Saturday, 26 September 2020

Nanny knows best

I wasn’t going to post anything about HMG’s latest nannying restrictions which, according to our great leader, brought in because the UK population can’t behave itself. Knee-jerk reactions and "gesture politics" seem part and parcel of Mr Bumble’s government, but even so the measures brought in earlier this week are likely to have little or any effect on the rising numbers of Coronavirus infections.

Regrettably, they are much more likely to impact in a profoundly negative way, on the UK’s already struggling pub and hospitality sectors which, after being totally closed for 3 months, have adapted well to coping with control measures such as distancing, hand-sanitising and track and trace. Forcing pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm will do very little to prevent infections from spreading but will have a massive effect on their ability to operate and ultimately their profitability.

Seasoned bloggers such as Pub Curmudgeon and Tandleman have already covered the potential impact of Doris’s latest ad-hoc measures, so I won’t elaborate further, apart from saying the new regulations are petty, spiteful and next to useless and have been introduced by a PM desperate to be seen doing something.

The MSM have been obsessed with Corona virus, since it first reared its ugly head, with newspapers, and other news organisations driving much of the Covid-19 hysteria that continues to dominate the headlines. Having harped on for months about a so-called “second wave,” they’re beside themselves with glee now that infections are seen to be rising.

They’re willing it to happen, and I’d argue they also want it to happen, because bad news sells more copies of their sordid tabloids, (some broadsheets are almost as bad). They also receive more clicks on their equally biased, on-line sites. Not content with spreading mass-hysteria, they’re now pushing for a second lock-down, oblivious to the damage it would cause to an already shattered economy and to people’s general health and mental well-being.

The media fail to realise there are other things out there that can kill us, beside Covid, and in the longer term a broken economy will do far worse damage than this novel-virus. Unfortunately, the media are the ones driving government policy; hardly surprising when you have a populist government, driven by banal, three-word slogans.

The licensed trade and hospitality sectors are easy targets and imposing further control on them not only fits well with their "nannying" agenda, it also complies with the agenda of all repressive governments over the years who wish to prevent people meeting together. If the plebs are allowed to enjoy a few drinks in a pub, this might cause dissent when the peasants start discussing and comparing their lot in life, to that of the ruling classes.

The draconian and spiteful measures brought in under the government’s Emergency Public Health Act, are unprecedented in peacetime, and would be unusual even in times of war. Preventing people meeting others in their own homes, or even outdoors, will split families and cause even more misery, and encouraging people to snitch on their neighbours, really is sinking to a new low.

This behaviour has shades of Nazi Germany, where the Gestapo relied on citizens to shop dissenters, or those they considered guilty of other “crimes” against the state. Their East German successors the Stasi, carried on with this, so that by the time the regime fell, there was a Stasi file on virtually every citizen. People don’t seem to learn from history, as the UK Corona Act 2020, is an enabling piece of legislation that gives the government carte blanche to do what ever they wish, all under the guise of controlling a virus with a mortality rate of 0.5-1.0%.

In the wrong hands such legislation has parallels with Adolf Hitler’s infamous Enabling Act of 1933, which gave him dictatorial powers, allowing him to rule Germany by decree. We are going down a very dangerous road here, and yet many are cheering the government on, with some demanding even more control over their sad and sordid little lives.

Returning for a moment, to the absurdity of 10pm closing. Footage, taken last night in central London, shows hordes of people, all piling out, en masse, from pubs and bars. Crowded together, with no possibility of social distancing, whereas before, when people were treated as sensible adults, they would leave with a slow trickle in dribs and drabs, once they’d had enough or their business had been concluded.

And all because Mr Bumble said pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm!

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Minnis Bay

I’d never been to Minnis Bay before, but I must have been near the place on several previous occasions. We ended up there just over a week ago, on the last day of my break from work. Mrs PBT’s brother and his partner were staying in their motor-home, on a nearby campsite, and invited us down for the day, so fancying a trip to the seaside we accepted, and headed in the direction of Thanet.

