Friday 30 October 2020

It's all in the Flavourly

During the initial stages of the lock-down, when there was no alternative to drinking at home, and access even to supermarkets was a hassle (queuing up outside, single shoppers preferred, restricted range etc), it was difficult getting hold of beers that were a bit different from the norm.

I did support local pubs that were offering draught beer to takeaway in containers, but cask ale doesn’t keep well once dispensed and quite frankly, some of the beers obtained in this fashion were disappointing.  This was where a friend on our West Kent Beer Socials WhatsApp group, put me in touch with a mail order company called Flavourly.

Flavourly partner with selected craft-beer breweries by buying beers in large volumes, enabling the breweries concerned to increase their efficiency, invest in new equipment and negotiate better rates on ingredients with their suppliers. Flavourly also commission to produce “collaboration beers” that are offered as exclusives to the company’s customers.

The promotion that my friend alerted me to was a range of beers from Gun Brewery; an outfit based on a mixed organic far, at Gun Hill, in the Sussex Weald.  Since brewing commenced in 2015, Gun have acquired a reputation for their hop-forward beers, brewed using water from their own spring. I’ve always enjoyed Gun beers, for their fresh taste and even though they are un-fined, they are still satisfying and refreshing.

There were 24 cans included in the  Flavourly offer, covering six different styles, all packaged in those 330ml cans, beloved by the craft-beer movement. Delivery, via DPD, was included in the order price and as with many delivery companies, it is possible to track one’s order. I duly signed up for the Gun Brewery offer and waited for my beers to arrive.

I wasn’t disappointed, even though there were some beers I obviously preferred to others.  The Vermont Pale, the Scaramanga Extra Pale (also available in cask), plus the Milk Stout were particularly good, and helped see me through that initial phase of isolation.

As I was now on Flavourly’s mailing list, I began to receive regular offers. Unlike some mail-order beer clubs, there was no obligation to take up on these offers, although since last spring, I have received beer selections from Moor Beer (also un-fined) and Wild Beer (this offer did include some collaboration brews).


My most recent delivery was a selection of nine different beers from the likes of Four Pure, Bellfield, Loch Lomond, Gun and By the Horns. Again, some of these were collaboration brews, and some were more to my taste than others, although there are several that I’ve got to crack open.

It’s also worth pointing out that each delivery comes with a copy of the Flavourly in-house, magazine. A snack is sometimes included, and sometimes a glass – not that we need any more glasses according to Mrs PBT’s.

I don’t know whether I’ll be ordering any more cans from Flavourly, as collaboration brews are alright for those who want to tick beers on “Untappd,” but perhaps not for those who prefer rather more than “one-offs.” Whatever the case, if you’ll pardon the pun, Flavourly has certainly been something of an eyeopener, as to what’s available out there.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

For what it's worth

My previous post attempted to expose the absurdity and inconsistency of the government’s  current Coronavirus restrictions, but with no end to the pandemic in sight, what action should be taken by people who just want to forget the whole wretched thing, and get on with their lives as best they can?

It depends, to a certain extent on both your situation and location – the latter obviously being of more importance if you live in a Tier Three area, as opposed to a Tier One. I am fortunate that the part of the country where I live, is currently in Tier One.

That of course could change, so I’m not being complacent and neither am I being smug, but apart from preventing me from flying abroad (there aren’t many place remaining unaffected by Corona, so that’s not a good plan), the only real impact on my life is the 10pm closure of pubs and restaurants.

With regard to situation, the company I work for is back up and running, and whilst a number of office staff are still working from home, we have a full complement of production, packing and QC staff back on site, beavering away to meet the most welcome bounce-back in orders.

The return to something approaching normality has been achieved by implementing a number of Covid-safe measures, designed to keep people separated from each other, whilst still being able to function as a team. I am pleased to say I was a key member of the team that carried out the necessary HSE risk assessment, that enabled us to put the correct control measures in place.

Fortunately, my job enabled me to work throughout the 3-month lockdown, and the social interaction that entailed helped enormously in keeping me sane, lifting my spirits and taking my mind off the bad stuff being reported in the media.

