Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Fuggles ticks all the right boxes

Sunday looked as though it was going to be a complete wash-out, and whilst the day started off OK weather-wise, it wasn’t long before the drizzle started. This put paid to my carefully laid plan for cutting the grass, after breakfast.

Like the kind and considerate husband I am, I helped Mrs PBT’s with the housework instead, hoovering the house from top to bottom.  The vacuuming is usually my job anyway, but there was the added incentive this time of using our brand-new Shark, cordless hoover.

After several frustrating months of struggling with an underpowered, under performing and slowly dying cordless Dyson, the super-efficient Shark made the hoovering a doddle; although I won’t go so far as saying it was a pleasure! I also changed the bed linen, a task I still struggle with.

I then grabbed some computer time to compose a couple of emails, before looking at options for replacing the brittle and yellowing Perspex windows on the summerhouse. So, all in all Sunday morning was what I’d call a “doing day.”

That’s enough of this domestic stuff, as with the chores out of the way, I could head off to the pub, with a clear conscience. So, after making myself a quick sandwich, I informed Mrs PBT’s that I was off down the town, to pick up a couple of items missed from the previous day’s grocery shop. She of course, knows me better than that and quickly sussed out I was going to the pub, but as I said to her, “Why not?”

Why not indeed, it had been a long hard week, and a couple of hours in one of Tonbridge’s pubs would do me the world of good, but which one to choose? One thing was certain, I wanted to avoid the football – not that I’ve got anything against the beautiful game, it’s just that this time around, the Euro’s hold no interest for me whatsoever. Nothing to do with me having drawn North Macedonia, in the work’s sweepstake – I mean they didn’t even pick up the wooden spoon and end up bottom of the pile, denying me a £7 consolation prize.

The football meant the Nelson, the Forester’s, the Chequers, the Punch & Judy, the Man of Kent, and the George & Dragon were all out, which just left the Beer Seller and Fuggles. The latter won hands down, and not just on the choice of different beers. The Beer Seller is good at showcasing cask, whilst Fuggles offers a much wider range of different beers, including keg and foreign examples. Finally, I find the Beer Seller, with its alcoves and low, artificial ceilings, slightly claustrophobic, as opposed to Fuggles, which is far more open, bright and spacious.

Fuggles it was then, but not before diving into Sainsbury’s for those missing items, followed by a quick call into Matthew’s shop, Robert Dyas, for a couple of packs of screws. Dyas wasn’t particularly busy, but had what I wanted, and with the staff discount that Matthew enjoys, well worth calling in at.

Fuggles didn’t seem that busy either, and this allowed me a choice of where to sit. The friendly and knowledgeable member of staff, allowed me to sit at one of the window tables and this gave me an uninterrupted view of the whole pub.  After taking my details – no Dido Harding, failed track & trace App for me, I made my choice from one of the printed beer menus, which adorn every table.

I opted for a pint of Session Pale Ale from Cellar Head, and this did not disappoint. Cool, well-conditioned and bursting with flavour, this pale and refreshing straw-coloured pale ale from this Flimwell-based, local brewer, really was cask ale at its finest. I’m unable to submit beer scores, these days, due to me no longer being a member of CAMRA, but his one was approaching 4.5 NBSS.

I sat there savouring his excellent pint, and watching the comings and goings, as customers entered or left the premises. I reflected that this was my first visit to Fuggles, as a drinker since last summer. I had popped in during early December, last year, when the pub was functioning as a bottle shop, but with no garden, or indeed any real outdoor drinking space, Fuggles was only able to reopen to customers on May 17th.

Another beer was called for, and this time I went for a keg option, in the form of Milk Shake from the strangely named Wiper & True Brewery. As the name suggests, this is a milk stout, produced by this Bristol-based outfit, and along with lactose and chocolate malt, vanilla pods are included in the brew. It may sound like a real cliché, but this beer really was pure silk in a glass.

I made that my last beer as I wanted to cadge a lift home from Matthew, after he’d finished work. Before leaving, I nipped to the Gents, stopping on the way for a brief chat with one of my old customers from the off-licence.