It was a scorching hot day without a cloud in the sky, so wasn’t the best day to be travelling on Kent’s overcrowded roads, but knowing a few detours, I manged to avoid the M2 motorway which, according to the traffic reports on my phone,  was already showing as congested. Instead, I took the scenic route, but that didn’t quite turn out as planned.

A road closure at Challock, put a spanner in the works, but unless there’s a valid reason, there’s no reason to completely close a busy "A" road. Some abandoned roadworks didn't seem  sufficiently valid,  but thanks to the Sat-Nav on Mrs PBT’s phone, we manged to work our way around the closure; even if the diversion took us down some pretty narrow lanes.

Once on the A299 Thanet Way, it was obvious that much of North Kent, and half of London, was heading in the same direction as us. Fortunately, a significant number of cars exited at the Whitstable turn-off; that particular North Kent town being the local equivalent of Southwold, so in the end we were only about 10 minutes behind our scheduled arrival time. 

Minnis Bay is short distance along the coast from Birchington, and has a sandy beach, which is safe for bathers. Overlooking the beach is the Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie, a large box-like pub, owned by Shepherd Neame. According to the pub’s website, the Minnis Bay is “newly re-furbished” and certainly has that “just opened” feel to it.

My brother-in-law’s girlfriend had booked a table for 2pm, and the pair arrived shortly after us. Eileen hasn’t been inside a pub or restaurant since before lock-down, so was quite relieved when we allocated a table outside. The fact that her brother and partner had their dog with them, probably helped there, but the tables were all suitably spaced, wiped and sanitised after each group of customers departed.

Our table was in the shade, which was just as well, as I forgot to bring my sun hat along. As is usual at an English seaside location, there were plenty of rather “pink” overweight males, parading around topless. Not a pretty site and giving further rise to the name “gammons.” I wonder how many of these “sweaty oafs,” as my dad would have called them, voted for the UK's biggest “own goal” in several generations?

I’ve noticed subsequently, that Shepherd Neame managed houses all seem to offer the same, standardised menu, but given the current situation there was still plenty of choice. Probably the strangest option was the Chicken Schnitzel, which my brother-in-law went for, whereas Eileen and I played safe with cod & chips, plus beef & onion pie respectively.

I ordered a pint of Whitstable Bay Pale, but as it was chilled to the nines, I’m certain it was keg, rather than cask. I don’t recall seeing any hand-pumps during my brisk walk through the bar, in order to use the Gents – no "One In/One Out" policy, but it’s a toilet for heaven’s sake! 

So, a nice day out, some gorgeous mid-September weather, sea views and an enjoyable pub lunch as well. What’s not to like?  After leaving the pub, we drove the short distance to the campsite where Dave and Lynn’s motor-home was parked. A cup of tea, and some cake then followed before heading for home.

The Thanet Way was bumper to tail in places – hardly surprising given the splendid weather, so prior to joining the M2, I took a much more rural, and far more picturesque route home. The road I chose took us through some unspoilt downland country, through the villages of Newnham and Doddington. The only downside was the sun being directly in my eyes for much of the journey, which took the shine off the drive, if you’ll pardon the pun, as well as making it more difficult.

Our day at the seaside was a nice way to end my week’s “stay-cation,” and as well as allowing us to see a hitherto unknown part of Kent, provided a good chance to catch up with family, whilst enjoying a decent lunch.

The Indian summer is set to disappear tomorrow, with storms blowing in from the Atlantic, but weather-wise, it’s been an incredible spring, summer and early autumn, and something that has made the trials and tribulations we’ve all been experiencing these past six months, that little bit more bearable. 






Sunday, 20 September 2020

Bridging the gap on the North Down's Way

My recent week off from work, afforded the perfect opportunity to knock off a further section of the North Down’s Way long-distance footpath. The weather was dry and sunny, and with a stiff breeze to help keep temperatures down, turned out to be the perfect conditions for walking.

The section I chose was the next stage along from Cuxton; the position I reached in July, at the end of my previous walk. This time though I would be walking east to west, rather than the other way around; my choice  dictated by the availability and frequency of public transport at each end. 

