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The photo opposite is of five bottles of Kölsch; Cologne’sunique and geographically protected style of beer. I purchased the bottles on the business trip I made to the city, last month, dashing into a local supermarket shortly before closing time, whilst on my way back to our hotel.

They were ridiculously cheap, working out at just under one Euro a bottle. I haven’t got round to opening any of them yet, but that’s not the point, but what is relevant is I bought them because all five are brands I haven’t come across before, despite having now made seven visits to Cologne.

To understand the reasons behind this, it is first necessary to learn a little more about the style itself, and also appreciate some of the takeovers and mergers which have occurred along the way. 

First the style.  Kölschis the local style of beer and it is to Cologne(Köln),  what Altbier is to Düsseldorf.Both are survivors from the pre-lager brewing tradition of Northern Germany, but unlike Altbier, Kölsch has undergone a good deal of change, the most notable of which is the lightening of its colour to pale yellow. This gives it the appearance of a Pilsner, so it is perhaps not surprising to learn that it is brewed mainly from Pilsner malt.

Kölsch  is top-fermented at a temperature of between 13 to 21°C, which is more typical of ale brewing, but after the initial fermentation, it undergoes a period of conditioning, where it is lagered at a much colder temperature.

The end result is a clear beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue, but considering its background, there is  little ale character to be found, apart from a little fruitiness. Kölsch  tends to have a very soft, rounded character and can be quite sweet.

Kölsch has to be brewed in the Colognearea before it can call itself such, and this qualification is stipulated by the “Kölsch Convention”, which dates back to the 1980's. The convention was drawn up 24 breweries, some of which are no longer brewing, in order to protect the style from outside imitations. Additionally, a beer may only be called a Kölsch if it meets the following criteria:

It is brewed in the Cologne metropolitan area
It is pale in colour
It is top-fermented
It is hop-accented
It is filtered
It is a 'Vollbier'
    Since that time there has been the inevitable mergers and closures, so typical of the brewing industry the world over. This has led to many Kölsch “brands” now being brewed at one large brewery, known as the Kölner Verbund Brauereien GmbH & Co. This is housed in what was formerly the Küppers Brewery.

    I’m not going to list all the brands of Kölsch brewed there, but they include some of the better known names such as, Giesler, Gilden, Küppers, Peters and Sion Kölsch. Also included is Sester Kölsch, which is one of the five bottles I brought back with me
    .
    Kölsch is usually served in small, plain cylindrical glasses known as Stangen, which typically hold just 20 cl of beer; although some outlets will use 25 cl versions. The reason for the small  glasses is Kölsch is a beer designed to be drunk fresh. Leaving a newly poured glass standing for any length of time allows the beer’s condition to dissipate, and is not conducive to enjoying it at its best.

    To ensure customers have a fresh glass of beer for as long as they wish to continue drinking, the waiters, who appear to always be male, carry round a circular tray known as a
    Kranz, which has inserts designed to accommodate up to a dozen glasses
     
    Kölsch waiters are known as "Köbes"(a word derived from “Jakobus”), and wear distinctive blue aprons. They have a reputation for being a bit gruff, but this might be unfounded, as most of the ones I have come across have been helpful and often friendly as well.

    For places to enjoy Kölsch at its best, you won’t go far wrong if you try a few of the pubs and beer halls in Cologne’s Altstadt, or Old Town. I have written on several occasions about some of my favourite places, and the beauty of Cologneis there always seems to be a new pub or bar  to discover.

    To finish, here is a list of my favourite Colognewatering holes, but if you decide to take a trip to the city on the Rhine, then I’m sure you will find a few of your own:

    Brauhaus Sion, Brauerei zur Malzmühle, Brauerei Pfaffen, Bierhaus en d’ Salzgass, Früh am Dom, Hausbrauerei Päffgen, Peters Brauhaus, Sünner im Walfisch.
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    The contrast between last year’s Good Friday and the one just passed could not have been greater, and the same applies to the dates on which this Christian holy day is celebrated. As an illustration of this, Good Friday 2018 occurred at the end of March, whilst in 2019 the event took place at the end of the third week in April.

    The other contrast, and the one which has the most bearing on this narrative, is that between the weather, as whilst this year we were blessed with temperatures in the lower twenties and wall-to-wall sunshine, the previous year saw heavy rainfall combined with strong winds.

