Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good Friday Ramble 2013

This year’s Good Friday Ramble, organised by Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA, took place on what must have been one of the coldest Good Fridays any of us can remember. Despite the low temperatures, eighteen members and friends still turned out for this annual event, now in its 36th year.

Wateringbury station was the starting point, from where we crossed the River Medway, and then set off along the banks of the river, following for a while the Medway Valley Path. We then climbed slowly, out of the valley, towards West Farleigh, before heading due south through farmland, and grubbed up hop-gardens towards our lunchtime stop – the White House. 

I had come wrapped up warm against the cold, with several layers of clothing below my thick coat, and thermal leggings on, beneath my trousers for good measure. Not really the sort of attire one expects to have to wear at this time of year! Still, the strategy worked, and I was quite warm by the time we reached the pub, shortly before its midday opening.
We had approached the White House from the rear, passing the petanque pitch, and the attendant static caravans used by the team members. There was a motley collection of other old vehicles nearby, and this helped prepare me for the pub itself. A large, old rambling building of uncertain age would best describe it, although some might think “ramshackle” a more appropriate description. Certainly the pub seems to have been extended and added to in a haphazard fashion, with what were once obviously external walls, now internal ones instead. I had a feeling I might have been there before, although I wasn’t quite certain until I stepped inside.

It was pretty much as I remembered the place from a quarter of a century ago. I wasn’t overly struck with it then, and definitely wasn’t now. My previous visit had been during the evening, when it was dark outside. Now, despite it being the middle of the day, the pub still seemed as dark and dingy as it had back then. There was also a rather off-putting smell of disinfectant, but what was worse was the fact it was cold and damp. This wasn’t the nice warm welcome we had  been hoping for!

It reminded me of a similar ramble, several years ago when, on an equally cold Good Friday, we had walked to the Rising Sun, at Cottman’s Ash, high on the North Downs above Kemsing. That pub too was like an ice-box inside, and we had sat inside shivering over our beer and sandwiches. I say sandwiches, because the Rising Sun didn’t serve food and we’d had to bring our own. The same situation applied to the White House, so there wasn’t even the prospect of a tasty hot meal to warm us up!

The White House’s saving grace was its beer – Goacher’s served direct from the cask, with Real Mild, Fine Light and Best Dark available. As if to ensure the beer was in tip-top condition, we had both Phil and Debbie Goacher, founders and owners of Kent’s oldest micro-brewery, amongst our party, as they are usual attendees of this event. However, good though the beer was, it started to run out as the session progressed, with only the Light left by the time we left. Apparently the pub had been visited the previous evening by a group of thirsty Morris Dancers, but surely the licensees were aware they were coming? (they had certainly been informed of our visit).

That’s enough griping now about the White Horse. I was told, on the walk back, that it is quite highly regarded by some on the Maidstone CAMRA committee, although God only knows why? I certainly won’t be in a hurry to pay it a return visit! As for the walk back, well after sitting around in the cold, damp atmosphere of the pub, getting moving again gave us the chance to warm up and, to brighten things up further, the sun even came out for a while. Following a different course to the outward journey, our route took us in a westerly direction to start with, before striking off towards the North West. Descending gradually at first, and then much more steeply, we were rewarded with some splendid vistas, towards Maidstone at one point and then looking back along the valley towards Hadlow and Tonbridge later on. I was surprised at how high we must have climbed on the walk out to the pub. The south and westward slopes that lead down towards the river are prime fruit growing locations, and there are many poly-tunnels here designed to bring the fruit on that bit earlier and also to protect the crop from the damaging winds which blow up the valley.

We reached Wateringbury station with plenty of time to spare, but fortunately the neighbouring Railway pub was open and offered a welcome respite from the cold, and also Black Sheep Best and Larkins Traditional in the way of refreshment, whilst we waited for our train. Despite the choice of hostelry, it had again been a most enjoyable and successful ramble, and thanks must be extended to Dick and Pam Wilkinson for once again organising it. Next year though, can we please stop off at somewhere that is warm and serves food?

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