The “bad stuff” of course, continues unabated in the media, as the press thrive on bad news, and will seize on any story with "Corona" in the title, no matter how small the connection.  I do my utmost to avoid it – not always easy when your partner is a confirmed “telly addict” who doesn’t know where the off switch is!

Most importantly I am attempting to live as normal a life as possible. I am being sensible and am not knowingly placing myself in situations where the risk of contracting the virus could be higher than I would like. This means avoiding over-crowded places, especially indoor ones, and taking obvious steps such as practising good hygiene, with regular hand-washing and the use of anti-viral gels. I haven’t knowingly broken any of the increasingly conflicting rules, and have been wearing a mask in shops, pubs and restaurants, and when using public transport.

If I feel uncomfortable with a situation, or specific location, I remove myself from it, but in a calm and measured way so as not to cause alarm or offense.  Even before the pandemic I didn’t travel that much on buses and trains, but given the reduction in passenger numbers, I feel quite safe in doing so now. The same applies when visiting supermarkets, pubs and restaurants. The latter two will be limiting numbers permitted inside anyway, so providing you follow guidelines laid down by these establishments, you should be OK.

Most importantly, please continue supporting local businesses as much as you can; providing local restrictions permit them to continue trading. A healthy and thriving local economy is every bit as important as bringing down infection rates, and given the right approach, the two ARE mutually compatible.

Above all else follow your instincts and remember that just living can be a risky business, and life itself is all about assessing and managing risk, in a sensible, safe and logical manner. So, unless you fall into one of the high-risk groups, don’t cower away, wrapped up in cotton wool. Instead be bold, be brave and above all else get out there and start living again, as best you can.

I’m sure we’ll get through this, even though it might take longer than many of us thought at first, so make the most of these times and do what you can to see the good in your fellow human beings. They may be struggling or hurting, far more than you are, so be kind to them too. I was going to say greet them with a smile, but that’s not easy when you’re wearing a face mask!

For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield 1967

Sunday 25 October 2020

Tipping point - if not now, when?

The madness regarding Coronavirus restrictions continues, with one report claiming an additional, even stricter level of regulations (Tier Four), is being considered by so-called “health experts” as a “fire break” measure to slow the spread of the virus. If true, this will add an additional layer of more ill-conceived and often unenforceable petty restrictions, that will cause further confusion in the minds of an increasingly frustrated public. A public that is already struggling to get their heads around the current nannying rules imposed by HMG. 

An example of one individual’s frustration with the absurdity of some of the latest rules, surfaced yesterday, when a customer in a Welsh supermarket, was filmed pulling down plastic sheeting erected to prevent the sales of certain “non-essential” items. The man in question was apparently looking to purchase a coat for his child, and with winter fast approaching, how can a coat be regarded as a non-essential item?

Ask the Welsh Government if you want to know why, but a ban on the sales of “non-essential” goods forms part of a 17 day “fire break,” imposed by the devolved Welsh Assembly. These measures amount to a "mini lockdown," affecting the entire principality, conveniently ignoring the fact that infection rates vary widely across Wales. No-one disputes that rates are high in urban areas, but rural parts of the country are experiencing the complete opposite, with many communities reporting little or no positive cases.

The person whose frustration exploded in that branch of Tesco’s has been charged with criminal damage and breaching Coronavirus Restrictions. No surprises about the latter charge, imposed without doubt pour encourager les autres,” but the man’s actions ought to serve as a warning to politicians and busy-body public health officials, that you can only push people so far.

Whatever their faults, the public at large have a sense of fair play and proportion, and when they can see the benefit of restrictions that rob them of their rights and their liberties, they will generally acquiesce. They may not like the measures (none of us enjoy being held prisoner in our own homes), but if they can see that the sacrifices, they’ve been asked to make are having some effect, they will normally cooperate, however reluctantly.

Regrettably, governments across the British Isles, have imposed legislation that is out of all proportion to the problem they are attempting to cure. You even get the impression that some of the devolved assemblies are trying to out compete not just one another, but Westminster itself, in order to demonstrate their toughness, and that they are taking matters seriously. This might score points with those shouting for independence from the mother country, but just creates even more confusion.