    It was small wonder then that after checking the weather forecast, I “wimped out” of last year’s annual Good Friday Ramble and instead joined my friends from West Kent CAMRA on their annual pilgrimage to Margate, for the Planet Thanet Beer Festival.

    Now I didn’t really enjoy Planet Thanet, and that’s no reflection on my companions, who provided excellent company, but sitting in the faded grandeur of Margate’s Winter Gardens, sampling endless halves of boringly similar bitters and golden ales, did not float my boat and the best part of the day was when we left the festival, stopped for fish & chips – eaten in the shelter of a shop doorway, and then visited one of Margate's iconic micro pubs.

    Given the appalling weather though, I made the right call and that correct decision was confirmed by friends from Maidstone CAMRA, on this year’s Good Friday Ramble. They informed me that not only were they soaked to the skin on the walk to the pub, but when they got there, the place was freezing cold with just one solitary heater for people to huddle around in a vain attempt to dry themselves off.

    There were no such problems this year, as our party of 16met up outside Paddock Wood station to walk to the Dovecote at Capel. This pub is well-known to West Kent CAMRA members for both its gravity-served cask ales and the quality of its food, and it is an establishment I have walked to on several previous occasions from Tonbridge.

    It therefore made a pleasant change to take a different route, and the person in charge of the ramble had mapped out an interesting and varied one, which ensured the walk which was of reasonable length, but without being too taxing. It must be said that walk leader Peter, had at one point thought he might have to hand over the reins to someone else. This was due to a badly-broken ankle, sustained whilst on holiday in Malta, six months ago.

    Fortunately following surgery both in Maltaand in the UKhe is back on his feet again, and I am pleased to report that he managed to finish the walk, which was just over five and a half miles in total. The route took us north of the main Ashford-Tonbridge railway at first, and then through some recently planted orchards.

    A look at the structures supporting the new trees showed that the fields had once been hop gardens, as shown by the above  photograph, but lovers of traditional beer need not feel left out, as our return journey took us through a series of newly-strung hop plantations.

    After passing under the railway by means of a pedestrian tunnel, we came across a number of other hop-related structures, in the form of some hoppers’ huts, which appeared to have recently been restored. It also looked like some form of hoppers’ reunion was taking place, although as this appeared to be a private function, we didn’t stop to investigate.

    We were getting close to Capel now, and after skirting the village of Five Oak Green, we passed Capel church, which stands in a field, isolated from the main settlement which, in effect, is little more than a hamlet. This stretch of the walk was the only real uphill section and as we headed up into a series of mature apple orchards, Peter let slip that he had included this loop partly to pad the walk out, but also to ensure those at the front of the party didn’t arrive at the pub until after opening time, rather than standing outside and rattling the door.


    We arrived at the Dovecote in about four groups. The lead party had already grabbed some tables at the far end of the bar which was disappointing, as given the fine weather, I would have much preferred to have sat outside. I rather think that food, as well as drink was on their minds, but as we had all pre-ordered our food eating al fresco would not have been a problem.

    Drink-wise we were all in for a treat, with beers such as Butcombe Bitter, Adnam’s Lighthouse, Harvey’s Sussex Best, Hop Back GFB and Gales HSB all available, direct from casks, racked in a chilled room behind the bar. I was immediately drawn to the GFB, as we rarely, if ever, see any beers from Hop Back in this part of the country, and boy was I glad I chose it. The beer was so good, and my thirst so great, that the first pint hardly touched the sides. It was a definite 4.0 NBSS, and perhaps deserved a score of 4.5.

    I just had to have another, consumed a little more leisurely this time, especially as my food had arrived. This was rather large portion of battered cod, with some equally chunky, and very tasty chips to go with it. I wondered at one stage whether I would finish it or not, but I managed it and thoroughly enjoyed every last bit.

    The after-dinner conversation turned to brewery visits,particularly after I had made my Maidstone colleaguesjealous by detailing West Kent CAMRA’s recent tour of Harvey’s,and the fact that the legendary Miles Jenner had acted as our guide. The pressure is now on for their branch social secretary to come up with a similar tour!

    My final beer at the Dovecote was a pint of Gales HSB, which I rightly 
    described as a real, old-fashioned, strong-bitter. Ruby red in colour, and topped with a fluffy white head, this was almost exclusively a malt-driven beer, but none the worse for that. Some might describe it as too sweet, and whilst it was undoubtedly quite syrupy in nature, it was none the worse for that, as there was still a hint of balancing bitterness lurking in the background.

