Sunday, 11 January 2015

No More "Disgusted - Tunbridge Wells". Pt. Two

Colourful exterior at The Bedford
As recently promised, here is the second part to my tour around the pubs and bars of  Tunbridge Wells. We start at the railway, which is where the first walk-about commenced, but this time we will be heading in the opposite direction towards the historic heart of this Edwardian Spa-town.

The Bedford can either be our first port of call, or our last. It all depends on your mood and capacity for beer, as this veritable pub offers what is undoubtedly the largest selection of cask ales in the town. Either way, it is virtually impossible to miss the imposing Bedford situated at the top of the High Street, on the corner of the road bridge over the railway which leads past the station approach.

Staff at Bedford with CAMRA Pub of the Year, runner-up certificate
A former Charrington’s pub which has been popular with a couple of generations of local CAMRA members, the Bedford is now owned by Greene King; but is a pub where the management have negotiated a deal which almost  totally frees them from the GK tie. Consequently the pub majors on beers from local Kent and Sussex independents such as Kent Brewery, Whitstable, Pig & Porter, Dark Star, Long Man and Turners, alongside an interesting and varied selection of top quality cask beers from elsewhere. Up to 10 hand-pumps are in operation, and as a further incentive to cask enthusiasts the Bedford runs both a loyalty card scheme, plus a Wednesday “Cask Beer Club” night, when beers are sold at a discounted price up until 8.30pm. The pub has recently opened a real ale takeaway shop underneath the pub. The Bedford Beer Cave means that customers are now able to take their favourite beers home with them!

Rear entrance to the Compasses
If you can tear yourself away from this excellent pub, continue along the High Street in the direction of the Pantiles. A short way down on the opposite side of the road, head up the steep South Grove towards the pleasant area of parkland known as the Grove. Continue straight on and on your right  you will notice the rear entrance to the Compasses, a rambling old building which claims to be one of the oldest pubs in Tunbridge Wells.
Like the Bedford, the Compasses is also owned by Greene King, but serves a more limited range. With several interconnected rooms and separate drinking areas, the Compasses offers a chance to escape the crowds and enjoy a few moments of quiet contemplation. This is not to say that the pub doesn’t get busy; it is just that its layout gives itself to small and sometimes intimate groups. I remember the pub from its days under Whitbread, and as a comfortable and traditional alehouse it hasn’t changed all that much. It is therefore well worth popping in if you are in the area.

Grove Tavern, Little Mount Sion
The front entrance to the Compasses will lead you out into Little Mount Sion; an area of narrow and in places part cobbled streets, with a mix of substantial early Victorian houses and charming, cosy cottages. Mount Sion is often referred to as the “Village” area of Tunbridge Wells, and despite the obvious parking problems, is a very desirable part of the town to live in.

Carry on a short distance down Little Mount Sion towards the Grove Tavern; the next pub on our itinerary and another contender for the title of Tunbridge Well’s oldest pub. This tiny and cosy “L”-shaped pub attracts its own loyal crowd of regulars, but also offers a friendly welcome to visitors from further a field. With an open fire in winter and some lively conversation at the bar, visitors are soon made to feel at home here. The Grove is basically a drinkers and a sports enthusiast’s pub, but is none the worse for that. Harvey’s Sussex Best, plus Taylor’s Landlord are the regular beers, with a couple of guests normally on sale alongside.

The Mount Edgcumbe
I would suggest ending this particular crawl here, as the Pantiles, which is the next area of interest to the drinker is worth a section in its own right. However, if you are still feeling thirsty and the weather is clement, why not take a walk up across Tunbridge Wells Common to the Mount Edgcumbe. You will need a good map for this one I’m afraid, as it’s difficult to give good written directions, but basically head back down towards the High Street and then cut across to the A26 London Road. Follow the road up via the edge of the common until you reach Mount Edgcumbe Road on your left. Head up here, but now you are definitely on your own. Furthermore, do not attempt to try and find this pub-cum-restaurant at dusk, as a friend and I tried to do last year, as you will inevitably get lost amongst the maze of footways and paths which criss-cross  the common!

Alternatively, treat yourself to a taxi and you will then arrive via the rough-track which leads down from the top of the common at Mount Ephraim. I haven’t a huge amount to say about the Mount Edgcumbe. I have eaten there several times in the past, but that was under different management, back when the place was known as La Galoche. I can’t vouch for the food now, but the pub part of this imposing Georgian building is quite interesting with a section of the bar area cut into the rock, forming a sort of “cave”.

"Cave Bar", Mount Edgcumbe
Harvey’s Sussex Best is the pub’s mainstay, alongside an ever changing list of beers from the likes of Dark Star, Tonbridge, Rother Valley, Larkins and Hop Daemon. A double word of advice; unless there are still several hours of daylight remaining, get a taxi back to the station - even if you managed to find your way here on foot! Enough said, but I don’t want to be responsible for you walking around the wooded areas of the common for days on end, or for you falling off one of the rocky outcrops which are scattered all over the place. You have been warned!


Clare - My Tunbridge Wells said...

Great post! There are so many lovely pubs in Tunbridge Wells. Pre-children, we tested out lots of them too. Which was your favourite?

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Clare, the Bedford is my favourite from the pubs detailed in this write-up, but I also like Sankey’s and Fuggles.

I’ve still got the final part of the series to write; which will be the Pantiles.