Well just when I thought that beer couldn’t get much better than that totally unexpected pint of Young’s Ordinary, in the Tiger Inn on day one of my walk, another even more amazing beery experience managed to top that on day three.
Friday was the third, and final day of that particular North Downs Way section, and whilst I didn’t quite manage to close off the “Canterbury Loop,” I only missed out by four miles. That short stretch can be completed another time, but having walked the 10 miles from Shepherdswell, I was pleased with myself just for reaching Canterbury.
There’s something deceptive about entering a town or city on foot, especially when you’ve just been walking through open countryside. First there are things to walk past like industrial estates, low-density housing, allotments, the odd school etc, and that initial flush of enthusiasm that comes with thinking you’ve arrived, soon gets lost when you realise there’s still a mile or two to go.
A city like Canterbury is particularly frustrating as you will have spotted the cathedral from some distance away, and the longer you walk towards it , the further away it seems to become. I remember a similar experience whilst walking into Lewes, on the South Down Way, when the castle which dominates the town from afar, appeared to do exactly the same thing. Still, at least it wasn’t pouring down with rain, this time around!
What my route into Canterbury did achieve though, was to take me through an area of the city that I hadn’t been in before; despite me thinking that I really knew the place. So after passing the remains of St Augustine’s Abbey, the city gaol, and some brand new buildings constructed for Canterbury Christ Church University, I arrived at the inner-city ring road, which follows Canterbury’s still largely intact, medieval city walls.
I did think of calling in at the lovely little New Inn, and would have done so had I known that a group of West Kent CAMRA members would be heading there after attending the Kent Beer Festival (plastic glasses only, so no thanks!). Instead I kept going until I reached the gate to the cathedral precincts.
I had planned to visit Canterbury Brewers in their recently re-sited Foundry Brew-Pub, but I was the wrong side of the High Street for that. Instead I headed for the Old Buttermarket, an historic old pub, owned by the Nicholson’s chain of slightly upmarket pubs.
The pub fronts on to a small pedestrianised square, right opposite the cathedral gate, and the tables and chairs set outside always look inviting, especially in summer. With this in mind, my intention was to sit outside and enjoy a beer, whilst watching the world go by.
I’d been to the Old Buttermarket on several previous occasions with friends, so I knew that whilst the pub is somewhat upmarket, it does serves a diverse and changing range of interesting beers. Upon entering I saw that Fuller’s beers featured quite prominently on the beer menu, but after deciding to go for the Dark Star American Pale, and being on the verge of ordering a pint, I noticed right out the corner of my eye a tap for Pilsner Urquell, almost hidden amongst some of the other keg taps.
I had an abrupt change of mind, as it’s not everyday you find a pub serving one of your all-time favourite beers, as along with St Austell, Proper Job, Pilsner Urquell is one of my go-to beers for drinking at home.
I just love its blend of rich, sweet malt, with the juiciness that can only come from a traditional triple-decoction mash. This is set against just the right degree of bitterness from locally grown Saaz hops. Poured the traditional Czech way, with a thick dense head of wet foam, that seals in both flavour plus aroma, and adds a real smoothness, you’d be hard put to find a better beer.
And so it turned out on Friday afternoon, as despite its price tag of £5.10, that pint of Pilsner Urquell at the Old Buttermarket, was one of the finest pints of beer it has been my privilege to drink – and I don’t say that lightly! If CAMRA allowed world-classic beers to be scored, rather than just cask ales, that pint would have been a definite 5.0 NBSS!
Before taking my glass outside, I took another mouthful of the beer, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t, the beer was absolutely brilliant and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I sat down at one of the tables facing the cathedral gate, feeling totally relaxed and at one with the world. This wasn’t just down to the smugness of having completed my walk, but much more to the excellence of the beer.
I was sorely tempted to have another, and almost succumbed, but thinking along the lines that you can sometimes have too much of a good thing, decided the moment had passed and a second pint would not taste quite as good as the first; even though nothing had changed. I also had an hour’s train journey back to Tonbridge, and wanted to be back in time to cadge lift back from the station, from son Matthew.
So feeling content with the world, I slowly made my way through the throngs of tourists and overseas visitors, to Canterbury West station. That 5.0 NBSS pint of Pilsner Urquell had been the perfect way to end my North Downs Way walk, and as I sat there admiring the scenery as the train hurried along the Stour Valley, I had a wry smile on face as I could still picture, and almost savour, that beer in my mind’s eye.