The so-called “Rule of Six,” springs to mind here, with children in English households being counted as making up the group of six, but the rule applying solely to adults in Scotland. This is a rare example where "Wee Jimmie Krankie’s" interpretation of the ruling is less strict than Doris’s, although there probably aren’t any others.  

The absurdity of forcing pubs, bars and restaurant to close, on the dot at 10pm, thereby depositing groups of drinkers onto the streets and public transport, all in one go, has also been called into question. Encouragingly, a group representing the hospitality trade north of the border, are bringing a legal action against the Scottish Government, for imposing these draconian restriction without providing clear evidence that pubs, bars and restaurants are responsible for the increase in Covid-19 case numbers.

I also read a report today that claims check-in data, submitted by millions of people who have visited pubs, cafés and restaurants, has barely been used by public health and contract tracing officials.  Trade body, Hospitality UK stated that a survey of 568 businesses, covering 12,500 venues and 250 million customer visits, suggested that just 104 cases had been pursued, since the hospitality sector re-opened for business at the beginning of July. The report also claims that data from Public Health England, has shown just 2.7% of new outbreaks during the past week, can be linked to the hospitality sector.

I will leave the matter there, for the time being whilst waiting to see the outcome of the legal challenge in Scotland. But whilst we undoubtedly face a serious situation, going overboard with divisive and disproportional knee-jerk responses, and further draconian legislation, is not the best way forward.  


Saturday 24 October 2020

These boots were made for walking!

I experienced a couple of mishaps during the course of my NDW walk the other week. The first was annoying, rather than anything else, but the second could have been far more serious, although thankfully what had occurred didn’t become evident until after I arrived home.

The first of these instances involved the strap of my Smartwatch becoming detached. It occurred after I’d stopped for a brief halt, to take on some water and get rid of excess – a comfort break as the Americans would say, and fortunately there was an adjacent barn for me to nip behind and answer the call of nature.

It was whilst heaving my rucksack back over my shoulders, that my watch snagged on the strap of my backpack. The watch went flying, leaving the two halves of the strap dangling from my wrist. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to re-attach the strap, although I didn’t discover this until I arrived home.

I wouldn’t have been able to make the repair whilst out on the trail, as I didn’t have the necessary implement with me, so I shoved the constituent parts into my pocket and carried on with the walk. The main annoyance was the frustration of not being able to track the mileage I’d walked or record the number of steps taken to reach this target.

Small things I know, but tracking one’s mileage not only provides evidence of one’s progress (I know I could have seen this from the map, but it’s not quite the same), but it also inspires one to carry on until the next stop and the eventual end of the particular section.

The second mishap concerned my walking boots, and this was potentially the far more serious incident of the two. I only noticed the problem when I attempted to clean my boots, a couple of days after arriving home.  The sole of the left boot had become loose at the heel, and around the instep, with a serious risk of it becoming detached altogether. I think the mud my boots had picked up, was helping to hold the sole on, which is why I hadn’t noticed it before.

The sole of the right boot was also starting to peel away from the upper, so all in all I was fortunate that neither came apart on the walk. My boots are over ten years old and are well-used, so this type of deterioration is to be expected, but one or two sharp minded readers might remember me experiencing a similar problem at the end of August, whilst walking with a group of friends, over to Eridge.

I mentioned this incident here, writing that a hair band provided by my friend’s wife, saved the day. I subsequently had both boots repaired, but High Street chain, Timpson’s haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory with a fix that only gave me three additional days’ walking.

I could of course, take them back, but I can only find the card receipt and to be honest, I’m loathed to risk their standard of workmanship a second time. Instead, it’s time to shop around for a replacement pair, particularly considering my current pair have lasted ten years.

They were made by outdoor clothing and footwear company "Trespass", and came complete with comfortable leather uppers, cushioning around the ankles and durable Vibram rubber soles. I’m tempted to stick with this brand, and similar combination (leather upper, Vibram lower), whilst remaining open to other options.

As with many things in life, there appears to be far too much choice available, so making a decision won’t be easy. But with winter fast approaching, and increasingly wet and muddy conditions underfoot, I will need to decide sooner, rather than later, especially if I want to complete the North Downs Way.

