Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Jolly Boy's Outing

There can be few people, in this country at least, who haven’t seen the classic, Christmas special episode of “Only Fools & Horses”, which sees Del, Rodney and the rest of the regulars from the Nag’s Head setting off on a coach trip to Margate. Set during an Easter Bank Holiday Weekend, the episode was titled “The Jolly Boy’s Outing”, and is based on the type of beery coach trips to the coast which many London pubs used to organise up until a decade or so ago.

Sometimes described as  “Beano's”, these trips were meant for an almost exclusively male clientele, and were basically an organised “piss-up.” There would be several, pre-arranged pub stops on the way to the seaside, and plenty of opportunity to visits a few pubs at the final destination as well. For good measure, there would normally be a few crates of bottled beer (nearly always brown ale), stowed away at the back of the coach.

Whilst not quite in the same vein as these legendary “Beano’s”, for the past 12 years, West Kent CAMRA have run an annual trip to Margate in order to visit the town’s long-standing beer festival, “Planet Thanet”. Train is the preferred means of travel, rather than coach, and there are no crates of brown ale hidden away in the guard’s van either, but apart from that these trips are similar, in spirit at least, to the Jolly Boy’s Outings of yester-year.

This now annual pilgrimage to the seaside always takes place on Good Friday, which is the opening day of the festival. This is unfortunate for me as the Planet Thanet trip invariably clashes with Maidstone CAMRA’s annual ramble, and for me, walking through the Kent countryside, during early spring, to a nice country pub, in the company of old friends, always wins out over being stuck in a hall sampling half after half of too many similar-tasting beers.

That was until the rains came, for as I wrote in the previous post, deluge after deluge have left our fields totally sodden and many footpaths virtually impassable. There was nothing else to do, but bite the bullet and join my CAMRA friends on their trip “Down to Margate”. I enjoyed the train ride down to the coast and had a rather smug feeling as I surveyed the water-logged fields from the comfort of our nice dry carriage. We had to change trains at both Ashford and Ramsgate, and it was at the latter that we noticed plenty of other fellow travellers were heading for the same destination as us. (CAMRA members can usually be spotted a mile off!).

It is several years since I last set foot in Margate, but the town doesn’t seem to have changed much. Given the weather the place looked particularly windswept and desolate, and from behind the protective glass of a seafront café, where we stopped for a late breakfast the beach looked far from inviting. The Planet Thanet festival takes place at Margate Winter Gardens, described as Thanet’s leading conference, entertainment and banqueting venue. Located on the cliff-top, looking out to sea in an artificial hollow at Fort Green, the Winter Gardens can accommodate events ranging from a 1,400 theatre style conference to a 750 banquet with several other smaller syndicate rooms.

The complex opened in August 1911, and today is owned by Thanet District Council and managed by Your Leisure Kent Limited. There are winter gardens in other seaside resorts, such as Blackpool, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Morecombe and Weston-super-Mare, but this visit to the Margate Gardens was to be my first to any of them. It was a bit of a climb up to Fort Green, the strong winds and driving rain seeming to impede our progress, and once inside the shelter of the entrance hall, there was still a queue to gain entry to the festival. Admission was free to card-carrying CAMRA members, otherwise a fee of £5 was payable.

The event followed the pattern of many other CAMRA festivals, with a refundable, souvenir glass to drink from and tokens to be used in exchange for beer at the bars. After providing ourselves with both we grabbed a table in the quieter of the two halls. I must add here that I was just following my companions who seem to have turned their attendance at Planet Thanet into a finely-tuned, well-oiled art.

There were around 170 cask beers on offer, plus a number of ciders, perries and bottled beers. The beers were all racked behind the bar in the main hall, which for obvious reasons was by far the busiest of the two halls. Live music was also provided in the main hall, with a particularly good band playing cover versions of classics from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Santana. As well as an excellent selection of ales, special mention should be made of the prices, as most beers were on sale at just £3.00 a pint, with some of the stronger ones priced at £3.50. Over half of the beers were from Kent, and it was good to see so many Kentish ales on sale under the same roof.

