Tuesday, 14 May 2019

A couple of old favourites

Last Bank Holiday Monday I repeated the previous month’s walk to the Hopbine at Petteridge. This time around I had a companion who accompanied me from Paddock Wood station. There was also a second pub involved, in the shape of the Halfway House, just outside the village of Brenchley.

There should have been three of us on the walk, but one of our small group had missed his connecting train from Tunbridge Wells, and had said he would catch us up. Undeterred, Simon and I set off from the station, but rather than walk along the road out of Paddock Wood, found a much more pleasant route which involved leaving the  built up areas much sooner. The downside was that this alternative path added a couple of miles to the overall journey.

Small matter, the path took us through some very pleasant countryside and as an added bonus the sun started to peak through the clouds. The temperatures were still on the cool side though, and a complete contrast to the warm wall to wall sunshine when I’d undertaken the walk at the end of March.

Although we’d taken a slightly different route, there was still the stiff climb up onto the northern edge of the High Weald to test our fitness and stamina. Back on level ground, we thought we could see our missing companion Tony, striding out ahead. Unfortunately there was slightly too much distance between us, and with no binoculars (why do I always forget to pack my set?), it wasn’t possible to make him out.

The opportunity was lost when the shadowy figure in the distance disappeared into an area of woodland, and by the time we reached the road into Matfield, there was no sign of our wayward friend. With all possibility of catching him up lost, we took a slightly different route into Matfield, which brought us out onto the village green, just by the pond.

To our left was the impressive Matfield House, a charming brick-built, Georgian house which dates from 1728. It is a perfect example of the type of house built by  well-to-do farmers or small landowners. As well as the carefully restored main house there is a courtyard surrounded by other buildings from the same period, such as some stables and a brick-built barn. Seeing this lovely old set of buildings was proof, if proof were needed, that if you step aside from your usual route, you can often see things you never knew were there.

After crossing the busy road running passed the green, we picked up the High Weald Landscape Trail, which took us all the way to the tiny hamlet of Petteridge and the lovely old Hopbine Inn. This was the same route I had taken on my previous walk.

As Simon and I headed along the lane that runs in front of the pub, who should come around the corner than our missing companion Tony. He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but it turned out that we were correct in our assumption that it was indeed Tony who we saw ahead of us, in the distance, as we approached Matfield.

Despite starting 30 minutes or so behind us, he had stolen a march on us by taking the direct route out of Paddock Wood, rather than the meandering and more rural one which we had taken. Then, by walking fast, not only had he arrived at  the Hopbine ahead of us, he’d also had time to knock back a pint!

When we bumped into him, he was just leaving the Hopbine and was en route to the next pub. He’d apparently sent us a text, but with an intermittent signal in the area, Simon and I had both missed it. After our walk we were both gagging for at least one pint at the Hopbine, and with Tony needing little persuasion to join us for a further beer, we trooped inside.

There were a handful of people inside, but the pub was by no means packed. Tony said that it had been much busier earlier, but the paucity of customers meant there were plenty of table to sit at. Beer-wise there were two offerings from Cellar Head, plus Best Bitter from Long Man and Traditional from Tonbridge Brewery. Simon and I opted for the Spring Pale Ale from the former, whilst Tony went for the Tonbridge beer.

The Cellar Head offering was nice and refreshing and definitely most welcome after our walk, and it was tempting to stay for another, but with a second pub to visit we all thought it best to get going. On the way out we took a look at the area of terraced decking at the rear of the pub.

It was too cold for sitting outside, but the terrace looked like it would be popular on a warm day. The route to the Halfway House is one  which is quite familiar to West Kent CAMRA members, and it involves a cross-country track which runs between two farms. We the walked along a series of minor roads which took us past some  rather attractive-looking and very desirable properties.

I wasn’t timing our walk, and it as nowhere near the length of the outward one, but once again that first pint was very welcoming. For the benefit of my less local readers, the Halfway House is a well regarded and long established free house, which offers a wide range of cask ales, but a range which doesn’t tend to vary much.

The majority of  beers at the Halfway House are from  reasonably well known, and mainly local breweries, so it is not unusual to see the likes of Goacher’s, Kent Brewery, Rother Valley and Westerham on sale. Betty Stoggs, from Skinner’s is also normally available; this Cornish ale proving the exception to the rule.

All cask beers are served direct from the barrel, using exactly the same system as the Dovecote at Capel. This is not surprising given that landlord Richard Allen developed this innovative means of storing and dispensing beer whilst at the Dovecote, and when he moved to the Halfway House, he installed the same system there.

We grabbed a table in the top right-hand section of the pub, in sight of the bar, and quite close to the door. I started with a pint of Goacher’s Fine Light before moving onto a rare find in the form of Family Stout from Westerham Brewery. Both were in good condition, and I scored both beers at 3.5 NBSS.

The Halfway House is an easy-going sort of place, with creaking timber floors, open fires and a motley assortment of all kinds of bric-a-brac. People seemed to come and go, as the pub ticked over in an equally relaxed sort of way. The Halfway has been West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year on several past occasions, and seems to just carry on, ploughing its own furrow, in its own sort of way.

In a way that’s hard to describe, we found ourselves drawn into the same easy going atmosphere, exuded by the place and were only prompted to leave when we noticed just how much the clock had ticked on.

The route back to Paddock Wood took us into the charming village of Brenchley, but a place now bereft of pubs.  The attractive, half-timbered Rose & Crown closed its doors for the last time many years ago, and now the Bull has sort of followed suit.

The former pub, in the shadow of the 13th Century village church, has morphed into the Little Bull Café & Bar. It is run by a local couple and looks pleasant enough. The ideal place perhaps for a bite to eat or a cuppa but, as its name implies, it is a café rather than a pub with limited opening times and craft, rather than cask beer.

After passing through the village, we made our way to the familiar path which descends through an abandoned golf course, and back to Paddock Wood. This area of countryside is a victim of the 2008 banking crisis, and it is fascinating to witness how it is continuing to revert back to nature.

The land is being grazed, but only in parts, and as first scrub and then young trees gradually take over, the greens and the fairways have disappeared, with just a few overgrown bunkers still visible.

So with change happening all around, it is good to report that, pub-wise, the Hopbine and the Halfway House are both still as good and reliable as ever. Long may this continue.

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