There were a couple of unexpected surprises to round off yesterday’s trip into darkest Sussex, and they made for a pleasant end to the day. I am sure retiredmartin will appreciate them, so it is with him in mind that this brief post is written.
We left Downland Brewery, slightly later than anticipated; what is it with blokes, their beer and their ability to talk the hind leg off a donkey? The idea was to stop off in the pleasant town of East Grinstead for both a "comfort stop" and for more beer – as though we needed any! Our tour organiser had selected the Open Arms; a recently opened micro-pub, and the first such establishment in the town.
He had contacted the pub several weeks ago to make sure they could accommodate our party of twelve persons, and received a positive response. He also phoned last week, just to remind them and to check it was still OK for our visit. Again the response was positive, so imagine our dismay when our mini-bus pulled up outside at just after 5.30pm to find the place well and truly shut.
|Keeping an eye on the visitors|
The Open Arms, was anything but open and with no sign of life inside, we were left with little option but to find somewhere else. Our driver was contracted to be back in Tonbridge by a certain time, so we were short of options, until our chairman Craig, suggested calling in at the Queen’s Arms, Cowden Pound, aka "Elsie’s".
The pub was just a short detour off our way home, and being closer to Tunbridge Wells than East Grinstead, our driver agreed. The only question was would the Queen’s Arms be open? Our question was well and truly answered as we approached the pub, as there were people outside queuing to get in. The car park was also quite full, with a coach parked in the road at the side of the pub. There was our answer.
We squeezed our way inside and eventually managed to get served. Larkin’s Traditional was the only beer on sale, although with no pump-clips on the hand-pulls it was difficult to know this. Martin found the same on his recent visit, and I’m not sure of the reason. Unfortunately the landlord and his helper were far too busy to answer such trivial questions, so I will leave the mystery unsolved until a future visit.
The Larkin’s was in top form though and just £3.20 a pint represented excellent value. We only had half an hour before our bus was due to depart, but after the day’s earlier excesses I was happy to just have the one. A few hardy souls managed two, but their constitutions are obviously a lot stronger than mine!
We discovered that the coach party were on their way back to Egham, having travelled down to Sussex for the Downland Brewery open day. I hadn’t realised that the brewery had opened especially for the presentation of our certificate, but word had obviously got round and the group from Egham had taken full advantage of it. Two of our group knew the person in charge of the Surrey contingent, who was none other than the steward of the town’s United Services Club; a venue which is renowned for its beer festivals which feature a choice of “hard to get” beers.
It was good to see the Queen’s Arms so busy, although the handful of locals hemmed in at the far end of the bar, looked a little bemused. We noticed one gent who was drinking “Gold Label” barley wine, poured from a can. Was this the same individual who Martin noticed? One of our party remarked that it was precisely because she didn’t want the pub to be swamped by coach parties, that legendary landlady, Elsie Maynard had insisted the Queen’s Arms should not be included in the Good Beer Guide.
We departed on time and our driver dropped various groups of along the way. The four of us remaining decided that a pint in the Humphrey Bean, Tonbridge’s JDW outlet, would be a good idea. It wasn’t that any of us really needed more beer, although in my case the alcohol was helping to numb a particularly bad toothache.
The pub was quite busy, but we managed to find a table. My three friends opted for the Black Dragon Welsh Cider, but I had other ideas as soon as I saw the pump-clip bearing the famous Red Triangle. I knew I could leave the Bean without having at least one pint of Draught Bass, but unfortunately it wasn’t the finest pint of this legendary beer, which has crossed my lips.
I admit that my palate would have been a little jaded after a day on the beer, but the Bass was flat as a pancake and had very little condition. It was nowhere near as good as the Bass I’d enjoyed the previous Saturday at the Express Tavern. On the plus side, it was good to see this beer in our local Spoons so that, plus the unexpected visit to Elsie’s, was the icing on the cake for what had been a most excellent day out.