Finding Harvey’s Old is not as easy as it should be, as each year I get to November without coming across any, and a glance at 2021’s calendar informs me we are now only a few days away from December! The trouble is Old Ale only ever seems to feature in Harvey’s own tied pubs, even though I’m sure the beer is available to those free trade customers that want it.
To make matters worse, there aren’t any of the brewery's pubs close to where I live, although some are only a train or bus ride away. It was the bus that would be my saviour, when I discovered I could travel direct from Tonbridge to the rather upmarket village of Chipstead, just on the edge of Sevenoaks. Chipstead is home to two pubs, one of which is the Bricklayer’s Arms, a Harvey’s tied pub, and a look on the pub’s website confirmed that Old Ale is normally available.
The bus eventually arrived in Chipstead, and despite having a list of the stops displayed on the Arriva route-map on my phone, I still managed to miss the one I was looking for. The sun was very low in the sky, which dazzled me, and by the time I’d realised the bus was heading out of the village.
I made my way towards the pub, which is known as the “Brick’s,” by the locals, but as I became nearer, the lack of lights in any of the windows, should have rung alarm bells. I stopped on the green, in front of the pub to take some exterior photos, but as I walked towards it, I realised it was closed. A notice outside informed passers-by that, “Due to unforeseen circumstances we have had to close the pub. We will be open again Thursday 2nd December, as usual.”George & Dragon. I had already clocked it from the bus window, as the driver skilfully negotiated her way down the narrow hill, leading to the village centre.
The pub was reasonably full inside, but not packed to the gunwales, so the request I received for me to sit outside, after ordering my pint, was rather strange. This instruction came once the staff had ascertained that I was only there for a drink, rather than a meal, and was not at all customer friendly, in my book.
There was just the one beer on – Westerham Grasshopper, which was in good form, but expensive at £5.28 a pint. Even stranger than being shoved out in the garden, was what happened next. I went to pay for my beer and offered a £10 note. To my astonishment, the young barmaid replied that she couldn’t give me change, as it was “company policy.” I told her that at over £5 a pint the beer was already expensive enough, and she could think again if she expected me to pay a tenner for it!
I bit the bullet and headed out into the well-laid out garden, at the rear of the pub. The rear patio was completely in the shade and hence freezing cold. I was properly dressed against the cold, with a warm, quilted winter coat, on top of a thick fleece. I was also wearing a hat. I wasn’t the only customer banished to the garden, as some of my fellow alfresco drinkers were in the same boat.
I switched mine on and moved my chair as close as possible to the meagre source of heat. At least I was warmer than the two young ladies who popped outside for their nicotine fix, clad in the flimsiest of floral, summer dresses, as if they were heading off to the local May Ball.
It was a good job I left when I did, as the bus actually turned up at its stated time, so I’m not sure why the App was saying otherwise. I had a relaxing ride back to Tonbridge, alighting opposite Tonbridge School, as decided earlier, on the outward journey.
Looking at my Smartwatch I’d clocked up just over 12,500 steps, which wasn’t a bad day’s walking, but with the Brick’s shut, no Harvey’s Old and one of the most surreal pub visits ever, I was glad to be home with the welcoming prospect of a nice roast pork dinner to look forward to.