted to the Rose Revived, following a period as the Hadlow Bar & Grill. Prior to that it had even been an Indian restaurant for a short while. Local people had always known it as the Rose Revived, but what many of them don’t know is that at one time the pub was called the Rose & Crown.

The "Revived" part came about back in the 1970's when a previous owner acquired the freehold of what had been a rather run-down Charington's  pub and, after spending a lot of time and effort, had restored the building to something approaching its former glory. The name change may also have come about because there is another pub, right in the centre of Hadlow, called the Rose & Crown.

The fact that the London brewers Charrington's owned the pub relates to their acquisition of the tied estate of the former Kenward & Court Brewery, who were based just down the road in the centre of Hadlow. The brewery itself may have gone, but the impressive maltings buildings still stand, following their conversion to residential apartments.

I first became aware of the Rose Revived when my job took me to Tonbridge. I didn't live in the town back then, as I commuted daily from my home in Maidstone, but it wasn't that long before I started to explore the countryside around Tonbridge; particularly the stretch between the town and Maidstone.

In late 1984 I moved to Tonbridge after meeting the present Mrs Bailey, and it was on a subsequent visit to the Rose Revived that I first became aware of the eccentricities of the pub's then owner. I never knew the licensee's name but I soon learned of his reputation as a curmudgeonly individual. The rumour was he ran the pub like a private club, primarily for the benefit of himself and his friends (cronies). I don't know quite how true this was, but I do recall a work colleague falling foul of this individual, although I can't  remember what his alleged misdemeanour was.

I do however, remember attending a CAMRA social at the Rose Revived one evening. This would have been some time in the late 1980's, and it happened to be general election night (presumably the election which saw Margaret Thatcher win her third term in office).

A group of us were sitting around a table enjoying the excellent Harvey's. The landlord may have been a grumpy old bugger, but he knew how to keep beer, and the Harvey's in particular was always top notch. As I recall, what happened next was a couple of other CAMRA members turned up late, so not wishing to exclude them from the conversation, and the company in general, we moved a couple of stools over to the table we were sitting at.

This was the signal for mine host to come marching over and order us, in his best Basil Fawlty manner,  to move the chairs back to where we found them, or leave. We reluctantly did as instructed, but when it came to getting a final pint in, our curmudgeonly friend then refuse point blank to serve us.

Time had not been called and there was still a good 10 minutes before "last orders". When questioned why we were being denied another pint, we were told the pub was closing early. (There may have been some reference here to election night, but I can't be 100% certain). As we left, we noticed most of the regulars still had plenty of beer left in their glasses, and the feeling was that once we had gone, Mr Fawlty and his chums would shut the door and carry on with their own private drinking session.

That's probably more than enough about the past, although I do find it quite amusing to look back at that particular chapter in the pub's history. Instead I want to concentrate on the present, where one couldn't wish for a more pleasant and convivial atmosphere.  I felt this back in December when I had just popped in to collect Eileen and her friends, and yesterday I felt exactly the same.

As mentioned earlier, the weather outside was atrocious, so I was glad to notice a welcoming log fire blazing away in the grate of the inglenook fireplace. There was just one person sitting at the bar, but there were quite a few customers scattered around the various rooms which make up the pub.

As if on cue, Harvey's Best was available (the pub memory wouldn't have been the same without it!), alongside Blonde Ambition from Tonbridge Brewery. I of course opted for the former, and scored it at 3.5 NBSS; my only complaint being it was served a little too cold for my liking. The beer was competitively priced as well for an upmarket pub, at £3.85 a pint.

I found myself a seat at a small table close to the window, where I had a reasonable view of what was going on. There were people like me who were just there for a drink, but it's safe to say the majority of the customers were diners. I didn't look at the menu whilst there, but a look later confirmed that the prices were quite reasonable, considering both the venue and the area. There is talk of holding a CAMRA social at the Rose Revived, later in the year, and I will certainly be passing on my positive feedback to the branch. I don't think there will be any trouble regarding moving the furniture or private, late night drinking parties this time around!

