Saturday, 27 June 2009

Another Friday, Another Ramble, Another Pub

I've had one more day's leave to use up, and fancying another long weekend booked last Friday off. I arranged to meet up with two companions who I'd done the walk to Plaxtol with the previous week. The plan this time was less ambitious; we would walk across country, to the Dovecote at Capel.

There had been thunder overnight and the air was still very warm and humid when we set off. We walked up through the Somerhill Estate, crossing the bridge overlooking the ornamental lake, and then on through the park and up the hill towards Somerhill House. For non-local readers, the Somerhill Estate is the former manor house and surrounding parkland, which up until comparatively recent times, was the principal manorial estate, controlling a large part of both south Tonbridge and the nearby village of Tudeley. Today the imposing stone-built, Jacobean-style country house is home to a private school, but as various footpaths criss-cross the area, much of the estate is open to the public.

We passed the school by means of a sunken pathway, lined on both sides by a high stone wall. One of my friends told me that this type of structure was constructed to prevent livestock gaining access to the grounds of the house, without spoiling the landowner's view with a wall or fence. It seemed a pretty expensive means of keeping tabs on your cattle to me, but when you're Lord of the Manor, then I suppose money's no object! We passed through some woods and an orchard before crossing a field of ripening barley. We swore that we could detect a malty smell in the air, which may have been due to the effect of the high temperature and humidity on the maturing grain. It certainly had us anticipating the pint awaiting at the end of our journey!

We stopped en route at the tiny All Saints Church in Tudeley, to admire the contemporary stained glass windows which are the work of Russian emigre artist, Marc Chagall. The windows were originally commissioned by the then owners of Somerhill House, Sir Henry and Lady d'Avigdor Goldsmid, in memory of their daughter Sarah, who died tragically in 1963 as the result of a sailing accident. She was only 21.

The church was being decorated for a wedding, and it was nice and cool inside. We were tempted to linger, but the thought of that pint drove us on and we continued across another barley field, and then through a paddock. We crossed the busy B2017 road close to the George & Dragon, an attractive old weather- boarded inn. We would have popped in if the pub had been open, but as there were still some minutes to go until opening time we carried on. We walked through another churchyard, this time that of St Thomas a Becket at Capel. The church is no longer in regular use, although occasional services, such as weddings and funerals are conducted there.

Eventually we reached our goal, and passed inside for a welcoming pint. The Dovecote is not that much to look at from the outside. I was going to take a photo for the blog, but the pub's sign is currently being re-painted, and without this feature there is little to suggest that this row of white-painted cottages is home to one of the best pubs in this part of Kent.

The Dovecote serves its cask beers by gravity. The casks are housed in a temperature-controlled room behind the bar, and the special long cask taps pass through the wall into false wooden barrel fronts, mounted on the wall. The result is a perfectly served pint, kept at the ideal temperature. Harveys Best, Young's Bitter, Taylor's Landlord and Gales HSB were the beers on sale that day. I started with the Youngs before moving on to the Landlord. One member of our party stuck on the HSB for the whole session, but I find this beer a bit too malty for my taste.

We sat outside on the partially covered patio, at the rear of the pub, soaking up the hazy sunshine whilst enjoying our pints. We treated ourselves to a light lunch; my prawn baguette with chips was especially nice. The pub was bustling with a good mix of both diners and drinkers, proving that even in a recession pubs offering the right mix of good beer, good food and good service will continue to do well.

We walked back by a slightly different route, climbing up through orchards and then into woodland. Some of the sweet chestnuts had been copppiced recently, and we came across a workshop in a clearing, where the poles were being made into fencing posts and other useful items. Eventually we picked up the path again through the back of the Somerhill Estate. We noted, with some amusement, the wooden shelter built to protect the little darlings from the elements whilst they wait for mummy or daddy to collect them after school in the family Mercedes, or "Chelsea Tractor", but all joking aside I am glad the former manor house is being put to good use. (Just think, it could have become the headquarters of a religious cult, or a training camp for fundamentalist extremists!).

A short while later we were back in Tonbridge. Although it had only been a relatively short walk ( seven or eight miles at most), the high levels of humidity had made it seam a lot longer. It is a walk however, that I intend to repeat in the not too distant future.

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