I would therefore be interested to hear from any keen walkers, who might be reading this piece, as to what their recommendations for a decent, durable and above all comfortable walking boots would be.


Thursday 22 October 2020

A Dirty Habit?

Approximately two thirds of the way along my North Downs Way walk last Thursday, I stopped off for a well-earned pint. I’d been walking since 8.40am that morning, largely along the relatively flat section of the Pilgrims Way, but after an incident involving my Smartwatch, I was relying on the map to estimate the distance travelled. I reckoned it was around 9 miles, but the lane seemed to go on forever.

The NDW would take me through the uppermost part of Hollingbourne; a small village of some 900 souls, on the southward slope of the North Downs. I would also be passing directly, one of the villages three pubs, the Dirty Habit, whose odd name is said to derive from the monks who would have passed this way on their way to Canterbury.

They would probably have been following the Pilgrims Way, an ancient route, but not a particularly ancient name. My NDW Guidebook, claims the name was coined during the 19th Century, possibly by an imaginative surveyor, mapping out he locality for the Ordnance Survey and like the name of this trackway, the moniker attached to the pub, is also a modern one.

The pub was originally known as the King’s Head, before becoming the Pilgrim’s Rest. The connection with pilgrims, and particularly monks was taken a stage further when the pub name was changed to reflect the garment normally worn by members of the monastic order. Personally, I find the name Dirty Habit rather too much a double entendre; the sort of thing you’d expect to encounter in a “Carry-On” film, but perhaps that’s the intention?

The name shouldn’t detract though from what is a very attractive pub, both inside and out. The Dirty Habit is a substantial brick building, sited on a crossroads at the top of Hollingbourne village. According to the signage outside, the pub has 13th Century origins, but the brick cladding looks much younger – Georgian, at a guess, but I’m no expert.

I pushed all considerations of architectural origin to one side, as I entered the pub. Instead much more important factors, such as what beers were on sale were uppermost in my mind, especially given the king-sized thirst that I’d built up, as I trudged along the Pilgrims Way.

Following the now depressingly familiar Covid guidelines, I waited for a member of staff to greet me, take my details (paper ones), and then show me to a table. I informed the young lady that I only wanted a beer, as I would be eating later on, at another establishment, so after removing my rucksack and settling down at a table in full view of the bar, I was ready to order the beer I was craving.

There was a choice of Taylor’s Landlord, Musket - Flash in the Pan or Harvey’s Sussex Best. I’ve never been a fan of Musket Brewery and Landlord requires careful cellar-manship to serve it at its best, so Harvey’s it was. It was in good form too and ticked all the right boxes.

The pub was reasonably busy with diners, but because of the Covid restrictions, I was unable to have a proper look around. From where I was sat, I could see along past the fireplace to another section of the pub, but the one thing I was really pleased about (apart from the excellent beer), was the tiles floor. This was a real bonus, as there was no need to remove my muddy boots!

The staff were pleasant and friendly too, so all in all I was impressed with the Dirty Habit, and that pint of Sussex Best was sufficient to keep me going until I reached the Black Horse Inn, at neighbouring Thurnham; the place where I’d booked a bed for the night.

I must have made at least one visit to the Dirty Habit, during the six years I lived in Maidstone, but that would have been when the pub was known as the Pilgrims Rest. 

For the record, the pub today is one of a dozen outlets that make up the Elite Pubs chain of upmarket hostelries. I spotted several others that I know from the past, albeit under different names. Fine dining is obviously the way to go in this part of Kent!

Sunday 18 October 2020

The Black Horse - a welcome break along the Pilgrim's Way

The last time I set foot inside the Black Horse at Thurnham, was 35 years ago, when I lived in Maidstone. I was living with the previous Mrs Bailey at the time and with us both being fond of cosy country pubs, it was the sort of place for an equally cosy drink. With the Black Horse just a short, three-mile cycle ride away from the centre of the county town, it was easy to get to, and whilst the outward journey was largely uphill, the return one was a doddle.