I had a brief chat with one of the owners as I was leaving. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of people they had in, especially in view of the weather, but when it's chucking it down with rain outside and the temperatures are not far above freezing, I can think of few better places to be than in a cosy, old country pub, in front of a blazing log fire, with a decent pint of beer in my hand.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

On the buses

Last autumn, news broke that Kent County Council (KCC), were planning to withdraw subsidies from a significant number of mainly rural bus routes. These included 23 routes in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells alone. In some cases the entire services to  several villages and other small rural communities were to be withdrawn in their entirety.

KCC planned to recuperate £2.25million a year by ending these subsidies, the withdrawal of which would have had disproportionate effect on both the elderly and younger people, as car usage amongst these groups is lower than in other sectors of the population.

Now, following a predicted and entirely understandable public outcry, leaders at County Hall have had a  last minute change of heart. This follows the news that central Government grant reductions were less than feared, and KCC needed to only budget for £450,000 rather than the predicted £2.25million. Council Leader Paul Carter (Conservative), ended up apologising for the "premature" release of routes potentially facing the axe.

Councillor Carter stated there is no longer a need for the subsidies to end, and announced on 16th January that a consultation into the proposals, that was due to start on the following day, will no longer take place. Instead, County Hall has budgeted £500,000 for "conversations" about the buses with parish councils and community groups.

“We believe there are smarter, more responsive ways to deliver these bus services,” said Cllr Carter. “We intend to arrange a whole series of big conversations with parish councils and communities on how this can be delivered.”

Many Kent residents have been left wondering why Paul Carter didn't  speak out about this before, and the fallout  from this debacle has seen Cllr Matthew Balfour, the Cabinet Member for Transport, lose his job last week to Cllr Mike Whiting. 

Martin Betts, Campaign Coordinator for Tunbridge Wells Labour Party, said: “The climb-down from making severe cuts to bus subsidies is to be welcomed. It is a direct response to thousands of people across the county who are saying that they have had enough of the austerity embraced by Conservatives at all levels of government. Instead of tinkering with budgets at county level we need proper Government funding to ensure that we get the decent public services we need”. 

Gillian Douglass, Chair of Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats , added: “The rural routes had already been cut down which effects chiefly the older people and younger people. It is great we are going to keep these services.” 

Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, said: “I am delighted that Kent County Council has listened to our concerns about potential cuts to local bus services. Many people would have been affected so this news will be a great relief. It is vital that our local bus services keep running.”

"Weasel words", some might say, from these politicians, all of whom seem more interested in scoring points off one another rather than doing anything constructive, so let's put politics to one side and look at things from the perspective of bus users.


Now whilst I am one of those who signed the petition, protesting against the cuts, I have to confess the only times I use bus services are for CAMRA socials, in order to visit some of our more rural and outlying pubs. I have occasionally used these services, whilst out walking in order to reach either the start of my walk or as a means of returning me home, but by and large I am a committed car user.

Things might have been different of course, had the government not moved the goalposts and upped the age at which citizens qualify for a free bus pass from 60, to state retirement age (66 in my case). That though is a different story, and one outside the scope of this article.

Instead it does bring up the whole thorny issue of rural bus services and the mantra of “use it or lose it”. I say this because more often than not, my CAMRA companions and I have either been the only people travelling on some of these rural buses, or we have constituted by far the largest number of the passengers.

So whilst I am perfectly happy to see some of my hard-earned Council Tax being used to subside these rural services, I would definitely like to see more people using them. I’m sure there are others who will disagree though, and some will no doubt question the ethics of council-tax payers subsidising "pensioner’s trips to the pub".