Now comes the confession; I have really gone off beer festivals, so after splashing out on my train fare and spending the best art of two hours travelling, you’d be entitles to ask, what the hell was I doing there? I asked that question myself, but if truth be known I had gone along to Planet Thanet primarily for the company of friends and the experience of visiting a corner of Kent I don’t often get to.

It would have been rude not to have indulged in a few beers though, so I got stuck in, starting off on some of the weaker pale beers, before switching to some of the darker and stronger porters. The beers which really stood out for me were on the pale side: Five Points Pale 4.4% from Five Points Brewing of Hackney and Hurricane Jack 4.4% from Fyne Ales, plus Clwydian Black Porter 4.7% from Hafod Brewery, Rabbie’s Porter 4.3% from Ayr Brewery and 1872 Porter 6.5% from Elland Brewery. The latter three were all dark ales, in case you hadn’t guessed.

We departed at 6pm, heading down to the seafront in search of something to eat before catching the train home. On the way up to the Winter Gardens we’d noticed a rather small chippy called Peter’s Fish Factory. Several of my companions had been here on previous trips to Margate, and although its advertised offer of Haddock and Chips for just £3.95 seemed almost too good to be true, the queue outside when we arrived, was testament to both the quality and value for money offered by this tiny little take-away.

We huddled together in the shelter of a shop doorway, enjoying our excellent fish supper, before calling in for one last beer at what is probably the town’s best known micro-pub. The Fez opened in December 2015 in a former shop, and is furnished with a mixture of high and low tables and some raised bench seating. Virtually every inch of wall and indeed ceiling space is covered with various brewery and fairground memorabilia.

The place was absolutely heaving, but fortunately we managed to grab a table by the door, just as the occupants were leaving. I believe I had a glass of Gadd’s Dog Bolter Porter, but it was getting late in the day, so I can’t really be sure. The journey back to Tonbridge was uneventful, and I even managed to avoid falling asleep, but next year, unless we have repeat performance of this year’s deluge, I shall be off rambling again.

Before finishing, I would like to thank my companions for their company and good humour. No need to name names, they all know who they are.

4 comments:

Russtovich said...

"There can be few people, in this country at least, who haven’t seen the classic, Christmas special episode of “Only Fools & Horses”"

I haven't, but then I don't live there. Although I have heard of the show. May have to poke around the Web. :)

" for the past 12 years, West Kent CAMRA have run an annual trip to Margate in order to visit the town’s long-standing beer festival, “Planet Thanet”"

I must admit, that sounds like fun.

"Over half of the beers were from Kent, and it was good to see so many Kentish ales on sale under the same roof."

Pretty decent prices for such an event, and good to see the local beers in the fore.

"I would like to thank my companions for their company and good humour."

That's the main thing in an outing, be it a ramble in the countryside or a beer festival (of course the ramble is even better if it includes a few pints at the end). :)

Although I don't frequent many beer festivals I have somewhat the same feeling (and my remark above about sounding like fun is, of course, assuming I go only every so often). :)

My wife was going to surprise me with going to one in Victoria, BC. Apparently it's held every year and goes on for 9 days! I told her I'd much rather go for a pint here and there with her over the summer instead. :)

Cheers

PS - "and I even manage to avoid falling asleep,"

Managed me thinks.

Paul Bailey said...

The prices were very reasonable Russ, much more than those at the national Great British Beer Festival.

The company, and humour, is what makes these types of outing and, as you say, if there's a few pints at the end, or along the way, then so much the better.

I really like your final comment, and trust it is not too long before you and your wife can go off on those summer outings, and enjoy a few pints!

Best wishes, Paul.

Russtovich said...

"I really like your final comment, and trust it is not too long before you and your wife can go off on those summer outings, and enjoy a few pints!"

Thanks Paul, appreciate that. ��

Mr Luchador said...

That chilled bear and windy beach, hope it would be an amazing tour.
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