I set off from home just before 8.30 am and walked down to Tonbridge station. There was a direct train through to Maidstone at 9.05 am, so I waited for that to pull in, before boarding.  The Medway Valley Line is one of the prettiest rail routes in the south east following, as its name suggests, the course of the River Medway as it winds its way up towards the Thames Estuary.

I wasn’t going that far, alighting instead at Maidstone Barracks; one of three rail stations in the county town. A footpath leads up from the Barracks station to the high-level bridge that carries the other rail line into Maidstone, over the Medway and also across a busy dual carriageway that leads up towards Chatham.

Maidstone East station was my goal, as it was from there that my pre-booked taxi would be waiting for me. That was the plan, but due to a misunderstanding with the person who took the booking, there was no taxi. Maidstone East is undergoing a major rebuild, with the former Victoria pub that once fronted the station, now completely flattened and nothing more than a memory.

The construction work also meant that the taxi rank had been moved, and when I eventually found it the handful of taxis parked up there had no record of any booking for Mr Bailey. A quick call to the taxi company revealed the reason why, but I still fail to see why, having booked a pick-up at 09.50, the operator should think I meant 09.50 in the evening.!

Weren’t these people familiar with the 24-hour clock? If I’d wanted collecting at ten to ten in the evening, I would have said 21.50, but obviously not in Maidstone! The taxi firm despatched a cab for me, more or less straight away, and the driver and I were soon speeding out of Maidstone and towards the bottom of Blue Bell Hill.

As someone who watches the pennies, I’m a very infrequent user of taxis, but by taking a cab I saved myself a three mile walk along a busy dual carriageway (A229), just to connect with the start of the NDW. These were

three miles I would rather spend walking across the downs or through woodland, rather than having my ears blasted by traffic noise and my lungs filled with exhaust fumes. The ride also saved me an hour and a quarter’s walking, so from all points of view, was money well spent.

The driver dropped me outside the Lower Bell pub, on the Old Chatham Road. It was slightly higher up than I’d intended on starting from, but it didn’t matter, and after getting my bearings, I soon managed to pick up the NDW. This first section was all uphill, but largely through woodland. The trees provided some welcome shade for the already intense heat of the sun, but a quarter of the way I followed a gap in the hedge for a look at the Kits Coty House.

This is a stone structure, dating from Neolithic times, which once formed the entrance to a long barrow, used as a burial chamber, and is one of the best-preserved examples remaining in this part of the country. After pausing briefly to take some photos, I continued back up towards the top of Blue Bell Hill, eventually reaching the picnic area and viewing point at the top of the escarpment.

I stopped there for a while taking in the panoramic views of the Medway Valley, far below, and also drank deeply from my “Chilly’s” water bottle, with its nice cool contents. The path follows a road along the escarpment, in a north-westerly direction for several miles, dipping in and out of areas of woodland. A track opposite a path leading up from the village of Burham, will take visitors to the Robin Hood pub. This isolated hostelry is hidden from the road, but a signpost gives a clue to its presence.

The time was just after 11.30 am, so I doubted the pub would be open. It was also far too early into the walk to be stopping off for a pint, however tempting it might be. I continued along the road, which slowly turns into more of a track. It also changed direction, heading now almost due north, and starting a slow descent as the same time.

Eventually I came out of the trees and was rewarded with a view of the Medway valley and the impressive Medway Bridges. The NDW makes its way towards these structures which
carry the M2 motorway and the HS1 high-speed rail line, across the River Medway. A shared footway for pedestrians and cyclists runs alongside the northside of motorway, separated by barriers and fencing.  From a height of 116 feet above the river, it affords spectacular views towards Rochester, two miles away, and of the boats on the Medway below.

I was relieved to be walking across in dry and warm weather, as the crossing feels very exposed. There are also several strategically placed signs, erected by the Samaritans, which serve as a poignant reminder that a number of troubled souls have chosen to end things by throwing themselves off the bridge. 

Once across, away from the immediate roar of traffic and out of the wind, I took a left hand turn onto the A228, which then crosses the M2 and HS1 by means of a bridge. Eventually I turned off into Ranscombe Farm Reserve, where I found a conveniently sited bench, sheltered from the wind by a small wood. It formed the ideal spot for me to stop and eat my packed lunch.  I was famished by this time, but there had not been a comfortable or indeed suitable place to stop beforehand.