To those people I would say, remember that one day, you too will be old. Health or financial constraints may mean you are no longer able to drive a car, or perhaps you will become unable to bear the cost of running your own vehicle. In such instances, that subsidised bus service may just prove the lifeline you are looking for.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

From the archives - Part One



As some of you will know, my wife has been rather poorly since the start of the New Year, after suffering a nasty chest infection which developed into full-blown pneumonia. She ended up in intensive care in Maidstone hospital, and spent eight days on a ventilator under sedation, with various lines and drips attached to her.

She is now fortunately,  conscious and was sitting up in a chair when  we visited  her earlier this evening. She is still weak and confused in equal measures, so despite protestations to the contrary, she will need to remain in hospital for some time. So what with daily visits plus all the cooking, washing and other household chores keeping me occupied, I haven’t had a lot of time for writing of late.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to come across an article which I'd written over 10 years ago, or possibly even longer, and whilst parts of it may seem a little dated, due to the many changes which have occurred within the brewing industry, it is still worth a read, even if it’s just for the historical value. The post is about Old Ales and Barley Wines and my early experiences of these beers.
 
Old Ales & Barley Wines

I always think that Old Ales and Barley Wines represent something to look forward to as winter approaches. Although their appearance usually heralds the start of colder weather, they help to brighten up what can otherwise be a depressing time of the year.

The majority of brewers produce either a draught Old Ale or Barley Wine these days; some even produce both. This is in addition to other dark beers such as Porters and Stouts. Sitting in a quiet country pub, in front of a roaring log fire, sipping a glass or two of Young’s Winter Warmer, Wadworth's Old Timer or Harvey’s Christmas Ale, is one of the finer pleasures in life. The rich, warming and potent nature of these beers not only helps to keep out the cold, but also helps satisfy the inner man.

My first introduction to such brews came in the form of Young’s Winter Warmer - a very aptly named beer if ever there was one. Unfortunately, I remember neither the time nor the place, but believe that it must have been somewhere in Wandsworth, where Young’s pubs are thick on the ground.

My second introduction to winter ales came during my student days, back in the mid 1970’s, and was in the form of Robinson’s Old Tom. The latter is a rich, dark, warming and rather potent barley wine, with an alcohol content of 8.5%. The location where I first sampled this beer was the Star Inn, a tiny Robinson’s outlet, tucked away down a side road called Back Hope Street, in a backwater area of Salford. This particular pub was a favourite haunt of students and was also my local for a time, even though it involved a walk of some twenty minutes or so from where I was living at the time.

One evening, whilst enjoying a few pints in the Star, a friend and I were informed by the landlady that, with winter fast approaching, the pub would be getting some Old Tom Ale in for customers to try. The prospect of sampling what we had hitherto regarded as a bottled beer only was an exciting one, but after a couple of fruitless visits, when we were told that the beer had either not arrived, or that it had arrived but wasn't quite ready to serve, we finally struck lucky. Perched up on the bar, was a small wooden cask, full of Old Tom.

We awaited our first taste with eager anticipation, as the landlady slowly filled our glasses, but to our surprise she insisted on serving us in half pint glasses. It appeared that pints were considered too much for this rather potent beer! The beer was black, sweet, extremely potent and nice and warming. My friend and I made several more visits to the Star for a glass or two of Old Tom before that particular cask ran out.

After that supplies seemed to become somewhat erratic, and on a subsequent occasion we were only alerted to the beer's availability by the bizarre behaviour of one of the students who shared a house with us. "Mild-mannered" Martin, a shy and somewhat retiring type, had to be physically restrained one night after running amok wielding a machete!

We later found out that he had spent the evening in the Star, and had managed to consume three pints of Old Tom! As he was someone who didn't normally drink, one can only describe him as being off his trolley. Certainly he had no recollection of his strange behaviour the following day, although he was suffering from a king-size hangover!

It must have been around this time that I first sampled Theakston's Old Peculier. I had tried the bottled version a year or two previously, but found the cask-conditioned version to be far superior. The place where I enjoyed this legendary drink was the Ram's Head, a wonderfully unspoilt and remote pub high up on the moors above Oldham. The Ram's Head, or "Owd Tupps" as it was commonly known as, is the subject of a previous post, so I won't elaborate any further here.

