Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A Walk in the Weald

Last Saturday myself plus a few CAMRA colleagues visited a part of the West Kent branch area that we don't normally get out to. We caught the 297 bus out from Tunbridge Wells, alighting in the village of Brenchley. From here it was a short pleasant walk to the tiny hamlet of Castle Hill. On the way we were rewarded with some spectacular views across the Weald towards the Greensand Ridge. Everything looked resplendent in the late September sunshine.

Castle Hill is home to the Castle Inn, a free-house that serves Adnams Bitter and Harveys Best. It is perhaps a slightly up-market village local, but none the worse for that. What's more although it's probably been the best part of 20 years since I last visited the pub, it doesn't seem to have changed much. Our only grumble was the food, as the portion sizes didn't quite match the up-market prices!

Leaving the Castle Inn we walked the short distance to the next village. Horsmonden was once the centre of the Wealden iron-making industry, and this is evident from some names like Furnace Pond and Furnace Lane that can be found in the locality. Horsmonden is centred around an attractive village green. It still boasts several local shops, including a Post Office, and also still has two pubs. (There used to be three, but the Kings Arms closed a few years ago.)

We first visited the Highwayman, a two-bar Shepherd Neame pub. Regular readers of this blog will know that Shep's isn't my favourite beer by a long chalk, but giving credit where it's due the beer in the Highwayman was excellent. Instead of the usual offerings of Master Brew and Spitfire, Canterbury Jack and Kent's Best were the beers on sale. I didn't try the Canterbury Jack, but the Kent's Best certainly opened my eyes to just how good Shepherd Neame can be when looked after properly. The friendly landlord had only been at the pub for three weeks, but he was doing a great job. The Highwayman is certainly a place we will return to.

We thought we'd better check out Horsmonden's other pub. Situated just across the village green from the Highwayman, the Gun & Spitroast is an attractive former coaching inn, famed for its roast beef, pork and venison dishes which are spit-roasted over an open log-fire. As one would expect from a building of this age there is the usual wealth of old beams and low-ceilings and the pub is certainly not lacking in character. What it was lacking though was any drinkable cask beer. There were two pump-clips on display when we entered; one from Vale Brewery, the other for Ringwood Best.
Learning that the Vale was off our branch chairman opted for the Ringwood, only to find on tasting it that it had turned. The barmaid attempted to pull another pint, but the barrel had gone. Alas, the sweet-looking young thing behind the bar didn't know how to change a barrel. It wasn't her fault, but it did strike us as strange that the pub's management should have abandoned her on a Saturday of all days, with no cask beer to serve to the punters. Still it was their loss, and we returned to the Highwayman. After learning of the reason for our prompt return, the landlord very chivalrously nipped over to the Gun & Spitroast and connected up a cask for them. We were quite happy staying where we were though, and sat out on the pub's patio soaking up the beer and the sunshine in equal measures, before catching the bus back to Tunbridge Wells. It had been an interesting day out, and one that had opened a few eyes, including my own!


Tandleman said...

"the landlord very chivalrously nipped over to the Gun & Spitroast and connected up a cask for them."

What a gent. This post chimes with my recent experience of Shep's. Have they upped their game?

Paul Bailey said...

I think that Sheps may well have upped their game, and not before time. They have some great pubs and of course are Kent's sole survivor amongst the established brewers. According to a friend of mine, they are now starting to offer guest ales in some of their pubs.
I still wouldn't drink Spitfire out of choice, but I'm willing to give some of their other beers a chance. I don't think they'll ever return to the top form they had back in the early 80's, but I'll be keeping a close eye on them.

wittenden said...

Pity about the Gun and Spitroast-in my youth it was a "destination pub"-I can't recall which beers it sold-Ind Coope, judging by the existing signage. However we enjoyed several evenings there.We now sell plants on the green,at the farmers market, and I spend quiet moments looking at the pub, and thinking how sad and uninviting it now looks, but with so much potential.We are usually packed up and gone by opening time, so I haven't been able to reacquaint myself with either pub, unfortunately.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm pretty certain the Gun & Spitroast was an Ind Coope pub, Wittenden. It did seem nice and cosy inside, and under different circumstances (ie, not on a CAMTRA pub crawl) I might still have stayed and had a drink of something else. Hopefully, the next time I go there they'll have got their act together!