Last Friday I met up for lunch with an old friend, who I hadn't seen for quite some time. John is someone I knew during the five years I lived in Maidstone, and whilst I initially knew him through CAMRA, he was part of a group that I used to socialise with. We also played badminton on a regular basis, although the game was really just an excuse to go for a drink afterwards.
We lost touch a bit when I moved to Tonbridge, in 1985, even though several years later I had a role in a World War II period video, that John and a group of fellow enthusiasts were shooting, under the guise of the "Barmy Army Film Club." The video was one of several produced by the club, that were basically spoofs on Dad’s Army.
started a family, whilst he ended up travelling extensively for work, both at home as well as abroad. We caught up again, two and a half years ago, on a trip to Bamberg, back in May 2018. The trip was organised by a mutual friend from Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA and provided a good opportunity to catch up over a few mugs of Bamberg’s excellent beer.
The following year we were both tied up dealing with our respective aging fathers - and then along came Covid. During lock-down John busied himself writing a short crime novel, which is how he got back in touch. I bought a copy, and enjoyed the story, which was well thought out and, like all good crime novels, had a twist in the plot.
I actually read most of the book on the return train journey to Stockport, last month, and passed on a positive review to John, a week or so later. He mentioned that in his haste to post me my copy, he had forgotten to sign it. We both agreed that getting together for a catch-up, over a few drinks, and a meal, would provide the perfect excuse to get my copy signed.
We decided to meet at a location roughly halfway between our respective houses. John lives near Lympne, in the east of Kent, while my adopted hometown of Tonbridge is in the west of the county. I chose the Chequers at Doddington, a pub at the heart of a small and quite isolated village, tucked away in an idyllic valley, on top of the North Downs.
The reason for choosing the Chequers was we had driven past it last September, on our way back from a trip to Thanet. With traffic at a virtual standstill, I took the opportunity to turn off from the M2 and head south, towards the A20. The route took us through Doddington, and it was then that I caught sight of the Chequers, for probably the first time in three and a half decades.
With my friend living to the south of Canterbury, the pub seemed a good place for our planned rendezvous. I found my way to Doddington, by taking a left turn off the A20, opposite the turning into Lenham village. The road leads up across escarpment, and then to a maze of narrow roads, in an area sandwiched between the M2 and M20 motorways. One of these roads leads to Doddington.
Neither of us could remember much about the pub, apart from its obvious antiquity and status as a former coaching inn. It is said to date from the 14th Century, and with its old oak timbers and inglenook fireplace, certainly has the credentials to support this. Possibly due to soil creep over the years, the Chequers is built at a slightly lower level than the surrounding forecourt, car park and garden. This means the unwary need to take care on entering, as just behind the front door are a couple of steps down into the entrance lobby.
The latter is a long low room, which felt a little chilly when we first sat down, but not for long as a member of staff soon appeared and lit the woodburning stove. There was a group of quite jovial drinkers sat by entrance, and later on a rather noisy, but well-behaved family group arrived, and sat on the table just across from us.
As for the food, being a dedicated “pie man,” I went for “pie of the day,” which was chicken and mushroom served with mash, mixed vegetables, and gravy. It was good, although if I wanted to be really picky, the filling could have been slightly moister. This was compensated for by plenty of gravy. My friend had ham, eggs, and chips.
All in all, our visit represented a welcome return to a pub that must have been in the back of both our minds but, without a specific reason for going there, remained something of a mystery. We agreed to meet up again, in the not-too-distant future. John lives relatively close to the small town of Hythe, and is a regular drinker at the Potting Shed, a well-known micro-pub.
Given the travel opportunities offered by my recently
acquired bus pass, I said I would be able to join him there for a few drinks. Sounds like a plan - as they say!