Monday, 12 November 2018

A Bass revival?

In what will be seen by many as something of a strange move, global brewer, AB InBev are to reintroduce Bass Pale Ale into the UK on-trade market this December. The global giant claim that this will “reignite” the premium ale sector, but from what I can see, the move is more likely to cause confusion than anything else.

Bass Pale Ale will be a 5.1% ABV bottled pale ale, and will be brewed at the company’s Samlesbury plant in Lancashire. This relatively modern brewery was originally built and run by Whitbread, before the latter moved out of brewing to run businesses such as Costa Coffee and Premier Inns.

The “new”  version Bass Pale Ale will be available in 355 ml bottles;  a strange size, but one which is particularly suited for the export market. The beer will be promoted as a premium product, and will be made available to selected pubs.

There has been no mention so far of the off-trade, which is probably due to a weaker, 4.4% ABV version being available in both bottles and cans. Most major supermarkets stock at least one version (bottled or canned). This weaker “quaffing” version is brewed to the same strength as the legendary Draught Bass, which is contract brewed by Marston’s, at their Burton-on-Trent brewery, and for all I know, the cask and packaged versions may actually be derived from the same brew.

What is puzzling is that Samlesbury has been producing the “new” 5.1% ABV version for many years, but it has only been available for overseas’ customers.

You can probably see why I’m confused, but whilst I am encouraged that this “export” version of Bass is being made available to the home market, I would like to see AB InBev putting a lot more weight behind the promotion of Draught Bass (the cask version), so that this legendary ale, can once again take pride of place as a truly national, cask beer.

I appreciate that Draught Bass is regarded with reverence by several bloggers whose sites I visit, and I know that a number of them will go out of their way to find a pub which stocks the beer. There are a number of legendary Bass outlets, up and down the country, and the excellent article on the beer written by the “wickingman” on his website of the same name, will not only supply plenty of background information, but a downloadable guide will also point you in the right direction.

For Draught Bass to get this sort of attention, it is obviously a beer which not only commands respect, but also holds a deep-rooted affection in the hearts of us older beer drinkers. So much so that I wrote my own, highly personalised article about Draught Bass for an aborted project I was working on nearly 20 years ago. It runs to nearly 10 pages, so if I do decide to publish it, I had better do so in installments.

What do people think?

Sunday, 11 November 2018

It's ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it

There are two distinct threads to this post, but both lead towards the same end, as both are concerned with the aim of being able to drink and enjoy more beer, without feeling the consequences the following day. By consequences, I mean headaches, nausea, tiredness and all the other unpleasant symptoms which are a follow on from “over-indulgence”.

This is because, as we all know, that whilst beer is a pleasant, tasty, refreshing and sociable drink, if we consume too much, over a short period of time, we suffer the consequences. These normally present themselves the following morning, but again this spends on the timescales involved.

It would therefore be great if those of us who really enjoy our beer, could on occasion, indulge ourselves just that little bit extra, without feeling like death warmed up the following day.

We have to be a little careful here, as hangovers are our body’s way of telling us we’ve overdone it. After all, alcohol is a toxin, even though in moderate amounts it does provide some rather pleasant effects on our moods. So whilst the advice I’m about to share with you is useful on occasion, it should not be treated as something to adopt on a daily basis. After all, I want to assist readers in the enjoyment and appreciation of beer, rather than landing them with a drink problem - or worse.

So with that caveat in place, let’s get down to it and start looking at ways to get the most out of a day, or particular session’s drinking, without suffering the consequences the following day.

The first approach is to pace yourself. This is common sense really, and whilst it should go without saying, it’s surprising just how many of us throw caution to the wind by ignoring this basic rule; especially when we're presented with an abundance of choice and a multitude of interesting beers to tempt us. It's perhaps not much of a surprise then when we approach a session’s drinking with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop.

Fortunately, over the course of a lifetime of beer drinking, I have learned to pace myself, as a combination of too many bad heads, or feeling sufficiently rough the next morning so as to end up wasting the rest of the day, has led me to be more circumspect. So how did I fare on the recent CAMRA  bus trip to Romney Marsh, which took place a couple of Saturday's ago?

