Sunday, 14 August 2022

Bucking the trend at the Buck's Head?

Friday’s dip in the in-law’s swimming pool was most welcome, although Saturday and today seem even warmer, if that’s possible. If I’m brutally honest, the excessive heat isn’t conducive to going out, especially when it means closing all the doors and windows and generally shutting the house up. It isn’t much fun walking anywhere, unless it’s through a shady forest, but that would involve driving along roads that are over-crowed with people who are also seeking some form of escape from the heat.

Fortunately, the air-con unit on my car is fully gassed, so at least it’s cool behind the wheel, but as there is little point in driving somewhere, just for the sake of it, I’ve been largely confined to the few shady areas of the garden at Bailey Towers. It’s a peculiarly British thing to keep talking about the weather, but surely some sectors must be benefiting from it.Take the licensed trade, for example, surely the heatwave has been good for beer sales? On the other hand, how much of those sales have been cask, and has this dwindling, but still vital area of the beer market been adversely affected by the high temperatures?

I have only visited a handful of pub since my recent surgery, so I don’t know how cask is bearing up. The fact that one of my recent visits was to a real ale “destination” outlet, doesn’t give a true picture, and things would have been very dire it that particular pub hadn’t been doing well. The two other pubs were mentioned in my recent post about a bus trip (codgers’ outing), and in fairness to both outlets, the cask ales I sampled were on good form. Again, it was difficult to judge the overall ratio of cask to keg, as in both pubs, the beers were enjoyed in an outdoor setting, rather than stood at the bar.

Last Thursday, I called into what might be called an “old-fashioned pub,” and whilst again it was difficult to know how much cask was being sold, this time around the cask beer I initially chose, had to be returned. To be fair this was probably just a one-off situation, and when I took my not terribly good pint back, the barmaid took one look at it and said that, given its hazy appearance and lack of condition, it must have been approaching the end of the cask. She changed it without any trouble, which is the way things should be, when the beer isn’t quite right.

So where exactly was this old-fashioned pub, and what was I doing there? I shall answer the last question first, as it leads onto the initial one, but simply put, I was visiting Sevenoaks with young master Matthew. We’d taken my car, and after calling in at the large Lidl store, close to the station, found ourselves at the top end of the town, looking for a parking space, so I could visit the bank. We gave up on the car parks; it might be Sevenoaks, but who is going to pay a minimum charge of £2, for an hour’s parking, to undertake an errand that is likely to take 10 minutes tops?  I said we’d drive back to Tonbridge and stump up the 70p for 30 minutes at Waitrose. In the meantime, seeing as we were on the eastern edge of Sevenoaks, and close to Knowle Park, I thought we’d drive home that way.

What I didn’t realise, despite having visited Sevenoaks dozens of times, is the extent that the National Trust-owned, Knowle Park encroaches on the heart of the town. This encroachment only became apparent when I looked later, at an OS map of the area, but it does at least explain why there are no roads heading directly east from the town centre. I had it in my mind to head for the tiny hamlet of Godden Green, home to the Buck’s Head. The latter is a well-known country pub owned by Shepherd Neame - not exactly a point in its favour, but it’s a pub I haven't visited for a decade or more, so I thought it would be interesting to see how it was faring.  Our route there was quite convoluted and involved heading out of Sevenoaks in a north-easterly direction, before eventually cutting across due east to Godden Green.

Apart from the pub, a scattering of houses, and a large green, there is nothing much there, although a little way further south, Sevenoaks Preparatory School caters for children who are not old enough to attend Sevenoaks School. It’s the type of educational establishment that charges astronomical fees, which is probably why it counts David and Victoria Beckham’s kids amongst its list of former pupils. Matthew and I were more interested in the pub, which faces out across the green and pond, with that air of permanence which indicates a well-established old inn.

There was a surprising number of cars parked in front, but we manged to squeeze in on the edge of the green. A series of steps lead into the pub, which has one large, long bar, with a dining area at the far end. There is a garden to the rear, but as all the shaded tables were spoken for, we took our drinks to one of the bench tables at the front of the pub, The beers were the typical Shep’s offering of Master Brew, Spitfire, and Whitstable Bay. I opted for a pint of the latter, whilst Matthew went for the Hurlimann’s. Known in the past as “hooligans,” this premium strength Swiss lager, was the first continental-style beer brewed by Shepherd Neame – way before the likes of Kingfisher, Oranjeboom, Samuel Adams and all their other contract-brewed lagers appeared on the scene.

Matthew enjoyed it, which is more than I can say about the Whitstable Bay Pale. As described earlier it was exchanged without question and replaced with a pint of Spitfire. From a quality point of view, I couldn’t fault this beer, but I have never been a fan of this beer, despite it being one of Shepherd Neame’s flagship brands. We only stayed for the one beer but given the tucked away location of the Buck’s Head, I was surprised at how busy it was. Lots of dinners, of course, but also groups of friends who had met up for a drink and also a party of walkers. Much as I enjoy a good ramble, I do prefer conditions to be a little cooler, but as there are plenty of woods in the area, a walk through the woods might have been what this intrepid bunch had in mind.

One final point about the Buck’s Head is that according to What Pub, it pub still keeps old fashioned opening hours, with afternoon closing between 3-5.30pm. The pub’s new website, which is still “under construction,” states otherwise, so the wisest thing would be to phone first, especially if you are contemplating an afternoon session. Apart from that, I’m sure you will enjoy this gem of a pub – assuming you can find it, that is!

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