The railway station seemed vaguely familiar, but that was about it.
The railway station seemed vaguely familiar, but that was about it.
Some require substantially more, but it’s safe to say that two or three stays at an unfamiliar destination, does leave you with a sense of knowing the place to a reasonable extent. More importantly, it becomes increasingly easier to find your way around, as you become more and more familiar with the intricacies of the public transport system. You end up intrinsically knowing the relation of a city’s prominent building’s or must-see sites to one another and, most importantly, you know where the best boozers are.
I have made umpteen trips to both Munich and Prague, and have visited other European cities such as Barcelona, Cologne, Bruges, Regensburg, and Nuremberg, several times. Each visit I have uncovered something new, as well as re-aquatinting myself with some of the best bits of these locations.
It is on those visits that I intend doing some of the more cultural stuff, that son Mathew was reluctant to participate in. This means, a visit to Kings College Chapel, in order to get a feel of where the Christmas Eve service, of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast from. In addition, I shall cross the river Cam to take a wander along the Backs. I might even walk as far as Grantchester and its famous meadows, as immortalised by the Roger Waters/Pink Floyd track of the same name.
It’s worth noting the brief visit I made to Grantchester, several years ago, on one of my many trips up to Norfolk, when my father was still alive. I’d booked an overnight stay at the Red Lion, in the village of Stretham, just to the south of Ely, and had arranged to meet Retired Martin for the first time. That evening Martin and Mrs RM called to collect me, and drove us to Ely, where they showed me around the city and introduced me to a few of its finest pubs.
It’s interesting trying to compare Cambridge with its rival university city, Oxford. I have visited, and stayed in the latter, several times back in my own student days, and would say that without doubt, Oxford too is worthy of a revisit.
So, there we have it, Paul’s perhaps over-thought description of the steps involved in becoming familiar with a new destination, and how the process applied to Cambridge.
Does any of this sound familiar, or am I just making it all up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
For example, cheap rail travel to Norfolk, in order to visit my parents, used to be possible with the aid of a Network Southeast card. It involved taking the train to Kings Lynn, which at the time, was part of British Rail’s Network Southeast. My father would then drive to Kings Lynn to collect me and the family. We found our way into central Cambridge without too much trouble and found the place booming. First impressions were the number of Chinese restaurants we passed, most of which seemed much more authentic (judging by the Chinese writing/characters), than the “westernised” versions we are used to locally. There were also several Korean restaurants – something that reminded me of my visit to Japan. After stopping for a coffee just off the Market Square, we made our way to Kings College and sat on one of the stone benches opposite to enjoy our drinks. Eagle, which was down a side street, virtually opposite the college. I’d carried out some prior research, so knew all about the Watson & Crick connection, but still listed patiently to the story again. Ten there was the one about the US Airmen who used the pub during World War II.
We thanked him and walked over to the pub, both with a king-sized thirst, and after entering the main bar at the front, to order our beers. There was a woman in front of us, complaining about the price of her gin and tonic – she had never been charged so much. Without wishing to stereotype, she was from up north, so perhaps careful with her money, but she seemed to forget she was in a prime tourist spot.
°C, I would have told her where to go, or perhaps suggested she put on the coat that was casually draped over the back of her chair. Totally oblivious to rising energy costs and global warming in general, this “entitled”, and rather selfish woman got her way – but really? Free Press pub, but having not managed to obtain a map, I was relying on my phone. I managed to navigate us there successfully and was really pleased that we had made the effort, as the Free Press was a smashing little, multi-room, back street boozer. Unfortunately, we’d arrived slightly too late for something to eat, as the kitchen closes at 2pm weekdays. Cambridge Tap, which I somehow mistook for the Cambridge Brewhouse – surely an elementary schoolboy error! The former is a McMullen’s pub, just off the city’s main shopping area, which surprised me with its absence of McMullen’s cask beer. However, having studied the food offering posted outside, there was no way we were going to pass by the chance of something to eat, just because there was no cask. Mosaic and Rakau hops, chosen for their fruity properties. Matthew, true to form, went for the Pilsner, which he too enjoyed.
IPA was far better than any of Mac’s cask offerings I can recall.
Being semi-retired, I am winding down from that sort of stuffy dressing. John Lewis had white shirts, in my size, and sold them singly, but they were all branded, and quite frankly I don’t wish to fork out £75 just to advertise the names of Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger!