I definitely made the right choice, calling in at Fuggles, and I will certainly be back. As an added incentive, I have a £15 voucher to
spend in the bar, as a reward for being a loyal subscriber to FUGSCLUB - Fuggles home-delivery beer service, which I wrote about here. The club has been providing me with a selection of top-class dark ales, each month, and in fact I am drinking one now, as I write this piece, Heart of Chambers, from Dublin-based Whiplash Brewery is an excellent coffee and oatmeal, double porter, but at 7.5%, it’s definitely not a session beer!


Saturday, 26 June 2021

A rare lunchtime pint

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that it’s a very rare occasion for me to visit a pub at lunchtime, when I’m working. There was a time, 30+ years ago when a lunchtime drink was a relatively normal experience, especially on a Friday, but those days have long gone, with many companies and organisations forbidding the practice altogether.

I am fortunate to work for a company where the occasional pint at lunchtime is perfectly acceptable, and no one will bat an eyelid. However, it is not exactly common practice, and as much as I enjoy my beer my lunchtimes normally consist of a brisk 35-minute walk in the delightful Kentish countryside. This is followed by a period of unwinding in front of my PC, with a cup of tea and my sandwiches, once I am back in the office.

These days there’s also the strong chance that a lunchtime pint will cause me to nod off at my desk. So rather than risk this happening, I try and keep business and pleasure, separate. Occasionally I do fancy a change, and last Wednesday was one of those days. I’m not sure why, but for some reason the appeal of a beer at lunchtime, entered my head and wouldn’t go away.

I didn't fight the feeling and instead I thought, why not? The sun was shining, and outside of our air-conditioned premises, it was a pleasant and warm summer’s day, so at 1pm sharp, I headed off, up the hill, to walk to the Greyhound at Charcott.

This was only my second visit to this local since pubs were permitted to re-open in April. It was outdoor service only back then, and whilst now customers are allowed to drink indoors, I still opted for a pint in the garden. It’s probably to do with being cooped up in an office all day, but with the sun shining, and the outside temperature just right, I could think of nothing finer than a pint outside.

I checked in, taking a quick look at the beer menu, as I did so. The latter was thoughtfully written out on a chalkboard outside, and there were several different choices. The young man who signed me in, said that Gun Brewery ‘s Chummy Bluster had just gone on sale and there was also a black IPA from Kent Brewery. Neither appealed.

Chummy Bluster is by far my least favourite of the Gun Brewery range, having sampled most of them during the first lockdown, courtesy of Flavourly.  Black IPA is a ridiculous, American fake beer style, and also an oxymoron, because how can a "pale ale" be black? Fortunately, local favourite Larkin’s Traditional, was also on tap, so after placing my order with the staff member, I headed off into the garden at the side of the pub.

There were a few drinkers, and the odd diner sitting outside plus, as far as I could make out, a few others in the pub itself. There was no sitting at the bar of course, as was the normal practice at the Greyhound, prior to the start of the pandemic.

Back in the garden, the majority of the tables were in the shade. With shades of "mad dogs and Englishmen," I managed to find one where I could sit in the full glare of the sun. You might too if you’d been stuck indoors all day, or you might be more sensible!

My pint arrived, looking slightly hazy, and with hindsight, perhaps I should have taken it back. There’s a problem doing that under current rules, when one is not supposed to approach the bar, but as luck would have it, the Larkin’s was perfectly drinkable, even though it wasn’t quite the pint I’d been craving for earlier.

I sat there soaking up the sun, and enjoying my beer, but all the while keeping a slight eye on the time. It was good just to be there, especially as there is something special about sitting out in an English pub garden, whist enjoying a well-crafted pint of English draught beer.

All things come to an end, and it didn’t take long for me to finish my pint, so after attracting the attention of a different staff member, and setting up with cash, I headed back to work. There was still time to make a cup of tea, grab my sandwiches and have a working lunch, sat in front of my computer. It wasn’t quite the ideal pint, but in the lottery that is sometimes cask ale, it wasn’t too bad either.

A couple of things to consider. Under normal circumstances, I don’t like rushing my beer, and having to keep one eye on my watch, isn’t my idea of a relaxing time. This wasn’t normal circumstances, as having spent the last couple of months beavering away at work, and at home – or rather in the garden, I really deserved to let my hair down.

Grabbing a swift lunchtime pint, was hardly doing the latter, but with my successor at work, settling in well, and most of the major garden projects drawing to a conclusion (there’s still the shed roof to re-felt), proper lunchtime sessions should begin to become much more common.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

CAMRA redeems itself?