My chosen spot was a nice little suntrap as well, as I rested my weary

legs and tucked into my cheese sandwiches. I also had a rewarding view out across the Medway, with the bridges still visible from my vantage point. I was glad to have brought a hat with me, given the heat from the sun but as I felt my arms starting to burn, I thought I’d better get moving again.

I re-joined the path and continued past the quaintly-named,  Merrals Shaw Wood and then Ranscombe Farm, before descending into a deep combe. The path then led slowly back up and across the main Rochester-Victoria rail line and then into a hosing estate on the edge of Cuxton. This was close to the hamlet of Lower Bush where I had entered the village on my previous walk back in July.

A mile’s walk along Bush Road took me past a row of shops and then into the centre of Cuxton. It was then a short hop to the station and the train back home to Tonbridge.  I only had a short wait for the train so, as before, there wasn’t time to call in at the White Hart pub.

That’s another 10 miles knocked off the North Down's Way, but there’s still a fair way to go, not least of which is the 25-mile section from Blue Bell Hill down to the River Stour and the village of Wye. I would like to complete this stretch by the end of the year so I will feel that at least I 

have accomplished something during this strangest of years. I will then be able to complete the NDW by continuing from Dunton Green, just north of Sevenoaks, to the end of the trail at Farnham on the Surrey-Hants border. 

This does of course,  depend on what "knee-jerk" restrictions the hapless UK government come up with because, as I sit here this morning, putting the finishing touches to this piece, "Mr Bumble" and his side-kick, Matt Hancock, "the boy blunder" are contemplating further draconian curbs on our civil liberties. Watch this space - preferably from 2 metres away!!

Friday, 18 September 2020

Bank Holiday Monday - Part Two

The second pub on our August Bank Holiday Monday walk was also a food-oriented establishment.  It is also part of a chain, the Whiting & Hammond group, whose other pubs include the Little Brown Jug in the village where I work, the King’s Head at Bessels Green, near Sevenoaks and, slightly further afield, the Cricketers at Meopham.  I’m not certain as to when W&H first acquired the pub, but it was a well-known and independently owned free house when I last visited.

The pub in question is the intriguingly named Nevill Crest & Gun at Eridge
Green. The building is approximately 500 years old, with a history to match. The Nevill family are said to have arrived with Duke William of Normandy and have lived at nearby Eridge Park ever since. The Nevills are also known as the Earls of Abergavenny – and that, of course is the name of the first pub in nearby Frant, that we visited the same day.

The walk between the two pubs took us through the attractive, and “wild, but managed” grounds of Eridge Park, with its lakes and areas of woodland. Effectively the walk took us from the A267 Tunbridge Wells – Eastbourne road, to the A26 Tunbridge Wells – Lewes highway. It was an area unknown to me, but I quickly warmed to the charm of the landscape.

My only concern was after a long, and steep descent through woodland from Frant, we would have an equally long ascent as we approached Eridge. Fortunately, geography was on our side and the climb back up to the A26 at Eridge was much gentler. The ornamental lakes at the bottom of the valley were particularly attractive and, judging by the families and other groups out walking, I wasn’t the only person who thought so.

Upon reaching, and crossing the busy A26, we located the bus stop, just to the south of the pub, and checked the times, as the No. 29 bus would be our

means of conveyance back to Tunbridge Wells after visiting the pub. It was then just a short 5-minute walk to the Nevill Crest & Gun, but before entering we dutifully waited outside for someone to greet us, thereby complying with the Covid rules.

We were then met and conducted through the pub, to a table in the garden, at the rear of the pub. We had requested a seat outside, but such was the haste that we were led through the pub interior, there was scant time to take in the beer offerings. I noticed a Gun Brewery beer and also one from Canterbury Ales, but not being a fan of the latter, I played safe, when it was time to take our order, and went for Harvey’s once again.