Later on, whilst still living in the Greater Manchester area, my friend and I were able to track down other barley wines and winter ales. Prominent amongst these were Boddington’s Strong Ale, now sadly discontinued and Hyde’s Anvil Strong Ale. When I moved to London, following the completion of my studies, I discovered that a number of Charrington’s pubs sold Highgate Old Ale, from the West Midlands based company of the same name, during the winter months.

Upon returning to Kent I renewed what had been a fleeting acquaintance with Shepherd Neame Stock Ale. I later discovered there was nothing particularly special about Stock Ale as it was just the company's Best Bitter with added caramel, which explains why I found it rather on the thin side. Much more full bodied and enjoyable were Harvey’s Old and King and Barnes Old. These two Sussex brewers seem to have cracked the art of producing a fine, mellow old ale, that is just the right balance between being smooth and warming, without being too strong in alcohol. Wethered’s Winter Royal was another fine winter beer that made a fleeting appearance in Kentish pubs during this time, as were the various incarnations of Greene King's Winter Ale.

I mentioned Shepherd Neame Stock earlier. Whilst this may have been on the weak side, the same could not be said of the company's Christmas Ale. This was a very strong, bottled pale ale, brewed specially for the festive season. Sadly it was discontinued some years ago, although I do have sitting on my shelf a couple of bottles of Shepherd Neame 1996 Vintage Christmas Ale 6.7% ABV. This is a limited edition bottled beer, packaged in an attractive box. According to the label, "This year's ale contains cinnamon spice and the best 1995 malted barley and Kentish hops".

Whilst on the subject of bottled barley wines and Christmas Ales, Gales Prize Old Ale is another fine beer that is well worth seeking out. It still comes packaged in corked bottles, and is a beer that has been specially aged in oak casks. With an ABV of 9.0 % it is a beer for sipping rather than supping, and should be accorded the sort of respect normally reserved for a drink like vintage port.

Courage Russian Imperial Stout is another bottled conditioned beer which is well worth mentioning. This legendary beer, only available in third of a pint nips, was originally brewed for trade with the Baltic, and was reputedly a favourite of the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great. It wasn’t originally a Courage beer, but instead was brewed by their south London neighbours, Barclay Perkins. With a reputed  strength  approaching 11% ABV. it was certainly a beer to be treated with respect, yet one night I remember a friend drinking twelve bottles (equivalent to four pints!) and still managing to walk home unaided. Sadly, Russian Imperial Stout was discontinued early in 1998. The excuse given by the brewery was “lack of demand”. (Lack of promotion, and poor availability would probably be nearer the truth!)

Whitbread Gold Label Barley Wine, originally brewed by Tennant Bros. of Sheffield, ended up supplanting many other barley wines. It even saw off Whitbread's own barley wine - Final Selection. Somewhat unusually, it is a pale beer, unlike the more usual dark colour of most barley wines. Bass No 1 Barley Wine also bit the dust some years back, although it has now been resurrected, in cask-conditioned form, by the small-scale brewery at the Bass Museum in Burton-on Trent. It is brewed during the summer and aged for six months in oak casks. Supplies though, are strictly limited and it is normally necessary to visit the museum itself in order to sample it.



Saturday, 13 January 2018

End of an era?



Regular attendees of the Kent Beer Festival are in for an unpleasant shock, following the news that the event is having to look for a new home. The Kent Festival is the second oldest CAMRA organised event in the country, and this year would have seen Kent’s premier beer festival celebrating its 44th year.

For most of that 44 year period the festival has been held at Merton Farm, just outside Canterbury, but with just six months to go, the festival organisers have been stunned by the farm’s owners decision to pull the plug on the event.

No reason has been given for this, but in a statement, festival organiser Andy Mitchell said “I have been unable to set a date for the festival this year, as I have been advised today (finally) that Merton farm do not wish to facilitate us going forward”.