Apart from that it was a good day out, even though we really only scratched the surface of Cambridge. There will be some more thoughts to come, on that subject, in a separate post.
This is very strange, given that in terms of houses, this is area is one of the most densely populated parts of Tonbridge, with several large housing developments. These estates are all post war developments, and whilst at first, they were served by a several purpose-built, modern pubs, over the past 30 years, these amenities became prime targets for speculative developers.
We sat in quiet area at far right of pub, well away from the football. The pub’s interior has been tastefully decorated, and along with the beams, comfy seating, and a large log fire, has a real homely atmosphere. To the left of the entrance, there is a spacious raised games area, with darts, plus two pool tables.
I hadn’t been in the George & Dragon for quite a few years, but when I first worked in Tonbridge, during the early 80's, I was a frequent visitor. The pub was popular with employees of the company I was employed at, back in the day when going for a lunchtime pint was viewed as quite a normal activity, rather than something to be frowned upon or even out and out discouraged. A decade and a half later, when I next found myself working in the town, I avoided the George & Dragon, as boss of the firm went there every lunchtime, for his main meal of the day, invariably ham, egg, and chips!Ye Olde Chequers Inn, an attractive, and quite imposing, half-timbered building, situated in the shadow of Tonbridge Castle. With parts dating back to the 14th Century, the Chequers is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge, and almost certainly the town’s oldest pub.
The Chequers has quite rightly been described as "one of the finest examples of a Kentish timber-framed building that can be found today.” It is certainly a very attractive building, and its photogenic qualities mean that, after the castle, the pub is one of the most photographed buildings in Tonbridge, but despite such a pedigree, it never seems to quite deliver.
I might be biased in my opinions of the pub, as the truth is I have never been a fan. When I first came to Tonbridge, initially for work in 1979 and then, five year later to live as well, I regarded the Chequers as a real “old man” pub and looking back I suppose it was. I was in my mid-twenties back then, and would have considered anyone over 40 as old, but the pub did have a real old person feel to it.
Back in the 1980’s Tonbridge was known as a “print town,” and boasted a couple of large printing firms, along with a major magazine publisher. Printing was a lucrative business, and a well-paid workforce, meant plenty of customers for local pubs. The Chequers was no exception and trade flourished at lunchtime, with a selection of hot food always available. Again, this was at a time when lunchtime drinking was far more commonplace than it is today.
The pub was owned by Courage back then, but as I was not a huge fan of Courage beer, I tended to give the place a miss. I'm pretty certain the pub had two bars, during my first few years in Tonbridge, but whilst the partitions are long gone, the lengthy, L-shaped bar, does help create a sense of division into different areas.
There was a reasonable number of people in the pub, last Thursday, although there was still plenty of space available. We headed to the area at the far left, away from the football, and had the place virtually to ourselves. Harvey’s Best and St Austell Tribute were the beers available, and whilst the former was in good form, the latter apparently, was the complete opposite. The barman was friendly and ready to share a joke, and we all agreed that the Chequers had improved considerably on previous visits – apart from the below par Tribute!
The next, and final point of call was the Beer Seller – which although south of the river, was a convenient and convivial place to end up. We arrived just as a rather raucous mixed group of people were leaving. A few female members of the party appeared slightly the worse for drink, and after hanging around rather noisily outside, were given their marching orders by the pub manager.
We found a convenient spot close to the bar and enjoyed a very pleasant and convivial end to the evening. Two members of our group were in holiday mode, which led to a discussion of holidays in general, both past and present. The Goacher’s Gold Star was in particularly fine form, along with the Tonbridge Brewery American Pale. My final beer of the evening was Café Brasilia – a rich, coffee-flavoured stout from Kent Brewery. Along with the nearby Nelson, the Beer Seller is a regular outlet for a brewery that seems very under-represented in this part of Kent. I can’t say that I’ve a favourite amongst their myriad of different brews, but the ones I’ve tried have all been interesting and, on the whole, flavoursome as well.
So ended our mini crawl of north Tonbridge which by visiting two pubs rarely frequented by local CAMRA members, managed to meet the original objective of the evening. From my viewpoint, it was a most enjoyable evening, and I think for West Kent CAMRA as well, it was a successful event.