Most customers were sitting outside anyway, but given the Nevill’s extensive garden, the distances between tables was not a problem. Two people from our group opted for something further to eat; the excuse being that the sea bream option on the Abergavenny’s menu hadn’t come with much in the way of accompanying carbohydrates.

Fortunately, my battered cod had come with a decent portion of chunky chips, so I was still quite full. We stayed for a further pint, before heading back to the bus stop and the double deck bus back to Tunbridge Wells. The No. 29 bus runs between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton and is operated by Brighton & Hove Buses and provides a relatively cheap connection between the two towns, as well as intermediate stops at places like Crowborough, Uckfield and Lewes.

We then caught the train back to
Tonbridge and stopped off at the Nelson for a couple more cheeky beers, before going our respective ways back home. It had been a good day out and an enjoyable day out, despite the sole coming away from one of my boots. A hair band provided by my friend’s wife saved the day and both boots have now been repaired.

I would though, like to have seen a little more of the interior of the Nevill Crest & Gun, so perhaps when this Covid nonsense is over, I will.


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Bank Holiday Monday - Part One

A fortnight ago now – August Bank Holiday Monday to be precise, I joined up with four friends from our WhatsApp Weekend Walking Group, for a cross-country walk to two pubs, situated to the south of Tunbridge Wells. This was my first time out with the group since a ramble to the now, sadly closed, Rising Sun, at Cotman’s Ash, which took place at the end of January.

How things have changed since then, but with the nation’s pubs now re-opened, albeit under certain restrictions, and passengers actively encouraged to use public transport once more, our walk began with a short train trip over to Tunbridge Wells, where we met up with the fifth member of our party.

The first pub on our list was the Abergavenny Arms at Frant, where a pre-booked table awaited our presence for lunch. Our route took us up from the station, skirting the rather upmarket “village area” of the town, before heading through Camden Park and into the area of the town known as Hawkenbury.

We then skirted a new, and rather controversial housing development, which will include a new school, whilst adding nothing in the way of badly needed, affordable housing. After passing the periphery of the Nevill Golf Club, we were in open countryside, before reaching an area of dense, mixed woodland.

A steep climb up through the trees then followed, before eventually finding ourselves in the grounds of the Church of St Alban, Frant. A walk along Church Lane brought us to the main A267, Tunbridge Wells – Eastbourne Road, and our lunch stop destination, the Abergavenny. According to my Smart Watch, we had covered a distance of 5 miles, but this figure was disputed by the person in charge of the walk.

No matter – it felt like 5 miles, and keen walkers should note that this part of the walk, and the second section to Eridge Green, in the main followed the route of the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk, a 27 mile route that takes in some of the best and most scenic countryside, around the Spa town.

The Abergavenny Arms is a former coaching inn, parts of which date back to the 15th Century. Whilst it is unashamedly a diners’ pub, it does cater for drinkers in the area around the bar. The layout had changed since my visit two years previously, in order to make the pub more Covid-compliant.  In common with most other pubs, congregating in front of the bar was not allowed, and to reinforce this the tables and chairs in this area have been removed.

We all had our temperatures taken before entering the pub; a pointless exercise as after being told I was allowed in, I asked what the actual reading was (no-contact, infra-red beam pointed at my forehead).  Without even a trace of irony, the greeter replied 34.5° C. “That’s good,” I said, suppressing a wry smile, because if that was my body temperature, I would have been suffering from hypothermia!

After the obligatory dollop of hand-sanitiser, we were shown to our table next to the window, and suitably distanced from others nearby. We were handed a pre-printed menu, plus a pencil, so we could write our group choices on.  The former wide range of cask beers had been reduced to just one; Harvey’s Sussex Best, which was fine for me, but not quite as popular with one or two other members of our party. 

Looking around though, most of the other diners were either drinking wine of keg Peroni so, as I pointed out, the pub was doing the right thing by cutting back on the cask range.  As with the beer, the food range had also been reduced; a sensible move under the current circumstances.

Despite some of the more exotic items on offer, I plumped for good old battered cod and chips – rather pricey at £16, but a snip once the Chancellor’s 50% discount was applied. The meal was good, wholesome and tasty, and went well with an immaculately presented pint of Harvey’s, which was so good that I ended up joining my companions by ordering a second.

