So now, without further ado, it’s time to reveal the mystery pub the Bailey family visited last Sunday, which provided me with my only pint of Harvey’s Old, so far this winter. The pub in question was the legendary Queen’s Head, at Icklesham, near Rye; a pub I have wanted to visit for many years.
I’m not sure why I never managed to call in there, as we’ve been regular visitors to Rye for the past 30 years or more and, like I said, the Queen’s Head has long been on my radar, but as I hinted at when I described my visit to that part of Sussex with Retired Martin, the local geography may have played a role in this.
To clarify, the village of Icklesham is situated on high ground, and looks out across the broad flat valley, known as the Brede Levels, formed by the River Brede to the west of Rye. The Brede is one of three rivers which converge around Rye, the others being the Rother and the Tillingham. Our route to Rye has always been via the A268, which follows a broad ridge between the latter two waterways, which is why the Brede Levels are largely unknown to me.
This was set to change last Sunday, as I was determined to cross the Queen’s Head off my list of “must visit” pubs. Mrs PBT’s had other ideas though, as her mind was fixed firmly on the Pilot Inn at Lydd-on-Sea, for fish and chips. I managed to persuade her to try somewhere different, saying that, “If you never listen to new songs you will only know old music,” but on reflection that didn’t go down quite as well as I intended. Never mind, I would be doing the driving, so I had the final say.
My powers of persuasion obviously hadn’t fully succeeded, as my suggestion, the previous day, that we ought to phone and book a table met with more than a hint of indifference. The lady of the house countered my idea by claiming this would tie us down to a specific time which, given the relatively isolated setting of the Queen’s Head, might not be such a good move.
Sunday morning then saw us heading down towards Icklesham, armed with map plus sat-nav, to take pot luck at finding a free table for lunch at the Queen’s Head. With the weather bright, sunny and unseasonably warm, things were very much not in our favour, as the high temperatures we were experiencing was bound to draw every Tom, Dick and Harry towards the coast. Many of them would no doubt, have the foresight to book a place for Sunday lunch.
I’d taken the time the time to study the map, so more or less knew the route we needed to take, but I still took the precaution of tapping the final destination into the sat-nav before we set off. The traffic was quite heavy, but it thinned out once we turned off the A21 at Flimwell crossroads. The sat-nav instructed us to turn south at Hawkhurst, rather than further on, at Northiam, as I’d planned, but I was pleased to note that the route took us through Broad Oak, and close to the Three Legs Brewery, which Martin and I had visited at the end of the previous week.
Turning south again, we descended down onto the Brede Levels, and after crossing the river, we turned off along one of the narrowest roads I have been on for along time. It was more like cart track, as it slowly climbed up the other side of the valley, past Doleham station; surely one of the most isolated halts on this part of the rail network.
Fortunately, the only time we met a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction, was just before a junction, where there was sufficient space for us both to pass, but looking in the mirror I noticed we were being shadowed by an Ocado delivery van. There’s obviously a lot of moneyed folk living around Doleham and Guestling!
After turning onto the busy A259, we found the Queen’s Arms, tucked away down a narrow side road at the far end of Icklesham, close to a number of houses. There were several cars parked at the front of the pub, but fortunately there was a much larger parking area at the rear. Even so we had difficulty finding a space, which didn’t bode well so far as lunch was concerned.
We passed the garden on the way to the entrance, and even there the majority of the table were occupied. Undeterred, we stepped inside to find the place packed; as feared. The only unoccupied tables were displaying “Reserved” signs – quelle surprise! We managed to find some space close to the bar and it was then that I spotted the Harvey’s Old. As I reported in the previous post, the beer was on top form; a situation which often arises when you’re limited to just one pint!
It was obvious that we weren’t going to get a table, and as Mrs PBT’s didn’t fancy sitting outside (there was still quite a chill in the air, despite the sunshine), we decided on the good old British compromise. As we were there, we would have a quick drink at the Queen’s Head, and then head off towards Rye, Dungeness and Lydd-on-Sea.
The family settled on this, so I got to enjoy my first and, so far, only pint of Old of the season, and my good lady wife got her wish of fish and chips at the Pilot. In the meantime we were able to enjoy the atmosphere of a classic and unspoilt country pub that has been in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for over 30 years.
Being so full of people, it was difficult to get a proper handle on the place, but according to WhatPub the Queen’s Head was built in 1632 as two dwellings, and has been a pub since 1831. On Sunday it was serving Old Dairy Über Brew and GK IPA, alongside the Harvey’s XXXX Old Ale. The Queen’s Head also has a reputation for serving good-value and high-quality, home-made food on a daily basis – hence it being packed.
I noticed two or possibly three inter-connected rooms, plus another section set at a slightly lower level, and close to where we were standing was a large wood-burning stove. The pub’s crowing glory is its beer garden with its far-reaching views over the Brede Valley, and beyond to the massive wind-farm on Walland Marsh, to the east of Rye.
It was here that it all went a little wrong, as after convincing myself that the view from the pub garden was to the south (it actually looks north), I turned the wrong way onto the A259, and instead of skirting Winchelsea, we found ourselves heading into Hastings. It wasn’t until I looked at the map again, later that evening, that I discovered how this elementary error had occurred.
Hastings afforded the opportunity to fill up with diesel, as a price significantly lower than in Tonbridge. We then re-traced our route along other side of Brede Levels to Rye and then onto the Pilot, via Camber. Fortunately, there were several spare tables at the Pilot Inn, resulting in one happy wife and, after treating the family to lunch, one slightly poorer husband.
I thought it wise not to partake of any more beer, which was a shame as the house beer from New Romney Brewery, had been good on previous occasions, and I am pleased to report that the cod and chips were in fine condition this time around. As for the Queen’s Head, I will definitely be making a return visit, especially as a cross country walk from either Doleham, or Three Oaks stations, looks eminently doable.