He went on to say, “I am in the process of seeking another venue. If possible it is hoped that the dates will still remain the same weekend as usual 19th-21st of July but I cannot confirm that at this time. I am already in contact with a potential new venue and full details will be available on here as and when details can be confirmed".

"Please be assured that it is my/our intention to still hold the festival this year and I will let you know as soon as I can”.

The first festival took place back in 1975, and was held in Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens. It continued to be held on this site until 1984, when it moved to the Kent County Cricket Ground for a two year spell.

In 1986 it moved again to Gravesend’s Woodville Halls; the only time it has been held outside of Canterbury. The venue didn’t prove to be a success, and the following year it moved again to its current site at Merton Farm, at Nackington, just outside Canterbury.

So a real disappointment for Kent Beer Festival aficionados, and definitely the end of an era for those of us who make a yearly pilgrimage to this annual event. To those who have never been to the festival, it was held in a massive cow-shed at Merton Farm, very close to the historic farmhouse at the heart of the complex.

There was  often a  distinct “farmyard” smell about the place, particularly during warm weather, and the setting itself was definitely a “Marmite” one. Some people detested the cow-shed, describing it as unhygienic and totally unsuitable for a beer festival whilst others loved its quirkiness and laid-back atmosphere.

My opinion lies somewhere in the middle, in so much that I really enjoy the rural setting of the festival, but am not quite so keen on the cow-shed itself. It can become stiflingly hot inside, although this can be countered by nipping outside from time to time. Do this too often though, and you risk losing your seat.

Speaking realistically for a moment, it probably is time for the festival to move on, and adopt a more polished and professional approach. People like me will always look back with affection at the easy going, laissez faire atmosphere of Merton Farm, but are today’s festival looking for something else; something more sophisticated and up to date?

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Swan-on-the-Green, West Peckham



Brew-pubs have been with us in various guises, for centuries. In fact before the rise of commercial breweries, virtually all brewing would have been carried out either in the home, or at the local alehouse.

It was the Middle Ages which saw the first appearance of the “common brewer”; this being someone who brewed beer for any alehouse that did not brew its own beer, and whilst these continued to grow in both number and size, it was still common for most pubs to brew their own beer.

Even as late as the early part of the 19th Century, around half of the brewing in England was still carried out privately – that is to say by publicans or alehouse owners themselves. The success of the “common brewers” was practically guaranteed though, as the stability and economies of scale they brought to an industry which was very much hit-or-miss, and which lacked the benefits of scientific knowledge and process control,  ensured the drinking public would be getting an enjoyable and quality end product.

Much has been written about the rise of the great brewing companies during the 18th and 19th Centuries, but the success of these breweries, and their smaller more localised counterparts, slowly spelled the end for the publican brewer. During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the number of pubs which still brewed their own beer went into terminal decline, and by the time CAMRA first appeared on the scene, there were just four such brew-pubs remaining in Britain.

Since then, spurred on by the success of the “Real Ale movement” and the burgeoning interest in beer, the number of brewpubs has increased, but this growth has at times been quite sporadic and has often been in waves.

During the 1980’s, David Bruce and his chain of “Firkin” brew-pubs helped to swell the number of brew-pubs quite substantially, but once some of the bigger brewers muscled in on the act, many drinkers began to view pubs which brewed their own ale as something of a gimmick.

Since those heady days, numerous brew-pubs have come and gone, but the genre has seen a steady revival in recent years, largely as a result of the rise of  so-called “craft-beer”. It is therefore encouraging to know that there are still a few pubs who can trace their traditions back, perhaps not quite to those very early days, or indeed not even to the time of  David Bruce, but which nevertheless have been brewing their own beers for the best part of the last two decades. To have such a pub, almost on the doorstep,  is something to be cherished, and after visiting this pub last weekend, I am pleased to report the tradition of home-brewed ales still continues in a few isolated pockets of the country.