According to Wikipedia, Thurnham is a village and civil parish with a population of 1,205 inhabitants, but it is quite a scattered village and I really am only familiar with the pub. During the first half of the 1980’s, when I was a frequent visitor, the Black Horse was a Whitbread pub and as such sold Fremlin’s Bitter, brewed in Faversham, alongside the stronger and more satisfying Tusker.

The latter was introduced as a stablemate to the former when, in an attempt to create a more local image,  Whitbread brought back the Fremlin’s name. Unfortuantely, Tusker (named after Fremlin’s much-loved elephant trade-mark), only stuck around for a few years before being discontinued. At the time though, the Black Horse kept a good pint of  both these locally brewed beers and was well worth cycling out to.

Fast forward 35 years when I was looking for somewhere to spend the night, that was close to the North Down’s Way. The Black Horse Inn jumped out at me, especially as it is situated less than a quarter of a mile from the NDW, and whilst it was slightly over half-way along the stretch I planned to walk, it still seemed ideal. Accommodation, in the form of several low-level, Kentish barn style buildings, has been constructed close to the original 18th Century pub, so I made my booking, and eagerly waited for the day of my walk to arrive.

As written elsewhere, day one of my hike, saw me walking from Charing railway station; a distance of 13 miles. The initial two thirds of the walk was along the track known as the Pilgrims Way, and being at the foot of the North Downs ridge, was largely flat and firm underfoot. It was only after I’d left the village of Hollingbourne, where I’d stopped off at the local pub, for a well-earned pint of Harvey’s, that the ascent and the hard work really began.

In terms of spectacular views, the climb up onto the top of the escarpment was worth the effort, but there were several sections where I seemed to lose the trail completely. It wasn’t until I met a couple, out walking with their dog, that I discovered I was still on the right track – but not for much longer.

After telling the pair I was heading for the Black Horse, I was informed there was an easy way and a hard one.  The easy route was to follow the track I was currently on, down to the bottom, where there was a lane running at 90 degrees, in an east-west direction. By continuing west, along the lane, I would reach my destination, and bed for the night, in half an hour. The hard way was to climb back up onto the ridge, via the aptly named "Cat’s Mount" and then follow the steeply undulating official route of the NDW. It was described as hard work, and it would take at least an hour to reach the pub.

The choice was a no-brainer, as I was already tiring by this stage, and the thought of more climbing did not appeal at all. So, whilst some might view this as cheating, my response is I am not a “completist,” and my choice of the “easy route” was merely a continuance of the Pilgrims Way I’d been walking on for much of the day.

I was sore of foot, weary of limb and in need of a rest when I arrived at the Black Horse and made my way to Reception, which is situated in a building at the rear of the pub. I checked in and picked up the key to my room, which was in one of the aforementioned, barn-style buildings further down the hill. All rooms are named after wildflowers, with each group of buildings overlooking a grass courtyard area. It all seemed well organised, so after removing my muddy boots outside, and leaving then on the mat, I entered my comfortable and well-appointed room. 

First on the agenda was a cuppa tea, followed by a much-needed shower. Afterwards a quick phone call to advise Mrs PBT’s that I’d arrived in one piece and hadn’t fallen down a ravine, or been trampled by a herd of cows, despite walking through a field bearing a “Beware of the Bull” sign – yes, really, as I thought that sort of thing was illegal on a public right of way!

I then headed up to the pub, where I’d pre-booked a table for 7.30pm. I waited at the entrance, as instructed, but as I was staying at the hotel, there was no need for me to divulge further track and trace details. I was led to an area to the right and towards the rear of the pub, only managing a quick glimpse of the bar and the pump-clips as we passed through.

The interior is very old world, which is kind of how I remembered it after three and a half decades, but it was quite dimly lit. There are a number of alcove areas which were probably once separate rooms, but with the dividing walls now removed, and the supporting beams still in place, the pub has a nice, cosy and quite intimate feel to it. The design allowed a reasonable number of customers to be seated, without encroaching on each other's space.

So which beer should I drink? I’d noticed a Kent Brewery beer, as I was whisked past the bar, and also a Best Bitter of some description.  I think Doom Bar might also have been available, but we’re talking proper beer here. To take the guess work out of choosing, I asked the pleasant waitress which beers were available. I should perhaps have re-phrased that question, as which “ales” were on, but after running through the list, I opted for Old Dairy Blue Top, which is always a welcome sight in any Kentish pub.