The trip involved our group visiting four different pubs, with a stop-over of between one and a half and two hours at each one. The temptation on such pub visits is to try a few of the beers on offer at each pub, and I'm fairly certain that quite a few of my companions did exactly that. There was a time  when I would have done the same, but having learned the hard way over the years, I was definitely more restrained in the amount of beer I drank that day.

So  how much beer did I consume at each of the four pubs? Well looking back at the notes I made, I imbibed one and a half pints in each pub, which may seem pretty moderate until you realise that is still equates to six pints.

However the six pints were spread over the course of a seven hour time period, and during that time I ate a substantial meal. I also made sure that I drank plenty of water, particularly whilst on the coach and journeying between the various pubs. So by following these simple rules I was able to pace myself and enjoy my beer, rather than just knocking it back. In short, had a good day without feeling like death warmed up the following morning.

Sometimes though it isn't quite that simple, and there have been occasions when I've been drinking at a much faster rate but still felt fine the next day. These occasions have primarily occurred whilst on holiday, particularly on trips to Europe where bottom-fermented beers are the order of the day.

Renowned bloggers Boak & Bailey wrote about this phenomenon a couple of months ago, following their return from a short holiday in Munich. They'd noticed how they were able to drink fairly large quantities of beer without feeling rough the following day.

As the couple wrote, "We found the beer in Munich… well, non-intoxicating". They went on to describe how one of them,  Jessica (Boak), whose normal daily limit at home is a "measly" two pints, managed a four-pint session in Munich, which included a litre of the powerful (their words),  Augustiner Edelstoff, with no ill effects.  

They asked is it because they ate more in Munich? Or did they drink more slowly? The answer to both those questions was "no"; so why were they able to tuck away significantly more beer in southern Germany than they are normally able to do, here in the UK?

The duo weren't able to answer this question, but they did wonder if there was any truth in the old chestnut about the cleanness and purity of German beer, which is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeasts at low temperatures, and traditional English ale which is produced using top-fermenting yeasts, at relatively higher temperatures.

I have noticed this effect myself on various continental trips, where I've consumed the equivalent of three pints at lunchtime (well 3 x 0.5 litres) and then four of the same during the evening. Drinking this amount at home in the UK would leave me feeling distinctly ropey the following morning, but on holiday in places like Germany or the Czech Republic, I've felt fine the next day.

Whilst writing my recent article about my first trip to Salzburg, I looked back at notes I made at the time and found that as well as three half litres at lunchtime and another four in the evening, I tucked away another beer when I returned to my hotel at the end of the evening. I didn't record feeling rough the next day either.

I was eleven years younger then, so that may go some way to explain my capacity and lack of a hangover, but whilst youth obviously plays a part, I feel that the theory put forward by Boak & Bailey, also helps explain the lack of side effects after a day spent consuming bottom-fermenting beer.

It’s all down to the so-called “higher alcohols”, which are far more prevalent when fermentation is conducted at warmer temperatures, than is the case with “cold fermentation”. These higher alcohols, which are sometimes called “fusel oils” or “congeners”, are only normally present in small amounts, but they are said to contribute to the taste and aroma of fermented products. There is also some evidence that they can increase the degree and severity of a hangover; although not all scientists agree on this.

Whatever the case, the advice should always be to drink within one’s limits, as whilst bottom fermented beers might not give you the same hangover that you’d get with the equivalent amount of English ale, the ethyl alcohol is still present and too much is definitely not good for you.

Also, by remembering to keep yourself hydrated, by drinking plenty of water in between beers, you are mitigating the dehydrating effect that alcohol has on your body, thereby helping it to cope with the abuse you are inflicting on it.


Friday, 9 November 2018

The Primrose has wilted

The Primrose is an attractive weather-boarded pub which is around five minutes walk from my house. Although it is situated on a busy thoroughfare leading into the centre of Tonbridge, the Primrose has its own car-park, as well as a patio area at the rear for those who enjoy a pint outdoors during the summer months.

Internally there are a number of different drinking areas, separated by partitions and the odd half-wall. Low beamed ceilings and exposed brickwork help give the pub a cosy feel, aided by homely and comfortable furnishings.