The pub in question is the Swan-on-the-Green, in the tiny village of West Peckham, which is roughly halfway between Tonbridge and Maidstone. West Peckham is literally on the “road to nowhere”, as it is reached by turning off along a "dead-end" lane, from the Mereworth to Plaxtol road, a short distance from the B2016 Seven Mile Lane.

Apart from a few houses overlooking the large and attractive village green, plus the rather lovely Saxon church of St. Dunstan's, there is little else in West Peckham, apart from the village pub, appropriately called the Swan-on-the-Green.

The pub was known as the Miller’s Arms, having first acquired a licence in 1685. This was when the establishment originally incorporated a bakery. Parts of the current building are said to date back to the 16th Century, but most of the pub is slightly newer. In 1852, under new ownership, it changed its name to the Swan. In 2000 the pub was altered again to incorporate "The Swan Micro-brewery" which brews its own range of cask conditioned beers.

I first visited the Swan during the early 1980’s, when I was a member of Maidstone CAMRA branch. Back then it was a pretty ordinary Courage house overlooking the village green. The pub slipped off my radar when I moved to Tonbridge in 1984, and it wasn’t until it started brewing its own beer, as mentioned above, that I took a renewed interest in the place.

Being well of the beaten track, the Swan doesn’t appear the easiest place to get to by public transport, but with a little forward planning, a visit there is perfectly feasible and relatively straight forward. The No.7 service bus, which runs daily between Tonbridge and Maidstone, calls at the nearby village of Mereworth.  Alighting at the stop nearest the village school, followed by a walk along country lanes of just under a mile and a half, brings one to West Peckham. From there, just head towards the church and the village green, and the Swan will be apparent on the left.

Several of my visits though have been whilst walking in this picturesque corner of the county. Both the Greensand Way and Weald Way long distance foot paths, pass close by, and it is whilst walking these routes that I have ended up at the Swan. On Sunday though, I arrived by car, on my way home from Maidstone, after visiting Mrs PBT’s who is in being treated in hospital there, to sort out a rather nasty chest infection.

I parked the car at the side of the pub, pausing briefly to look at the adjoining outbuilding at the rear, which houses the Swan’s  micro-brewery, and made my way inside. The pub is divided into two distinct areas either side of the bar. There is a larger area to the left, which is primarily given over to eating, and a smaller section to the right. This seems to be where the pub regulars and locals from the village hang out. They were certainly all there on Sunday, along with their dogs.

I sat at the bar, as there was plenty of space, and I was not blocking anyone’s access. There were four home-brewed ales on offer; ranging from the 3.6% Fuggles Pale to the 7.4% Christmas Ale. As  I was driving I opted for the former, a crisp, pleasant and very refreshing beer which slipped down well. I scored it at 3.5 NBSS. At just £3.20 a pint, the Fuggles Pale was excellent value for money, and just goes to prove the economies which can be achieved when the beer is brewed on the premises.

I stayed for around 30 minutes. Watching the comings and goings in the adjacent right-hand bar area. These seemed to mainly revolve around people and their dogs. It was all very pleasant, and all so very English and I was glad of the distraction from the spiral of events of the past few days.

I left just after 2.30pm, and was back in Tonbridge, and back to reality in under 15 minutes. I was pleased I’d called in though and will certainly be making further return visits to the Swan. I might also be tempted to treat myself to something of the menu, even though it looks a trifle on the dear side.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Keep the River-Lawn green



A remark by Canada-based commentator, Russ on my most recent post about the Nelson Arms, reminded me that sometimes us Brits aren’t prepared to be shoved around and see our much loved institutions, or local beauty spots taken away from us.

Russ’s comment was, "Good to see locals (in the UK) stepping up to preserve something they feel strongly about". To which I informed him that  the same group responsible for obtaining the ACV on the Nelson Arms, also ran a campaign to save the River-Lawn; an area of parkland in Tonbridge close, to the river, which the local authority wanted to sell off for development.