The following post might seem like an unashamed plug for CAMRA, and whilst to a certain extent it is, it is much more a call for drinkers, pub-goers and club-goers, to support their favourite local watering hole, brewery or cidery. This is in-line with what CAMRA are saying, with their latest promotion.

It comes after what has been a disastrous fifteen months for the Campaign for Real Ale which has not only seen the organisation’s income fall off a cliff (primarily due to not being able to run beer festivals), but has also seen the Campaign involved in an embarrassing series of blunders and faux pas.

The most notorious gaffe was the infamous Coronavirus-themed commemorative glass, for the equally pointless “virtual” Great British Beer Festival, but there have also been serious allegations of bullying, along with the promotion of a “toxic culture” at a senior level within the Campaign.

I wrote an article about the Coronavirus glass, last year, and also lambasted the idea of a “virtual GBBF,” but have no intention of getting involved with the bullying allegations (shades of Brew Dog?), but what I will say is the news story I am about to reveal, represents a real chance for CAMRA to redeem itself, especially in the eyes of those members who claim the organisation is promoting beer festivals at the expense of pubs.

As I’m sure most of you will know by now, the Campaign for Real Ale’s flagship Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), normally held in August at the London Olympia, has been cancelled, for the second year running. This is due to uncertainty surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The cancellation is not unexpected because, even if restrictions on social distancing and mask wearing are lifted next month, there would be insufficient time to organise and stage such a large-scale event. Instead, CAMRA is urging people to visit pubs this summer, and support them, following a year of restrictions that has pushed many of them to the brink.

The organisation is encouraging licensees to hold events and activities celebrating real beer and real cider, as part of a Great British Beer Festival at Your Local event, which will take place from 30 July – 8 August, just a week after the revised date that restrictions are supposed to end. 

The aim is to increase footfall to return to pubs and clubs and increase demand for brewers and cider-makers. In previous years, the Great British Beer Festival has attracted over 38,000 visitors, so the thinking is those beer and cider lovers will come out to support independent and local businesses. 

This support is particularly important in a year that the industry needs it most, and in the absence of the usual, single national festival, the plan is that CAMRA GBBF at Your Local, will shine a light on the best that the nation’s pubs, clubs, breweries, and cider producers have to offer.

CAMRA claims that this grassroots, nationwide festival hits right at the heart of the Campaign, and is encouraging pubs, clubs and breweries to host a range of activities, over the 10-day period. These

Suggested activities include: 

Bringing in special guest beers 

Putting on mini beer festivals 

Arranging meet the brewer sessions and tastings.  

Promoting cask conditioned real ale and real cider. 

Brewery tours 

CAMRA has also advised that these events can be submitted via the GBBF at Your Local website and will be promoted on dedicated GBBF social media channels throughout the summer. Pubs and clubs can also contact their local CAMRA branch to assist them in setting up their events, and online and printed marketing materials will be available from July onwards. Go to https://local.gbbf.org.uk/ to find out more. 

Great British Beer Festival Organiser Catherine Tonry said: “We’re delighted to be able to bring the Great British Beer Festival to the pubs, clubs and breweries that have worked so hard to stay afloat in the toughest of years. We hope that beer and cider lovers alike will make their way down to their local to celebrate in whatever way they can, be that trying a brand-new tipple, learning first-hand from brewers, or attending their local mini festival.”  

“This is a great opportunity to raise a glass to all the brilliant publicans, staff members and patrons that have helped the beer, cider and pub industry to survive throughout the pandemic. Though we can’t get together at London Olympia for the second year running, we hope that people will take to their locals to get involved with the GBBF at Your Local experience. Let’s get back to the pub today!” 

It will be interesting to see how many pubs clubs and breweries heed CAMRA’s call and run the type of events the Campaign is talking about.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Golding Hop, Plaxtol - a lost rural treasure

In the recent post I wrote about the White Horse at Sundridge, I mentioned the journey that took me past the pub, back in the early 90’s.  This bumper to tail, traffic nightmare was the result of my being seconded to another company, within the same group as the one I worked for in Tonbridge, in order to complete an important project.