In recent years, the Primrose never seemed to realise its true potential, so it wasn’t overly surprising when it closed its doors for the last time, back in August. The pub is currently boarded up, awaiting an uncertain future (see below), which is a sorry fate for what was once a thriving little pub.

I first became acquainted with the the Primrose during the early 1980’s. Back then it was a typical drinking man’s pub, with two bars of almost equal size, and a central serving area which catered for both public and saloon bars.

I have fond memories of drinking there, as once a week (always on a Thursday), I would join a couple of work colleagues for a lunchtime drink at the pub. The pub was their choice, and I was never quite sure why they chose it, as it wasn’t within walking distance. Instead it was a short (c. 5 minutes), drive away.

My two colleagues were Peter, the Work’s Engineer, and his assistant Pat. Peter was in his late 50’s, and Pat probably in his mid to late 30’s. I was the youngster of the group, having just passed my mid  20’s, and was also a bit of an interloper, as the pair were like father and son.

I was also the Company Chemist, and for whatever reason the pair took a bit of a shine to me, probably because we used to interact during the course of our work; so knowing that I liked a pint, they invited me to join them for their regular Thursday lunchtime drink.

Pat invariably acted as chauffeur; driving us there and back in his bright orange Ford Capri, but with the transit time taken into account, our time in the pub was limited to around 50 minutes. This was because  both my colleagues had to be back in time to “clock in”. As salaried employee I was exempt from this practice, but as I was reliant on Pat to get me back to work, this exemption was somewhat irrelevant.

One thing which never changed though, was us always buying a round each. Three drinkers, meant three pints and somehow we managed to knock them back during the limited time we were in the pub. I would often manage a sandwich as well, as I have never liked drinking on an empty stomach. Looking back, it’s a wonder any of us stayed awake during the afternoon shift, but I don’t recall there being any problems

The Primrose was a smashing little pub back then. It probably dated from Victorian times, and had a real homely feel to it; much more so than it did during its latter days, when the bars were knocked through into one, and the serving area was moved to one side.

The landlord’s name was Nigel. He had a slight cheeky-chappy look about him, but we rarely saw him, as he wasn’t often present at lunchtimes. With Nigel absent, most of the time, the task of looking after us thirsty punters fell to Sue, the lovely and comely barmaid, who always gave us a warm welcome and a friendly smile. She also had a dry sense of humour and was not someone to be trifled with, as I’m sure some customers found out to their cost.

Apart from Sue, the Primrose’s main attraction was its well-kept Fremlin’s Bitter, brewed by Whitbread at their Faversham plant in north Kent. Fremlin’s was a good quaffing bitter, which packed plenty of taste into its relatively low strength of 3.5% ABV.

Even so, I’m certain that after three pints, our chauffeur Pat would almost certainly have been over the limit, had he been stopped and breathalysed on the way back to work. As for me, I worked out that by the time I finished work, three hours later, I would be OK to drive back to Maidstone, where I lived at the time.  

Times change and in the spring of 1985, the company we worked for, sold off a substantial part of its business and the three of us were made redundant. We all went our separate ways. I’m not sure where my two former colleagues ended up, but I secured a laboratory placement working for a pharmaceutical company in Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border. I also re-married.

My marriage led to me moving to Tonbridge, to a house within walking distance of  the Primrose, but with our little group scattered, and me working 10 miles down the road, I had little reason to frequent my former haunt.

Towards the end of the 80’s, I learned that Whitbread, the Primrose’s  owners, had carried out an extensive re-modelling of the pub’s interior, knocking the two former bars through into one. I paid a visit along with a friend from CAMRA, and didn’t really like what I saw.

The alterations were as described above, but to me rather than adding to the pub, they took something away, in the form of both character and atmosphere.  I think it was from this point on that the Primrose’s fortunes began to decline, assisted by a succession of inexperienced or unsuitable licensees.

The pub changed ownership as Whitbread retreated from brewing and sold off their tied estate. In recent years it was owned by an outfit called Pendry’s Pubs Ltd. The company own at least two other pubs in Tonbridge, but trying to find anything out about them is no easy task, as their website is not very informative, and is also rather out of date.