The pub was as full as it could be under the current restrictions, with the numbers being swelled by other groups sitting outside. The whole thing was well-organised and well thought out, so full marks to the team at the Abergavenny.

We’ll take a break here, but there’s another, slightly shorter, but no less interesting walk to follow, along with a different, but equally good pub. Furthermore it was a pub I hadn’t been to for the best part of 25 years! 

To be continued................................

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Time to play catch-up

I’m coming to the end of a relaxing and most enjoyable week off work, during which I’ve managed to pack quite a lot in. The week began with a trip up to Norfolk, to visit my father, and included an overnight stop in King’s Lynn.

Returning to Kent, I completed a minor construction project in the garden, as well as catching up with some much overdue, home-admin type of stuff. “Look after my bills,” as seen on “Dragon’s Den,” have found me a deal that reduces my combined gas and electricity bills by around £30 a month and was quite painless to sign up for. I’ve also re-activated my Dartford Crossing account, which UK. Gov suspended due to lack of use. This was despite it still being in credit!

I managed, eventually, to get a quick peep inside the recently re-opened Ivy House in Tonbridge, and this morning it was bacon rolls and coffee for breakfast, courtesy of the good folk at Tonbridge Old Fire Station.  The takeaway breakfast was in honour of Mrs PBT’s who celebrates a significant birthday today, and the celebrations continued this afternoon, with a visit from her sister and her niece.

So, tea and cake in the garden, plus a family chat-up, and we still didn’t exceed Commissar Hancock’s guidelines, that are due to come in to force on Monday. Tomorrow, we’ll be meeting up with Eileen’s brother and his partner, at a pub overlooking Minnis Bay which, according to my map, is between Reculver and Birchington.

Finally, there’s a further stretch of the North Down’s Way that I walked on Thursday. In perfect walking weather I covered the 10 miles from Kit’s Coty, at the bottom of Blue Bell Hill, to the village of Cuxton, on the west bank of the River Medway. My journey took me through some classic downland countryside, and then across the Medway Viaducts, by means of a foot and cycleway that runs parallel with the M2 motorway. Some great views, if you can ignore the roar of the traffic!

I’ve still to write an account of my journey, and the same applies to a walk I undertook last Bank Holiday Monday, with four friends. The walk took in two rather good pubs, with some equally good scenery in between. 

So, plenty left to write about, but probably not enough time to accomplish this before my return to work on Monday.



Ivy League

Well, as you might have guessed, I made a second attempt at visiting the recently refurbished Ivy House, in Tonbridge. I’m pleased to report my quest for liquid refreshment was successful this time, and I also managed to sit outside on the raised patio area at the front of the pub.

Matthew accompanied me, as we both had a few bits of shopping to pick up, so it was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at the pub. This was my first time inside the Ivy House for a couple of years, as the pub had lain empty for at least a year before the essential remedial work was completed and the refurbishment could then begin.

The pub was scheduled to open at Easter, but the pandemic of course put paid to that. Instead the Ivy underwent a sort of “soft” opening,  as a means of trying out its food offerings, which were sold online as pre-ordered takeaways for customers to collect. Knowing the track-record of the pub’s owners, I knew the food would be good, but I was itching to take a look inside and see what beers the Ivy would be stocking.

Two of the outdoor tables were occupied, but there were several more that were free. Each had a number, plus a QR code, but it the absence of further instructions, we tentatively poked our heads through the door to see what the score was. This is the trouble with post-lockdown pub regimes – they all  appear to be different.

We approached the bar, but not before following the instructions to scan the larger QR code on the wall and enter our details for the government’s “world-beating"  track and trace system. One problem, not knowing the pub’s Wi-Fi code in advance, my phone couldn’t connect to the internet; not without me switching to 4G and using some of my data allowance.

I’m not sure it worked even then, although I imagine my phone number at least was captured by the system. We then approached the bar which, as previously, is on a lower level. The barmaid was behind the ubiquitous Perspex screen; boy, how I wish I’d invested some money in Perspex sheeting, prior to this pandemic, I could have retired as a wealthy man!