The nature of the project is immaterial to this narrative, but I’m happy to say it was successful. Whether it was worth me spending three months of my life in Hounslow, is open to debate, but it did enable me to save quite a bit of money in the process. This was because, to save on travelling, the company put me up in a hotel for four nights a week, and this was on an all-expenses paid basis (within reason).

This was to compensate for me being away from my wife and home comforts, but I made up for this by getting to know a few of the local pubs. Most Friday evenings, on the journey home to Maidstone, where I was living at the time, I took the opportunity to call in at whatever pub, along the way, took my fancy. This way I got to know quite a few of the pubs between Westerham and Maidstone, and various point south of the A25.

One pub I remember with particular fondness was the Golding Hop, just north of the village of Plaxtol. I briefly mentioned this classic old inn, towards the end of the White Horse article, and just thinking about the place, prompted me to write this piece.

The Golding Hop was a true time-warp pub, and I say “was” because sadly, the Hop closed its doors for the last time, back in 2016, following the retirement of long serving licensees, Eddie and Sonia. The couple had looked after and run the pub for just over twenty-five years, before finally calling it a day.

Located in an unbelievably idyllic rural setting to the north of Plaxtol, the Golding Hop offered gravity dispensed beers and ciders, simple and good value for money food, in surroundings that have not changed for many a year. The pub itself is built into the side of a hill, overlooking a narrow lane, and is over 300 years old. There was a large garden opposite, with facilities such as swings, climbing frame etc. to keep families occupied; an important point to note, as whilst dogs were allowed in the pub, children were not.

As well as beers served by gravity, from casks stillaged in a room behind the bar, the Golding Hop was famed for its cider. Alongside well-known brands, such as Weston’s the pub produced its own "rough cider", from a recipe that had been handed down over the years from one licensee to the next.

I can still picture my first visit to the pub 40 or so years ago, one evening on my drive home from Hounslow. It was dark, so I don’t know quite how I managed to navigate to the pub, on my own, without puling over to look at the map. What I do know is I approached the Golding Hop from the north, turning off the A25 at Ightham, and then continuing along the A227, towards Tonbridge.

As the road descends steeply from the Greensand Ridge, towards the village of Shipbourne, there was a sign, directing thirsty travellers to the Golding Hop. I drove long that road the other day and I am pretty certain the sign is still there. I do remember it being a wild and windy night; something that added to the appeal and the atmosphere of the pub that time.

By following my nose, I arrived at the Golding Hop, more by accident than design, and after pulling up in the large car park opposite, made my way inside. After spotting a vacant table, I made my way to the bar and ordered myself a beer. It was probably a pint of Young’s Ordinary, but four decades on, I cannot be certain.

There were a few locals sat either close to or actually at the bar. The took precious little notice of me, and I of them. The wood-burning stove was lit, and this provided a warm, welcoming, and cosy feel to the pub. I ought perhaps to have appreciated this feeling more, as most subsequent visits took place during the summer months. These would have been post 1985, which was the year I moved house, from Maidstone to Tonbridge.

I recall one such visit where a group of us sat outside on the small terrace in front of the pub, enjoying the late spring sunshine. We had taken the bus to nearby Plaxtol, and then walked the last mile or so to the Golding Hop. On the way we enjoyed some spectacular views across the Bourne Valley, to our right.  Another visit saw us walking from Ightham Common, where we’d spent a couple of hours at the equally unspoilt Old House. The latter remains a timeless classic and has enjoyed something of a renaissance under its new owner.

It was a comparison of the beer quality between the two pubs that really opened my eyes to what, for a long time, had been the Achilles Heel of the Golding Hop. Both pubs use gravity dispense, and both pubs keep their beers in a room out the back, but the Old House uses a cooling system, and the effect of this was clearly evident in the temperature of the beer and its subsequent high quality.

Unfortunately, the Golding Hop had no such facility for keeping the beer cool, and this often had a negative effect on beer quality, particularly in summer. I’d go as far to say that, over the years, variable quality beer was a downside of the Golding Hop, in my experience at least. The pub had been voted West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year back in 2004, and there were many CAMRA members who wouldn't hear any criticism of the pub's beer.

On that particular visit, those with their heads in the sand had to agree that the Adnams Best, and also the Gale’s Seafarer's, really weren't up to scratch. Beer quality aside, a visit to the Golding Hop was always something to look forward to, and the charms of its rural idyll in summer, and the cosiness, of the pub’s interior in winter, with its low beamed ceilings and wood-burning stove were equally appealing.