The succession of unsuitable licensees continued, with each seemingly convinced that a diet of Sky Sports, karaoke, fancy dress evenings and lunchtime food were what was needed to draw the punters in. Unfortunately the pub was too small for the big-screen, which meant football tended to dominate everything, when a match was being shown.

Fortunately I managed to escape the karaoke evenings, but darts evening were also a bit of a nightmare. I remember my local CAMRA branch attempting to hold a committee meeting in the pub whilst sat just a few inches away from where the players were aiming at the board. The darts team also demanded silence, whilst play was in place, so the meeting was not particularly successful.

Successive licensees kept trying to inject some life into the place, and I lost count of the number of times I drove past and saw yet another sign advertising the pub was “Under new ownership”  and also serving up "Home Cooked Food". The idea of  food on weekday lunchtime was a total misreading of not just the local market, but the national one as well. There are few factories left in Tonbridge, and most of the offices are located slap bang in the centre of the town. Not only that, but working people just don’t go to the pub of a lunchtime, like they did when I began my career, nearly 40 years ago.

Harvey’s Sussex Best was the sole cask beer, and a sensible choice, as the beer has a strong local following. The quality was variable, although to be fair to the pub, I never had a bad pint there. The problem was though, that with changing habits and a the loss of several large employers in the town, the Primrose was on a hiding to nothing.

On several occasions I remember walking by, late on a Saturday evening, on my way home from a night out elsewhere, and seeing the pub virtually deserted. Sometimes the place was shrouded in darkness, after having shut early. This must have been heart-breaking for the new owners, who were probably already struggling.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I was not surprised to see the Primrose closed, even though I found it very sad. The pub could have had a future by being turned back into a traditional alehouse; perhaps even a largish micro-pub, without the "Herne strictures" applied..

Sadly the following planning application has been lodged with the local council. 18/02488/FL | Demolition of the existing primrose public house and redevelopment of the site to provide 4 no. dwelling houses and 2 no. apartments with associated access, parking, infrastructure and landscaping | Primrose Inn 112 Pembury Road Tonbridge Kent TN9 2JJ.

You can click on the link yourselves and take a look, but the developers claim the pub was trading at a loss, and had been for years. They also claim the building is in a state of disrepair and would need further investment and additional floor space to remain as a public house. 

So unless a fairy godmother appears, clutching a large wad of cash, it really does look like the Primrose's days are numbered, and another small, old-school beer-house of the type which was once commonplace  will  be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Haysden Country Park

I’m very fortunate living where I do in a thriving provincial town in the Garden of England, surrounded by some beautiful and, at times, spectacular country side. My adopted home town of Tonbridge might have its detractors, but it has plenty going for it, including a pleasant river-side setting, a 13th Century castle, fast road and rail links to the rest of the country and, at long last, some great places to enjoy a pint.

The town is also fortunate to have an area of unspoilt, but managed countryside on its doorstep in the form of Haysden Country Park. The latter occupies an area of about 65 hectares (160 acres) in the Medway Valley, to the west of Tonbridge, and includes a range of habitats such as river, grassland, freshwater lakes, marshland and woodland. 

The site was formerly agricultural land, but its location on the Medway Flood Plain, meant there were extensive deposits of sand and gravel just below the surface. Between 1974 and 1980 these valuable building materials were extracted from the land; dug out by means of dragline excavators. These works altered the landscape and created two artificial lakes: Barden Lake and Haysden Water. Once the gravel workings were completed, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council purchased the site and created the park.

The park stretches from Barden Lake at its eastern end, westwards to Haysden Water. The River Medway runs along the park’s northern edge, away from the Leigh Flood Relief Barrier and Storage Area. The latter scheme plays a crucial role in the protection of Tonbridge from the threat of flooding.

The park can either be reached by car or, by my preferred method of cycling out from Tonbridge. My route normally starts from the old Racecourse Sports Ground; a large 69 acre site set between two meandering branches of the River Medway, right in the heart of the Tonbridge, next to the town’s  13th Century Castle. There are lengthy hard-surfaced paths circling the whole of the sports ground, both along the banks of the river and through nearby woodland, and it is one of these which leads to the country park.