Okay, it’s been six days since my last post – an article which ended with me mentioning I would be joining the local CAMRA’s on a walkabout of pubs, at the north end of Tonbridge. Well, the event went ahead, with me being one of six participants, and it was a most enjoyable evening, but I’m going to leave you hanging on a while longer in order to comment on the news of a sad, and quite unexpected brewery closure.
Sheffield-based Kelham Island Brewery, has announced it will be closing later this month, following 32 years in the industry. The brewery started life in 1990, in purpose-built premises, adjacent to the Fat Cat pub at Alma Street, in the heart of Sheffield’s Kelham Island quarter. It was the brainchild of the pub’s owner, Dave Wickett, and was the first new independent brewery in the city, for over fifty years. Production at first, was around 10 barrels per week, but a new brewery in 1999, increased capacity to 50 barrels. The original building became an additional outside bar for the Fat Cat pub. In 2008, the brewery expanded again, and the weekly output increased to around 100 barrels.
Kelham Island was one of the first exponents of pale, hoppy English-stye beers, with their 5.2% abv Pale Rider, winning CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) in 2004. The company also provided a fertile training ground, for aspiring brewers, with several ex-Kelham Island employees, going on to either set-up, or work with, a number of other influential breweries. These include Brewdog, Thornbridge and Welbeck.
It is therefore doubly sad to learn that this pioneering brewery is to close. The Fat Cat will remain open, but Kelham Island Brewery beer will only be available on cask and in bottles while stock lasts. It is also both sad and frustrating on a personal note, as I have a trip to Sheffield, planned for 11 days’ time, and some time spent in the Kelham Island quarter, featured high on my priority list.
I still plan to head down that way, as I will be meeting up with pub-ticking legend, Retired Martin, and pub connoisseur, Sheffield Hatter, who is also a pub-going legend in his own right, but the closure of Kelham Island Brewery will put something of a dampener on the whole experience.
No official reasons have been given for the closure, and whilst there is little point in speculating, it’s worth bearing in mind that difficult trading conditions/financial problems, have been cited as responsible for two other recent closures. Beatnikz Republic– a relative newcomer on the scene plus, just the other day, Exe Valley, a brewery with almost 40 years of history behind it, and one of the first generation, new brewery start-ups, inspired by CAMRA, decided to call it a day.
Exe Valley’s problems appear similar in nature, with the company blaming the reality of the current economic situation for themselves, their customers, and the hospitality industry in general, for the decision to close. The brewery claim to have explored all the options and done everything they could to make things work but with so much uncertainty, had found it impossible to find a long-term solution.
The brewery was established in 1984 as Barron Brewery by Richard Barron, the former landlord of the Three Tuns pub, who converted a redundant cowshed into the brewery. In 1991, Richard was joined by Guy Sheppard, and the name of the company changed to Exe Valley Brewery. The plant was expanded and upgraded at the same time. Richard retired in 2003 and Guy ran the brewery until 2020, and then has continued to offer advice after its sale of the company to husband-and-wife team Libby and Kevin Stroud-Kroon.
So, sad times, not just for the drinkers, customers, and workers, but for the individuals behind each of these companies. All these individuals will have put their hearts, souls, and their dreams into their respective concerns, and to see everything come crashing down, must be devastating.
It's rather pointless going over the same ground, as the
obvious conclusion has to be there are just too many breweries in existence in
the UK today. CAMRA of course will tell you otherwise, as will many of the organisation’s
members, but in a declining market, beset by rapidly rising prices, it’s dog
eat world out there. There is only so much trade to go
round, and with each new start up the market, and the opportunities therein, become
ever more diluted - when will CAMRA realise this basic, economic fact?
Ironically, whilst researching the background to Devon-based Exe Valley Brewery, I discovered that in March 2021, there were 45 breweries operating in the county alone. If that doesn’t’ make the point, then I don’t know what does. It might also go a long way towards explain why, after nearly 40 years of brewing, Exe Valley had to call it a day.
Footnote: There aren’t many photos associated with this post, at present, and those there are illustrate other small breweries, rather than the ones in question. Also, and before someone points it out, I am well aware the Fat Cat depicted is the pub of that name in Norwich - are they owned by the same people? I will be adding a few more relevant photos, retrospectively, after my trip to Sheffield.