The girl behind the bar was quite chatty, which is always a good sign, and patient as well, but what happens with those customers who don’t possess a Smart Phone? The two cask ales were Harvey’s Sussex Best and Ruddles Bitter.  The latter was rather a strange choice, in my view, so I went for the  Harvey’s of course. Young master Matthew opted for a pint of Beck’s.

Our hostess said that business had been quite brisk since reopening as a pub, with a steady trade, plus one or two former regulars from the old days putting in an appearance. This sounded like good news but having bought our drinks, we felt obliged to move away from the bar and make our way outside.

I would have liked a proper look around but knowing how this is frowned upon in many pubs because of obsessive Covid compliance, thought better of it. What I did notice was the former two-bar layout had been retained, and there was what looked like an indoor dining area leading off to the right.

As mentioned earlier, there were several table free outside, so we found one where we could watch the comings and goings, whilst soaking up some of the early autumn sunshine. My Harvey’s was very good and worthy of a 3.5 NBSS. I don’t know what Matthew’s international lager was like, but he enjoyed it, nevertheless.

One slight disappointment was the absence of Pilsner Urquell from the lager line-up. The Czech classic had been a welcome feature of the pub’s previous incarnation and was one of its more redeeming features. Still, it’s early days at present, and who knows the original golden pilsner might make an appearance, once the pub and its trade become more established.

A couple who had been sitting nearby, upped sticks and left, but several other builder-types then appeared. They all seemed to know each other, but as they weren’t above half dozen in number, they wouldn’t register on pimply little Matt Hancock’s “rule of six” radar. It all seemed encouraging, even if it is still early days, and the regulations  associated with Covid compliance don’t enhance the atmosphere in even the most welcoming of pubs, so fingers crossed.

To sum up, the Ivy House has been given a much needed makeover, but not so as to ruin its essential character. Unlike the previous two versions, when it presented itself as a “dining pub” or even a "gastropub," it has returned to being a proper pub, and not only is that to be applauded, it is also a most welcome addition to the local drinking scene.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

King's Lynn - on a Sunday afternoon

I’ve been to King’s Lynn a few times, but never really had time for a proper look around the town. The town’s direct rail connection to London provided a convenient and cheap means of travel up to Norfolk, especially when the route formed part of British Rail’s Network South-East division. Back then I had a Family Railcard, which entitled me and the family to a one third discount over the entire south-eastern rail network.

This proved handy for visits to my parents, who’d recently retired to Norfolk. I’d purchase a discounted ticket; we’d take the train to King’s Lynn and my father would collect us from the station.  Mrs PBT’s also used the route to drop off and collect  son Matthew, when he spent time away with his grandparents.

Most of the time it was straight into dad’s car and then off, for the 40 minute drive to Swanton Morley, but I do remember one occasion when mum accompanied dad, and we spent a while looking around King’s Lynn, stopping for a coffee somewhere in the town centre. Last weekend’s brief stop-over therefore, provided the perfect opportunity to capitalise on my fleeting acquaintance with the town, and get to know the place better.

Matthew and I drove up to King’s Lynn last Sunday, and after checking into the bargain-priced Premier Inn on the edge of the town shortly after 2.30 pm, set off to explore the town. A look at the map revealed a 40-minute walk – eminently doable, apart from Matthew’s aversion to exercise, so we ended up taking the car.

Despite it being Matthew’s vehicle, he was also reluctant to drive – the excuse being that he didn’t know the roads. “Well neither do I,” was my stern reply, “but I can follow road signs and I have a reasonable sense of direction, and that’s all that’s needed.” I must be growing soft with age, as I still gave in, and drove us into the centre of Lynn, using the method described above.

There was the occasional wrong turn, but we arrived at a suitably empty car park, behind the High Street, without incident. I made him pay for the parking though, but surely only a tight-wad council would charge motorists to park on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

We had a stroll around, the shops having all closed by this time, admiring the attractive buildings at the north end of the High Street, especially those grouped around the quaintly named Tuesday Market Place. I made a mental note of a couple of pub possibilities for later, before heading for the waterfront and a look at the River Great Ouse.