A small, limited menu offering basic pub-grub of the chips and baked beans with everything variety, was another attraction and was always good value. The beers too were always competitively priced, but it was the setting and atmosphere of the pub itself, that were the main attractions.

Landlord Eddie was another attraction, and quite a character to boot. You had to take him as you found him, and whilst some regarded him as cantankerous, I never had a problem with him. Eddie was definitely part and parcel of what made the Golding Hop tick but running the pub day in and day out for 25 years, must have been hard work. It came as no surprise then, when Eddie and Sonia finally decided to call it a day and take that well-earned retirement.

A look back at this blog, over the years will turn up several posts where the Golding Hop was either the sole pub visited or, the main one, so it was particularly galling to learn of its closure. I’m not really certain what happened when the couple finally left the pub, but the rumour was they only leased the place, rather than actually owning it.

An online search reveals that the Golding Hop closed on 22nd September 2016, and its alcohol licence was surrendered. The new owners submitted plans to open a coffee shop in its place, and this appears to be what happened.

The premises are now listed as the Golding Hop Tea House, and photos on TripAdvisor show it as a rather twee-looking establishment, with soft-furnishings, distressed wooden chairs, and patterned tablecloths. A far cry from what it was five years ago. The same site indicates that it has now permanently closed. Perhaps that was the plan all along, but why turn a popular and successful rural pub, in such a charming and idyllic setting, into a chintzy tea shop, in the middle of nowhere?

If anyone does know the true story behind the pub’s conversion, or indeed any news regarding Eddie and Sonia, perhaps they could let me know.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

When there's no cask, is a beer in the bottle worth two in the bush?

The lad and I took a drive over to East Peckham on Friday evening. Our mission was to find the location of the local vaccination centre, prior to Matthew’s first Covid jab in a couple of weeks’ time. East Peckham lies to the north-east of Tonbridge, and is a large, sprawling village with no obvious centre, apart from a small parade of shops.

It has suffered over the years from piecemeal development – mainly private residential estates, and it is on one of these developments, that the Jubilee Hall, which is where Matthew will need to attend for his vaccination, is situated. Fortunately, the hall is well signposted, but it was worth us doing a dummy run, rather than driving around frantically, trying to locate it, next Friday week.

East Peckham is also a village that has been badly affected by pub closures over the years, and since I first moved to West Kent, back in the late 70’s, I have witnessed the disappearance of four of them. One has recently been sold at auction, and no longer trades as a pub. Two others have vanished completely; burnt to the ground, possibly deliberately, whilst the other one is now an Indian restaurant.

The Harp, on the road into the village from Maidstone, was one of the pubs that went up in smoke. This was a shame, as at one time, it stocked an interesting range of cask beers, including a couple from Hog’s Back Brewery, which was unusual for the area. It’s later incarnation as a rather dodgy “hostess” bar, left the Harp out of favour with villagers and the local authority; the latter revoking its license on the grounds of public decency. I wrote a post about this, back in 2013.

The Rose & Crown was situated at the opposite edge of the village, and caught fire in February 2010, a couple of months after it closed. In its heyday it was an attractive looking pub, that dated back to the 18th Century, but following the fire, and the flooding that occurred at Christmas 2013, the building was demolished and replaced by, what to me is, an ugly American-style condominium type development.  

The Addlestead Tavern, sited at a prominent junction on the road in from Tonbridge, is now a curry house, whilst the Merry Boys, which is in the centre of the village, opposite the parade of shops, was sold at auction in April 2020, with plans for conversion to some other use. I have vague recollections of setting foot in the pub once, but the Merry Boys was very much a local’s pub with little in the way of appeal, for visitors.

It’s worth mentioning the Village Coffee & Wine Bar, which occupies one of the above shops, as or attention was drawn to it on our drive through the village. This was on account of the people sitting outside. I took a photo (see above), as we drove by – we were travelling in Matthew’s car, and I have included my “drive past” shot for the sake of completion.

These closures leave East Peckham, with just two pubs: the Bush plus the Man of Kent. The latter is some way from the village, closer in fact to Golden Green. It occupies an attractive location at Little Mill, next to the River Bourne – a tributary of the Medway. It is a favourite watering hole for a particular group of Mrs PBT’s girly friends and is perhaps a pub worthy of its own write up.