The land, which fronts the River Medway, was originally bought by the then Tonbridge Urban District Council in 1919. Out of work, servicemen, returning from the Great War, were employed to clear and then landscape the site, turning it into a pleasant green area, overlooking the river, for the townspeople to enjoy in perpetuity.

Fast forward to 2017, and the now greatly enlarged Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, decided to sell off the River-Lawn to a developer, who wished to erect houses and offices on the site (madness on a floodplain and close to a river which is prone to bursting its banks). The local authority claimed they were strapped for cash, which is probably true, and the sale would generate some much needed cash; but to sell off an asset that has been enjoyed by local residents for the best part of a century, was foolhardy, and flying in the face of local opinion.

Various protest meeting were called, culminating in a march through the centre of Tonbridge on 23rd September, last year. Along with many other local people, I became involved, and joined the protest held by the group, as we marched through the centre of Tonbridge.

It was a great day, the sun was shining and we brought the town centre to a standstill. The march culminated in a rally, held at the River-Lawn, at which various speeches were made opposing the sell-off of this much loved green space with its magnificent, mature horse-chestnut trees.

The protest attracted masses of support from local residents, shoppers and trades-people, but despite the intense opposition of local people, the council still went ahead and sold the land. TMBC were able to do this because councillors from parts of the borough, many miles away from Tonbridge (the borough extends right along the Medway, almost as far as Rochester), voted in favour of the proposal, as it didn’t affect their “patch”.

I understand an appeal has been raised against the decision, but in the meantime, here are a few photos I took on the day, which demonstrate local people protesting against a measure they consider as both unjust and detrimental to their town.

ps. Thanks to Russ for reminding me of that sunny weekend, back in September last year.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Another "destination pub" for Tonbridge



I’m not sure if I let this one slip back in the summer, but in case I didn’t, or for those who may have missed it, Tonbridge will soon be getting another “destination pub”.

The news come hot on the heels of Fuggles opening in the town, and whilst this was several months ago now, the new addition, which I am about to reveal, will provide some much needed choice to the south end of Tonbridge; an area which sometimes feels like the poor relation to the rest of the town.

The pub in question is the Nelson Arms; a real back-street, corner local, which until its closure in March last year, belonged to Shepherd Neame. It is located in Cromer Street, close to the railway, in the Barden area of the town. It was the closest, and indeed the only pub to where my in-laws used to live, and when I first knew it, it was a Courage house.

The Nelson had been knocked about over the years, losing its separate bars in he process, along with much of its character. When Shepherd Neame announced its closure, a number of local residents and users of the pub, formed an action group, and successfully applied for an AVC to help keep the building as a pub, and to prevent the site from being redeveloped.

In July last year, the pub was bought by Matt and Emma who also own the excellent Windmill at Sevenoaks Weald, and who have turned what was formerly a run-down Greene King pub, into one of the best pubs in the area. The Windmill definitely fits the billing of “destination pub”, offering up to six, locally sourced, cask beers, traditional cider, plus a number of Belgian beers.

The pub has deservedly been voted Pub of the Year, by West Kent CAMRA, for several years running and was only very narrowly pipped at the post by Fuggles, in last year’s competition. Having seen what Matt and Emma have achieved at the Windmill, we have high expectations for what they have planned for the Nelson.

The company in charge of the redesign, are Kook Creative, a design studio based in West Malling, specialising in residential and commercial interiors across the South-East. The Nelson represents their second project in Tonbridge, as the firm were also responsible for the design of the new Fuggles in the town.

From what I understand, some of the original partitions are being put back in place, in order to re-create a multi-bar pub. This will allow the Nelson to cater for a variety of different customers. The beer range will also be a key feature of the re-opened pub; something which will go down well with local residents, including myself.

Again, from what I have heard, the pub will only be serving a very limited range of food, which given its location in a residential area, is not really surprising. Matt and Emma are planning to open the doors of their latest creation at the end of this month, so watch this space for further news.