As the weather was quite clement on Saturday, certainly for early November, Mrs PBT’s  and I decided to take a trip down to Haysden Country Park. The idea was to take a walk around the lake, in order to assist with my wife’s ongoing rehabilitation, but also for a spot of brunch. There is small, lock-up café along with a picnic area, just along from the car park, and I knew from a couple of friends who carry out voluntary work at the park, that the café serves up a mean bacon roll, plus a decent cup of coffee.

Despite my aforementioned fondness for cycling, we drove down and after parking the car the café was our first stop. It seemed as if half of Tonbridge had the same idea, but the café is well run and properly organised, and after placing our order we didn’t have to wait long for the staff to call our number. My bacon and egg roll was excellent, and Mrs PBT’s bacon and sausage baguette was equally good.

Suitably refreshed, we took a walk along to the lake. The path passes under a bridge which carries the Tonbridge-Redhill railway line, before opening up into the expanse of Barden Lake. There was a brisk wind blowing, but with the sun shining it felt quite warm for the time of year as we began our walk along the northern shore of the lake. Like us, there were lots of people out enjoying a spot of fresh air and the views across the water. There was even the odd fisherman, bunkered down in a bivouac.

We got about half way round, before turning back. Mrs PBT’s legs are beginning to function normally again, but with a traipse around the supermarket to follow, she didn’t want to be over-doing it. We returned to the car, pausing on the way to take a few photos and for a quick look at the Shallows. This is a winding stream which at one stage was part of the River Medway. 

The various  meanders taken by the Medway and the presence of a number of gravel beds, meant the river was rather shallow and difficult to navigate, so since the river was used by canal boats a navigable diversion was constructed around this section. The Shallows then became a quiet backwater stream which is gradually developing into marshland. Eileen remembers spending many a happy day there, as a child, playing and paddling in shallow water, which was crystal clear back in those days.

 Before ending this little piece, it’s only right that a special mention should be made of the Haysden Country Park Volunteers. Two of my friends belong to this group, which meets on the second Saturday of every month to carry out conservation work, ranging from bank protection, removal of non-native species of invasive plants, landscaping and coppicing work, clearing of scrub and other associated schemes.

The hours of unpaid work which this group puts in each month, helps to ensure the park retains its all year round appeal, and also encouraged wild life to flourish. Most importantly, it ensures this Local Nature Reserve and Site of Nature Conservation Interest, remains unspoilt for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

One final point which ought to be mentioned, particularly in a blog which majors on beer and pubs, is that a short distance away from the entrance to the country park, is the former Royal Oak pub. This late Victorian, two-bar public house closed some time around 2010, and has since been converted into two private dwellings.

The former landlord claimed that not enough people were using the pub, and whilst he may partially have been right the Royal Oak was ideally situated to capitalise on its proximity to Haysden Lake, and would have been the ideal spot for a welcoming beer. I can’t help feeling an opportunity was lost, somewhere along the line.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Red Lion re-visited

So finally we come to the legendary establishment that is the Red Lion at Snargate; a pub whose fame and reputation has spread far beyond the quaint corner of south-east Kent which is Romney Marsh.

I have written two previous posts about the pub, the most recent of which was in 2016, following the sad passing of long-serving landlady, Doris Jemison. You can read that post here. The post before that was written in 2010, and looking back I realised that was the last time I'd visited the Red Lion. Fortunately last Saturday's trip to Romney Marsh allowed me to make amends, and I'm pleased to report that little has changed at this unspoilt gem.

Before going any further it is worth trotting out a few excuses for leaving such a lengthy gap between visits, but the truth is a wonderful pub like the Red Lion is not the sort of place to drive to, (for obvious reasons). Equally, because of its isolated situation, it is not somewhere which is readily served by public transport,. However, with a little forethought and slightly more effort, it is quite possible to enjoy more than a few pints in the Red Lion without getting behind the wheel and breaking the law.

The Marsh-Link rail-line runs from Ashford, across Romney Marsh, down to Rye and eventually on to Hastings. I have walked to the Red Lion from both Hamstreet and Appledore stations; across country from the former and along the road from the latter.

