Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The High Weald by Bus

 Our eagerly awaited bus trip to a number of rural pubs we rarely get to visit, took place last Saturday. The weather was appalling, certainly for late March with snow in the morning, and a biting easterly wind that made it a day best suited to staying indoors. Five of us braved the unseasonal cold and headed out to the part of West Kent known as the High Weald, where we were joined later, at the last pub on our itinerary, by a sixth member who'd been called into work during the morning.

Taking advantage of the Explorer Day Ticket, offered by our local Arriva bus company we travelled from the centre of Tunbridge Wells out into the wilds of  the very wet and dreary looking  Kent countryside. Apart from one other passenger who joined the bus in Cowden, we had the bus to ourselves. Our driver though seemed in a tearing hurry, speeding along the narrow lanes and flinging the vehicle around some of the tight bends. It was therefore with a sense of relief that we alighted from the bus in the tiny village of Mark Beech, right outside our first port of call, the Kentish Horse.

Our driver's need for speed hadn't done us any favours as we were left outside in the snow waiting for the pub to open at midday. Fortunately we only had five minutes or so to wait, and there was a  bus shelter opposite to keep the worst of the elements at bay. We were please though when we saw movement from inside, followed by the sound of the key turning in the lock. With a friendly greeting  from the landlady we were ushered inside and, after ordering our beer, grabbed the nearest table to the roaring welcoming log fire.

Beer wise there were just two cask beers on sale; Harvey's Best and Larkins Traditional, but they were both in fine form. Soon we were settled down warm and secure from the snow that was still falling quite heavily outside. The pub was starting to fill up quite rapidly, so we thought it best to order ourselves some lunch as soon as possible. There was a chalkboard above the fireplace advertising the day's specials, but I opted for the chicken curry, very reasonably priced at £6.95, and satisfying and filling as well.

The Kentish Horse had a good feel to it, and it was encouraging to see so many customers on such a cold and bleak afternoon. Most of them seemed to be regulars as well, which was even more encouraging. It was therefore with some reluctance that we had to say goodbye to the pub and head off down the road to the Greyhound at Hever, our next port of call.  We were on foot for the relatively short journey, but fortunately the mile or so walk was all downhill and it had also stopped snowing! On the way we disturbed a flock of deer, who ran off into the surrounding woodland. Their presence was a hint as to why venison dishes featured quite prominently on the menu at the Kentish Horse.

We were glad to step in from the cold once again. The Greyhound is a quirky sort of pub combining a mixture of both old and new to good effect. There are lots of recesses and tucked away drinking areas, with a larger section given over to dining towards the rear of the pub. Like at our previous stopover, there was a welcoming log fire and this, combined with subdued candle-lit illumination, gave a real cosy feel to the place.  The Greyhound is some distance from the centre of Hever village, but still appears to attract a good trade. It is unashamedly more upmarket than the Kentish Horse, but we still received a warm welcome from the landlord and some of the regulars. Beer-wise there was a choice of Harvey's Best and Thwaite's Lancaster Bomber. I opted for the Harvey's, but most of my companions went for the guest ale.

The Greyhound officially closes at 3pm for an afternoon break, but with our bus due shortly after that time, we ventured outside and awaited its arrival. To our horror, it was the same driver we'd had on our earlier journey. He seemed to be in no less of a rush than before, so after another hair raising journey it was with a sense of relief that he deposited us safely in Edenbridge, right outside our last official port of call.

The Old Eden is easily the best pub in Edenbridge, an attractive town on the Kent-Surrey border, whose character was somewhat altered following the creation  of two ‘overspill’ estates, by the Greater London Council, during the 1960's. The Old Eden undoubtedly counts children, or even grandchildren, of some of these "newcomers" amongst its regulars, but is none the worse for that.

The pub itself is an attractive old tile-hung building, which dates in part from the late 15th Century. It is situated  a short distance from the River Eden, which is named after the town, rather than the other way round! Internally there is one long, low L-shaped bar, divided by an exposed staircase, which leads up to a separate restaurant area. There are plenty of exposed beams, as one would expect of such an old building and. especially welcome on a freezing cold Saturday, three welcoming open fires. It is a family run pub which has deservedly featured in the Good Beer Guide for a number of years.

The beer selection included Taylor's Landlord, Young's Bitter, Hog's Back Hop Garden Gold, Westerham 1965,  plus a house beer also from Westerham, called Old Eden. I started with the Landlord, before moving onto the rather malty 1965. I have to say I found the former rather disappointing. This was no reflection on the pub, or the way the beer was looked after, but rather reinforcement of what I view as the debasement of this once classic beer. This was the second time I have found Landlord lacking in a GBG listed pub; the previous occasion being at the Dolphin in Canterbury back in December. What was once a very complex and interesting, multi-level beer, has now become very one-dimensional, so much so that I was left wishing I'd gone for the Hog's Back beer instead!

We departed the Old Eden shortly after 5pm, in order to catch the last bus back. Had we wished we could have stayed a lot longer and returned by train, but it would have been a long cold walk up to Edenbridge station and besides, we had bought "Explorer Tickets", entitling us to unlimited bus travel within the area. The bus ran all the way to Tunbridge Wells, but as I was due to drive up to Norfolk the following morning, I decided to alight at Bidborough, from where I caught a  bus back into Tonbridge. This was probably a wise move, as my companions would undoubtedly have ended up at either the Bedford or the Grove (and possibly both), where further copious quantities of ale would inevitably have been consumed!

Footnote: It was encouraging to see the three pubs visited so busy, especially on such a bitterly cold day. It was also good to let someone else do the driving, even if he was a bit of a maniac!


hallum said...

Thanks paul. a good read. What number bus did you catch for Mark Beech. I am assuming it was from Tonbridge.

Paul Bailey said...

We caught the No. 234 bus to Markbeech, hallum. It runs from Tunbridge Wells to Edenbridge, so we had to get a bus over to the Wells first. An Arriva "Day Explorer" ticket, costing £6.80 (buy on the bus from the driver) will allow you to travel to T. Wells and then on to Markbeech and beyond. The ticket is also valid on some Southdown Bus services, including the 231 Edenbridge - T. Wells via Penshurst and Bidborough. This was the bus we caught back from the Old Eden.

We are looking at visiting the Fountain (an unspoilt Harvey's pub) at Cowden next time. Another possibility is the Spotted Dog, at Smart's Hill, and then onto the Chafford Arms, Fordcombe.

So many pubs, so little time!!

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