Early on Sunday morning, four members of our “Weekend Walking Group” met up opposite the Vauxhall pub, on the edge of Tonbridge. I was one of the four, and in the absence of any further takers we set off to walk to the Dovecote Inn, at the small hamlet of Capel.
Actually I don’t know whether a settlement with a 13th Century church constitutes a hamlet or not, but that is a question for pedants. However, this lovely little church which is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, is now redundant – reflecting either the decline in the local population, or the that of the popularity of churchgoing.
I digress, but this walk to Capel is one our group has undertaken on a number of previous occasions, and as I have also written several posts about the walk as well, I was looking for something different to say.
Our route out of Tonbridge led us past the ornamental lake, at the bottom of the grounds of Somerhill House, a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion which, after a long and rather mixed history, now houses a collection of fee-paying schools. It is said to be the second largest house in Kent, after Knole House, in Sevenoaks.
The feeder road, up from nearby Tudeley Lane, is not a place for the faint-hearted, at the end of the school day, as all the “yummy mummies” jockey for place, manoeuvring their over-sized SUV’s, up and down the narrow road with all the finesse of a column of Russian tanks, in order to collect their little darlings. Thankfully, Sunday is a quiet day, and apart from the occasional group of walkers, we had the grounds, and the area of woodland at the back of the house, to ourselves.
Coming out of the woodland, the path descends to a valley, before crossing a stream. From there it’s across a field and onto a short stretch of the B2017 road, before heading off in a mainly southerly direction and into another area of woodland. The latter looks especially lovely during late April and early May, when the woodland floor is carpeted with a stunning display of bluebells, but being mid-January it looked very bare and rather drab.
We eventually left the woods behind us, and after passing along a narrow country lane headed off towards Capel in a north-easterly direction. We could see the church in the distance, so knew that the Dovecote would be close at hand, and roughly two hours after setting off, we found ourselves at the rear of the pub. After pausing to remove our muddy boots, we stepped inside.
We had purposely arrived early, working on the premise that the Dovecote would be filling up with Sunday diners, and whilst the restaurant area to the left of the bar, was reserved, there were plenty of tables at the opposite end of the pub. There were three old boys sat at the bar, and the talk was almost inevitably about the “B” word. We purposely ignored this, as we’d come out to enjoy the countryside, the beer and each other’s company, rather than becoming involved in a debate. So having worked up a thirst, perused the selection of gravity-served ales on sale.
The beers at the Dovecote are kept in a temperature-controlled room immediately behind the bar. Extra-long cask taps protrude through the dividing wall, and out through false barrel ends, made out of wood, set into the wall. This allows the beer to be kept at just the right temperature, and served in the most natural way possible – straight from the cask. From memory, the beers on offer were Deuchar’s IPA, Gales HSB, Harvey’s Best, and Tonbridge Coppernob. I started with the Deuchar’s - a beer I haven’t seen for some time, before switching to the Harvey’s.
Both were good, scoring 3.5 NBSS each. Two of my companions also tried the Gales HSB, now brewed by Fuller’s of course, but as I’ve never been a fan of legendary beers which are no longer brewed in their original home, so I took their word for it.
The pub was starting to fill up, so we ordered some food, sausage sandwich for two of us, plus a rather nice looking game pie, for the others. The sandwich was fine for me, as I knew there was a stew waiting in the oven for when I got home.
After our lunch we decided to make tracks for home, by means of a more direct route, which took us through the churchyard of Capel Church. The wind was starting to get up, and it would be blowing quite fiercely by the time we arrived back in Tonbridge, but it was still warm for mid-January.
We eventually reached the B2017 Five Oak Green Road again, and as the path took us right along the side of the George & Dragon pub, we decided to pop in for a look. However, as the time is getting on, we’ll have to leave it until next time to learn more about this attractive old weatherboard pub.