I remembered this view from that previous visit with my parents and although the tide was out, exposing banks that are part sand and part mud, the Ouse is still an impressive site. Much of the water collected inland from the Fens, drains into the Wash; a large and wide inlet of the North Sea. King John reputedly lost some of his royal jewels there, when his baggage train became trapped by the rapidly rising tide.

The much-maligned king had a special relationship with the town, which was then known as Bishop’s Lynn, granting in 1204, a charter allowing the merchant guilds to govern themselves. On 12th October 2016, 800 years to the day after the king lost his jewels, a life-size bronze statue of King John was unveiled in the town.

I thought I’d throw in that piece of local history, but perhaps more importantly is the fact that King’s Lynn was one of the most important ports in the country during the 12th and 13th centuries, after establishing links with the powerful Hanseatic League. This association of traders and merchants from Northern Germany and other countries bordering the Baltic Sea, was an early type of “common market” which contributed greatly to the town’s prosperity. It left a legacy of medieval buildings including two former Hanseatic League warehouses, which have now been adapted for other purposes, (one houses a pub and a restaurant).

It was now time for a drink, and where better, aesthetically at least, than the attractive, brick-built Maid’s Head Hotel, overlooking the Tuesday Market Place. Separated by an alleyway from its larger, and more grandiose neighbour the Duke’s Head, the Maid’s had a cosy and welcoming look about it. I’m not sure about the authenticity of the two large oval advertising signs, proclaiming the virtues of Bullard’s Ales, between some of the upstairs windows, but the Maid’s Head is certainly a quirky old building, that is full of character.

I’d wanted to sit outside, but all the table at the front of the pub were taken. Instead, we approached the front door where one of the barmaids was enjoying an afternoon ciggie. She showed us inside and allowed us to approach the bar. There were two hand pulls, one of which was for Ringwood Brewery Boondoggle. I opted for that, especially after the barmaid answered my question about it selling well.

Matthew had an international lager of some description (probably Kronenbourg), and we walked across the spacious and virtually empty bar area, towards the table that was furthest most from the bar. There was a reason for this, as there were two customers sitting close to the door arguing, admittedly in friendly sort of way, but with raised voices and rather too much swearing for my liking.

I don’t what it is about those who have taken too much drink, but it seems to do something to their voices. The more they have to drink, the louder they become, but fortunately my choice of seating, in an alcove away from the bar, did muffle their drunken ramblings, somewhat. So, the lad and I still managed to have a good chat and made some progress in trying to map out a way for him to get a rung on the housing ladder.

The Boondoggle was in fine form too, pale in colour, smooth, well hopped and topped with a fluffy white head, but as I was driving, I just stuck with the one pint. Rather annoyingly, as we left the pub, we noticed that two of the outside table were now free, meaning we missed out on 30 minutes or so of looking at people and generally watching the world going by. Never mind, but it’s good to take advantage of the fine weather whilst it lasts.

After leaving the Maid’s Head, there was time for a walk to the other end of the High Street, in order to view this well-preserved medieval part of the town. There were some rather attractive looking buildings, including King’s Lynn Minster (St Margaret’s). We also noted a place called The Wenns, which is described as a “Chop & Alehouse.” This was an establishment I had briefly considered for a Sunday evening meal, until I discovered it specialised in “sharing platters” – something we don’t really do in the Bailey household!

There were quite a few people milling about, but it’s hard to say how many were locals and how many were visitors. The warm weather may well have persuaded people out from their homes, but for towns such as King’s Lynn, that rely on tourists, things still aren’t looking particularly good.

After seeing the sights, we drove back to the Premier Inn, where we were staying for the night. Knowing the difficulty of finding a pub serving food on a Sunday night, I’d taken the precaution of booking a table at the adjacent Freebridge Farm, Brewer’s Fayre.

It wasn’t offering the full menu, because of the Corona situation, but we both had some sort of chicken burger with “skins-on” chips. There was no cask available, and no decent lager either, so I made do with a couple of bottles of Brew Dog Punk IPA. They were good, but expensive, but sometimes it’s worth paying that little bit extra.