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. e 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.
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.
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.
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.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.