The Bush, Blackbird & Thrush is also some way from village centre and is surrounded on all sides by open fields. When I first moved to West Kent, the Bush was renowned for its Fremlin’s Bitter (and occasionally Tusker), served direct from the cask. I’m not certain exactly when Shep’s took over the pub, from Whitbread, but they have continued this tradition. It was in order to enjoy a pint of gravity served Shep’s that Matthew and I decided to call in, before driving back to Tonbridge.

The quaintly named, Bush, Blackbird & Thrush is an attractive long tile-hung building, constructed in typical Kentish style, set back from the road. There is a large garden to the rear and the left of the pub and, given the fine evening, that that is where we headed. We were told by the rather young-looking member of staff that we could sit at any free table, and he would come and take our order. So, after parking ourselves at a convenient spot, we waited for him to come and take our order. “What cask ales have you got on?” I asked. The term “cask ale” nearly always seems to confuse the “yoof” of today, so I qualified it with the reassuring words “real ale.”

It was then that I learnt that none were available. There was some story about the pub placing their usual order, and then discovering that none had turned up. It sounds unlikely, but then we are not living in normal times. Also, Shep’s might be concentrating on packaged beers, such as bottled, canned or keg at the moment, but whilst disappointing, there were, several bottled options available.

I opted for a bottle of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale, which fortunately arrived with a glass. I suppose the 500ml size doesn’t quite lend itself to being necked, straight from the bottle! It was nicely chilled and hit the spot.  I wasn’t overly concerned that no cask was available; although some of the feedback I received on the Beer Socials WhatsApp group, I am a member of, made me think I was supping with the Devil.

Matthew went for a pint of Spitfire Lager. I wasn’t aware that such a beer was available, but the iconic WWII fighter aircraft is an important, and easily recognised brand for Shepherd Neame, and they appear to be applying it across a wide range of products.

As we sat their enjoying our beers, I took time to take in the scene in the spacious garden in front of us. There was a variety of people doing the same as us, and at the far end, a trailer, complete with cooking facilities and serving hatch, was dishing up food of the “chips with everything” variety. I imagine this was brought in back in April, at the start of pubs re-opening, when it was outdoor service only.

The area to the side of us, seemed popular with local youngsters, most of whom were sat under a gazebo-like cover. They all seemed to know each other, so the banter, and the insults all seemed good natured. I didn’t feel too happy taking photos though, especially as Matthew freaks out when I start snapping away. This means that the majority of the garden shots were taken surreptitiously, with by phone resting at 90° on the table and with the shutter noise silenced.

The same applied indoors. I didn’t feel the need to use the toilets but did stick my head briefly though the front bar to take a quick snap of the right-hand bar. Contrary to the trend of the last quarter of a century, of knocking down partitions between bars, the Bush appears to still have two separate rooms. There is also a block of two outside toilets, that are obviously not longer in use, given the substantial tree that is growing in front of them!

So, a quick beer plus the renewal of my acquaintance with an old favourite pub, provided a good end to what had been a busy and challenging week at work. Roll-on September!

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The White Horse, Sundridge - another pub I've waited 42 years before visiting!

Anyone reading the comments that followed the previous post, will know that I’ve been rumbled, and that Higgs Bosun, otherwise known as Anonymous Matt, named the mystery pub I was planning to reveal in this article.

So yes, Sunday’s impromptu pub stop was indeed the White Horse, at Sundridge, and, in another scoop for this blog, this was my visit to this attractive village inn. This fact surprises me, as much as anyone, as I must have driven past the White Horse countless times, given its prominent position on the A25.

Back in the day, this single-carriageway road was the main artery for traffic travelling east-west whilst avoiding the capital. I was one of those vehicles, back in the early 1980’s, when the Tonbridge-based company I was working for seconded me, on a project, to a company in Hounslow, who were in the same group.

I was living in Maidstone at the time, so would join the A25 at Wrotham Heath, and then travel, nose to tail, westward, through several, long-suffering village, before joining the A217 at Reigate. There was actually a small section of the M25 open, between what are now Junctions 6 and 8, but how settlements like Borough Green, Seal, Westerham Brasted and Oxted managed with all that traffic (including HGV’s), is difficult to comprehend today.