However, the 30 minutes walk, from Appledore station, along the busy B2080, is not particularly recommended as at times it requires quick-witted action to avoid speeding motorists who seem to regard the road as a race track. An OS Map though, will allow the keen walker to take the longer, but far safer scenic cross-country route from Hamstreet station.

The Red Lion features on CAMRA's National Inventory of unspoilt Heritage Pubs, and is believed to date back to 1540. However, unlike many old pubs of a similar age, the inside has not been modified leaving a series of inter-connecting rooms. The walls are decorated with a series of original World War II posters (none of your fake "Keep Calm and Carry On" tat here), and other memorabilia.

Although there is a set of three hand pumps on the marble bar top, they have not been used for many years. Instead all beers are served direct from casks stillaged behind the bar. Local beers feature prominently on the menu, with Maidstone brewer's Goacher's being a firm favourite.

There were two Goacher's beers available last Saturday; Dark Mild and Imperial Stout and I can personally vouch that both were in good form. Doris's daughter Kate and her partner were behind the bar, and were pleased to see us. They'd been expecting our party of course, but I think one or two of the regulars were a little taken aback by  what looked like an invasion.

We spread ourselves out though, with most people decamping to the largest of the pub's three rooms, which is at the front of the building. A small group of us stayed close to the bar, swapping tales of previous visits. A couple of decades ago, several MMK CAMRA members had been involved with a Dad's Army re-enactment group, known as the "Barmy Army Film Club", and because of its 1940's appearance, the Red Lion had been used as a setting for a couple of the period films the club produced.

Mrs PBT's and I had a small role in the second film, and I remember turning up at the Red Lion, in full Home Guard costume, on a freezing cold winter's morning, having diced with death after walking from Appledore station. A dozen or so of the cast met at the pub for a rendezvous with a film crew from London Weekend  Television (remember them?), to shoot a few period scenes with presenter Danny Baker, who was then a reporter on the station's Six O'Clock Show.

After recording interviews, inside the pub, with some of the principal cast members, filming was due to move outside. The TV company had gone to the trouble of hiring the period butcher's van which belonged to Corporal Jones in the Dad's Army series, and this was to feature us lot getting into the back, complete with our de-activated Lee Enfield rifles, and re-enacting the part of 1940's Home Guardsmen.  

Unfortunately the day chosen by LWT for the filming, was the day that Margaret Thatcher decided to step down as Prime Minister. This was obviously a far bigger story than a group of CAMRA members, dressing up as members of the Home Guard. Much to his annoyance, the TV company despatched a fast car to collect Danny Baker and whisk him back to London, where they wanted him out on the streets, interviewing people about their reaction to the Thatcher resignation story.

I won't repeat his exact words, but Danny Baker was not at all pleased that national events had overtaken the fun he was having sinking a few pints at the Red Lion with the Barmy Army Film Club, whilst preparing to go out "on manoeuvres".

That little episode took place in November 1990, but standing at the very same spot in the bar the other Saturday, I'm certain that little has changed at the Red Lion over the past 28 years.

Saturday's visit wasn't solely one of nostalgia, as with new licensees in charge at the Red Lion, albeit from the same family, there is much to look forward to. The pub's exterior has been given a new coat of paint, the outside Gents now was a Perspex roof so you don't get wet whilst taking a pee, and  there is now running hot water and an electric hand-dryer.

There aren't many other changes though, as apart from crisps and nuts, the Red Lion still doesn't serve food. Doris was always quite happy for people to sit in the games room and eat their own sandwiches and in summer time, there was always the sheltered garden behind the pub. I didn't check, but I imagine this arrangement is still pretty much the case.

I'd like to think that I've sold the appeal of this unspoilt gem to you, and if I have, you are probably wanting to make a visit. The easiest way of course, is to drive there, but unless you have a willing, non-drinking driver, or are prepared to strictly limit your consumption, this is  not something I'd recommend.

Providing the weather is fair, and the going underfoot good, then public transport is your best bet. The No. 11 Stagecoach service from Ashford, will drop you at Brenzett, but this still involves a walk along the busy the busy B2080, which I mentioned earlier.