Food-wise, I chose the steak, ale and mushroom suet pudding, with accompanying mash and seasonal veg. A high calorific option I grant you, but I felt in need of something substantial after my 13-mile hike! The food was first class, but I wasn’t quite so sure about the beer; it certainly didn’t taste like what I remember as Blue Top. When a male member of the waiting staff arrived to fetch me another beer, I enquired what else was available besides Old Dairy?

“Old Dairy isn’t available tonight sir,” was the reply. “We have Doom Bar, Longman Best, Wantsum Fortitude, plus a seasonal from Kent Brewery.” It dawned on me that I’d had the Longman – with a name to hang the taste on, this was a beer I recognised, but for my second, and final pint, I opted for the Wantsum.

It turned out as a good choice, darkish in colour, well balanced and eminently drinkable, but with my belly full, and my body weary, I was more than ready for my bed.  I paid my tab, and then hobbled slowly down the hill to my waiting room. After a quick coffee I slid into bed, turned off the light and drifted off into a deep, lengthy and much-needed sleep.

I was back inside the pub, the following morning, for a hearty full English breakfast, washed down with plenty of tea. I had a chat with the landlady before leaving, who was fine with me taking a few photos of the bar. After completing my packing, I departed just after hall nine, and headed up the hill to re-join the NDW for the second day of walking.  

My stay confirmed the resilience of the English pub, in spite of the raft of ever-changing restrictions being foisted on it by a government that doesn't know which was to turn next. More importantly, and from a personal point of view, it provided a most welcome and much needed break. Please don't call it a "circuit breaker," as I suspect we will all be sick of that phrase before long, but continuing the electrical analogy,  the walk and overnight stay was sufficient to re-charge my batteries, ready to face  the world again.



Friday 16 October 2020

Two glorious days on the North Downs Way

With the days rapidly becoming shorter, and the clocks due to change at the end of the month, I thought it high time to get a couple more sections of the North Downs Way under my belt. In addition to shorter days, there was the ever-present chance that the weather would turn and, more importantly, the even greater danger that our hapless government would inflict even more misery upon an already beleaguered hospitality sector.

So, what better way to show support for our pubs and hotels, than to combine a couple of days walking, with an overnight stay at a fine old inn, with a few pints to be enjoyed along the way? I therefore treated myself to a couple of much needed days off from work and made my plans accordingly.

Until this afternoon, there was a glaring gap in my east-west progress along the NDW, that missing piece being the section between the village of Wye on the River Stour, and Blue Bell Hill – overlooking the Medway gap. I’d worked out that covering this gap would require three days walking, although I accept that faster walkers than me could probably complete the 27-mile section in two days.

That’s fine, I don’t do rushing at my age, preferring to take my time and enjoy both the walk and the scenery. And that is exactly what happened this Thursday and Friday, when I walked from Charing in East Kent to Kits Coty, just below Blue Bell Hill, in mid-Kent. I was lucky with the weather, with some glorious sunshine the first day, and although today (Friday) was rather overcast, the rain held off, allowing me to experience some of Kent’s finest scenery, at close hand.

With only two days at my disposal, it made sense to cover as much ground as possible, but I was also slightly hamstrung by the availability of suitable overnight accommodation and, more importantly its proximity to the NDW. There is little point in having to deviate from the trail by anything more than a couple of miles, as otherwise one is adding additional miles that could have been spent on the NDW itself.

I therefore chose the excellent Black Horse Inn at Thurnham as my overnight stop, even though the village of Hollingbourne, which is

equidistant between my start and finishing points, would have made more sense. As things turned out, a 13 mile stretch on the first day and then an eight mile hike on the second, was the right ways round to be doing things, and in addition, my stay at the Black Horse gave me just the break I was looking for, from the madness which is gripping the world today.

So with plenty to write about, and even more photos with which to whet your appetite, I’ll sign of now, finish my unpacking and jump under that shower before Mrs PBT’s confirms I smell like a pole cat, and that I’m sleeping in the summerhouse tonight!