The 67-mile journey was so time consuming as well as tiring, that I took to travelling up to Hounslow on a Monday, and staying at a local hotel until Friday, just to avoid spending several hours each day, sitting in slow-moving traffic.My journey west out of Sevenoaks, took me through the small village of Sundridge and there, at the traffic lights, on opposite corners of the crossroads, were two pubs.   

The Lamb closed quite a few years ago, but I’m happy to report the White Horse is very much open for business and doing alright. Matthew and I only discovered this on Sunday, and only then because there was nowhere remotely near to park the car, at the pub we’d originally decided to stop at. The place appeared to be literally bursting at the seams as well, as we drove past, which is how we ended up at Sundridge.

Fortunately, and much to our relief, there were spaces in the car park when we arrived, but before describing our visit, it’s worth writing a few words about our original destination. This was the Bricklayer’s Arms, one of two pubs in the village of Chipstead, overlooking the large lake, just along from the Tesco superstore, at Riverhead. 

The “Bricks,” as it is known locally, is a Harvey’s tied house, and probably the brewery’s northernmost outlet – with the exception of the famous Royal Oak, in south London’s Borough district. It’s renowned for its Harvey’s Sussex Best, served direct from the cask – the other Harvey’s beers (seasonal offerings, in the main), are dispensed by hand-pump.

It’s 10 years since I last set foot in the pub, so a return visit was long overdue, but it was not to be. The world and his wife appeared to be there, enjoying the warm weather, and the view out, across the green and over to Chipstead Lake.The latter is a former gravel pit, that has been transformed into a local beauty spot, popular with the sailing fraternity, anglers, and people out for a walk in the country.  

 It would have been nice to have stopped and admired the view, over a pint of Harvey’s, but I will try a mid-week visit next time. Thwarted in our plan for a pint of Sussex Best, we drove on, along a country lane which took us over the M25 motorway, before turning back towards Sevenoaks. This was how we ended up in Sundridge and calling in at the White Horse.

After parking the car, we approached the pub through the rear, passing the raised garden area on our left. We entered the pub, just to announce our presence, but also to have a quick scan of the hand pulls. We were asked if we wanted to sit indoors or outside, so being a fine day, we chose the latter. The friendly staff member told us to take whichever table in the garden took our fancy, and she would come and take our details, plus our drinks order.

True to her word, she came over and took my name, plus contact phone number, so no App clogging up the phone memory. She confirmed that Theakston’s Best, plus Hobgoblin Gold were the cask ales, before reeling off a list of lagers for Matthew’s benefit. One of the lagers mentioned, was Krušovice, a beer rarely seen outside its native Czechia.

Matthew had already settled on a pint of Amstel, but if I find myself at the White Horse again, I will give the Krušovice a try. My Theakston’s Best was in fine form, but as the correspondent who spotted my entry on Untappd pointed out, the beer was probably spoiled by not being pulled through a sparkler.

He was right, of course, and whilst it pains me to say it, northern beers are definitely tailored to be served in this fashion. We enjoyed our drinks but didn’t stay for another. I was driving, plus we had a boot-load of grocery shopping in the back of the car, that we needed to get home, and in the fridge.

The pub was reasonably busy, but nowhere near the level we’d witnessed at the Brick’s. Most customers were out in the garden, like us, with very few inside. I manged a quick glimpse of the latter, when I nipped in to use the toilets, taking a few surreptitious photos, on my way out. So, top marks for a genuinely nice pub, offering friendly service and good beer. The food looked good as well, and I’m pleased to report the place wasn’t crowded out with foodies.

Thinking back, it’s strange that I didn’t stop at the White Horse, on those journeys, all those years ago. It might have had something to do with the beer, as the pub belonged to Allied Breweries in those days, and closer to home, there were several prominent free houses, offering a more exotic range of beers.

Places such as the Crown Point Inn, the other side of Seal, the Padwell Arms, or the Golding Hop, both just outside Plaxtol, and both sadly closed. These were the establishments that appealed to a young real-ale aficionado, such as me, back in the early 1980’s.

Times change, as do pubs, and as just mentioned, some are no longer with us. Forty years on, things are rather different, so it was perhaps appropriate that I should have waited this length of time, before discovering the White Horse at Sundridge.