Monday, 1 January 2018

A new year beckons


Created by Harryarts - Freepik.com

Well here we are at the start of another year, and at the moment it’s something of a blank canvas. I’m returning to work tomorrow, and I’m actually glad to be getting back to a routine.

Call it “cabin fever” but after being cooped up indoors for the best part of 10 days thanks to a particularly nasty cold, which my wife kindly passed to me the day after Boxing Day, I need to be back out in the world, interacting with people and keeping myself busy.

I don’t want to be too hard on Mrs PBT’s as she’s still rather poorly. She won’t be returning to the world of commerce tomorrow, as her cold has turned into an equally nasty chest-infection, but being confined to the house wasn’t all bad, as I got a significant amount of writing done.

I managed to knocking out seven posts during the last week of the year, which was good going for me, and allowed my output for 2017 to reach 150 posts. I almost certainly won’t be keeping that rate going, as I return to the nitty-gritty of running a busy Quality Control Department, but I must have been suffering from the opposite of “writer’s block”, as the creative stuff just kept on coming.

Part of the my creative splurge may have been down to the acquisition of a laptop. I currently use  a desk-top PC for most of my writing, but I had this idea that a laptop would give me more flexibility and allow me to write, and do other stuff, in a variety of locations, so I’m pleased with my decision to go “portable”.

Freed from being tied to one room, I found the time to give my office-cum-study a much needed tidy, and sort out, so again not venturing out (I had to call off a couple of proposed get-togethers with friends, including a walk to a country pub), wasn’t the disaster it could have been.

So looking at some of the events planned for 2018, I’m heading up to Manchester in just over three weeks time, to attend the Beer & Cider Festival being held in the city at Manchester Central. A couple of day’s ago I finalised my accommodation and travel arrangements, and providing everything goes to plan, I shall be in Manchester for a couple of days.

It will be interesting to see how much the city has changed, since my time there as a student, at Salford University, during the mid 1970’s. I’ve only been back a couple of times since, and as they were business trips, I didn’t have much free time to explore. I’m certainly keen to see how much my old seat of learning has changed over the past four decades.

Upon my return it will have to be full steam ahead with the new bathroom project; the one I referred to briefly in my end of year round-up. After the shower, which had served us for the best part of 20 years, gave up the ghost, we’ve been managing with something of a “lash-up”,  which freezes you one minute and scalds you the next, so it’s definitely time to move this project forward.

My son and I are off  to Bamberg in May,  joining the same group of beer enthusiasts from Maidstone CAMRA who we travelled with to Düsseldorf. Their itinerary is only for three days, so we’ve decided to make a week of it and see a bit more of the surrounding area. A visit to Würzburg is on the cards, and it would also be good to have a look at the area to the east of Bamberg, known as the Fränkische Schweiz (Franconian Switzerland).

My good lady wife has expressed a wish to visit Scotland. I’ve got nearly a week’s leave left, which I’m not allowed to carry over into the new financial year, so March is looking the most probable time for our visit. There are no definite plans yet, just a few hazy ideas, but there is one trip destined for later in the year which I have been working on, especially whilst I was confined to quarters.

It’s been 10 years since my last transatlantic trip, and I promised my sister in Ohio, that I would visit her this year. I’m working on tying the trip in with attending the 2018 Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference, which takes place in August, in Loudoun County, Virginia, close to Washington Dulles International Airport.

I've attended three such Beer Writer’s Conferences held in Europe; the last one taking place in 2016. The company which organises these events is American and they have been running them in the US since 2010. Although I haven’t booked anything yet, and am still sketching out plans, it would be good to go along to this conference, before heading off north-west to spend a bit of time with my sister and brother-in-law.

So these are my plans for the year so far. They are obviously focused around travel, but beer will also play a significant role in them as well. As to whether they will all come off, well that remains to be seen, but at the moment I’m working on the assumption that they will!