My preferred option would be to take the Marsh-Link  train from Ashford, leave the train at Hamstreet, and then head south and west of the village towards Warehorne. You can then strike out in a roughly southerly direction, across the fields to Snargate. Make sure you've got a decent, large-scale map with you, as I've ended up getting lost before.

Whichever way you choose, I'm certain you will enjoy your visit to the Red Lion, and the step back in time which goes with it. Make the most of it though, because as far as I am aware, there are no obvious successors for when Kate and her partner decide to call it a day.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Last stop - Coldred

Sorry to disappoint those who were eagerly awaiting my write up of the Red Lion at Snargate, but I’m short of time at the moment; a combination of too much work and not enough play. But on the premise of make hay whilst the sun shines, I’ll take the extra work while it lasts.

The downside has meant not as much time for writing as I would like, so with this, and the above, in mind, here’s a short article about the Carpenter’s Arms at Coldred. This was the final pub of last Saturday’s tour, and it was a real surprise.

Most of us had never heard of Coldred, but for the record it’s a tiny village situated in a fold in the North Downs, a few miles to the north-west of Dover. With a population of just over 100 individuals and 55 dwellings. Its main claim to fame is the Grade 1 listed church of St Pancras, which dates back to Saxon times. There is also a duck pond opposite the pub, although as it was dark when we arrived, I don’t think any of us noticed it, despite the coach pulling up alongside.

The Carpenter’s has 18th Century origins, but is a relatively anonymous-looking, white painted building. It is sited slightly below road level, meaning customers have to negotiate  a flight of internal steps in order to gain access. The pub has been in the same family for over 100 years, and with  its simple furniture and  plain décor, has remained largely unchanged for 50 years.

WhatPub states that the Carpenter’s is one of “CAMRA's Real Heritage Pubs”, but as the Pub Heritage website is still closed for maintenance (after several months of not being available), I am unable to verify this. A few of us were discussing  the pub’s status, last Saturday, whilst sitting in the plainly furnished left-hand bar, and we concluded that whilst the pub still has two bars, it has been knocked about a bit and “modernised” in a slightly insensitive way.

None of this should distract from the fact the Carpenter’s is a proper, old-fashioned pub, and a real find as far as most of us were concerned. As I mentioned earlier, it was dark when we arrived, and the one external photo I took, doesn’t do the place justice at all, but you should be able to get a feel for the pub from some of the internal shots.

The Carpenter’s is very much the village local, and the assortment of over-sized and misshapen vegetables, laid out in readiness on a long table in the right hand bar, indicated that a contest was to be held later that evening (probably once we’d left).

It was quite cosy in the pub, as with just under 30 in our party, and the pub regulars gathered for a pint, plus the eagerly awaited vegetable growing contest, space, and seats were at a premium, but we all managed to squeeze in and settled down to enjoy some good beer and some equally good conversation.

There was an extensive range of beers on sale, although probably too many for some followers of this blog. A couple of the beers were dispensed through a vintage set of beer engines reputed to be nearly 100 years old. I went straight in on the Gadd’s, as did several of my companions, as I think you have to go a long way to find finer beers than the well-crafted brews turned out by Eddie Gadd at the Ramsgate Brewery.

Gadd’s No. 5 really hit the spot, and came in at 3.5 NBSS, but there was also a slightly stronger offering from the company in the form of a dark beer, brewed to mark the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. The beer isn’t listed on the Ramsgate Brewery website, but I’ve a feeling it was a 4.5% brew, called War Horse. It was dispensed direct from a cask, perched up on the bar. Other beers included Rockin’ Robin Reliant and Tropic Fiesta from Beatnikz Republic (never heard of them!).

The Carpenter’s is only open evenings, so a visit using public transport is virtually impossible. A pity really, as there is a daily return bus service Monday to Saturday. However, given Coldred’s proximity to Dover (approx. 6 miles), a taxi for a group of three or four persons shouldn’t prove too expensive.

Alternatively, the pub is just under a mile and a half’s walk from Shepherdswell station so given its 5pm opening, it would be possible during the months of high summer, to spend a couple of hours at the Carpenter’s and still make it back to the station during the hours of daylight.

So for those who appreciate something a little quirky, and out of the ordinary, an evening visit to Coldred, by train and on foot is not only feasible, but highly recommended.