    Like the Hop Back offering, this Fuller’s brewed version of the Horndean classic, was every bit as good as what I remember from my first taste of this legendary Gales Special Bitter.

    After our two hours plus stop-over, it took a while to get going again, as we departed the Dovecote. We followed a slightly different route back, and one which took us through the aforementioned hop gardens and then right through the part of Five Oak Green which lies on the other side of the railway.

    I clocked the route using the tracker on my phone, at 7.26 km on the outward walk and 5.17 km on the return leg – just under five and a half miles in total. It seemed like more, and my legs certainly ached a bit, but it’s worth noting that due to the lack of rain I recent weeks, an old pair of shoes sufficed, rather than my usual, heavier walking boots.

    We went our separate ways back at Paddock Wood, with a promise to meet up again next year. Peter wasn’t giving much away as to the route, or indeed the pub for 2020, although he did say it would be somewhere along the rail line which runs out of Maidstone East station.


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    Paul's Beer & Travel Blog by Paul Bailey - 5d ago

    Although Easter is very late this year its coming heralds an annual event that has become a well established tradition. I am talking about the Good Friday Ramble, an event organised by members of Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA branch which is now in its 42nd year.

    Despite it longevity the formula has remained the same, and perhaps that is why, four decades later, the walk retains its appeal and popularity. The walk organisers (and there have only been two of them over the past 42 years), will plan the route around a suitable country pub – one which is capable of accommodating a party of 20-30 walkers. The walk will start and finish at somewhere convenient for people to get to by public transport, so this is normally a railway station.

    The locations have varied over the years, but I’m fairly certain we have covered most of Kent; certainly anywhere which is easily reached by rail, from Maidstone.  Once assembled the group then sets off at a leisurely pace across country, following public footpaths wherever possible, to a suitable local pub, for a lengthy lunchtime stop.

    Being a CAMRA organised event, special care will have gone into selecting the pub, so as well as being able to accommodate a fairly large group of ramblers and feature a good food offering, the pub must stock a reasonable selection of well-kept cask ales.

    This has normally been the case, but there have been a few howlers over the years and who could forget the walk along the Medway Valley, on one of the coldest Easters on record, to find ourselves in a pub which not only didn’t serve food, but was also bereft of any form of heating.

    We were aware of this beforehand, and although the pub allowed us to eat our sandwiches inside, that was definitely a case where a hot meal would have provided some much needed internal warmth. I also recall that an hour or so into our stay, the beer ran out – the pub’s excuse was that a party of thirsty Morris Men had paid an unexpected visit the night before. The same applied with another old pub, high up on the North Downs, which again lacked heating (and cooked food), where it was actually warmer to sit out in the pub garden!

    These hiccups aside, we usually end up somewhere decent, where both beer and food are of a suitably high quality, and where we are made to feel welcome.  Suitably refreshed the group walks back to the starting point, normally by a different route; although  there have been occasions where the route chosen has been a linear one.

    These annual rambles provide a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people one hasn’t seen for a while, in my case often since the previous ramble. As one wag succinctly put it in the past, “It’s always interesting to see how many of us have survived another winter!”

    That remark, of course refers to the fact that none of us are getting any younger, so as a reflection of this the walks are gentler and less arduous than they were nearly four decades ago, with less hills and other natural obstacles. They are also shorter, being typically around seven to eight miles, rather than the ten to twelve miles traversed in our youth.

    Although I am a member of West Kent CAMRA, I know quite a few people in MMK Branch; the result of having lived in the county townduring the late 70’s and early 80’s, and still keep in touch with old friends from this time. I am normally joined by a couple of my West Kentfriends, both of whom appreciate a walk through the beautiful Kent countryside.


    This year’s ramble was quite a local one for me, and took in a pub which I have walked to on several previous occasions; although not by the route the walk organiser chose on Friday. You can read all about where we went, and the beer and food we enjoyed, in the next post.

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    Last weekend Mrs PBT’s and I spent a few days away. For the record it was my birthday, but not a significant one. However being the birthday boy I got to choose the location, and the area I chose was the Forest of Dean.

    It is a part of the country which was new to both of us, although many years ago I skirted the edge of the Forest on a family trip to Wales, during my childhood. As my good lady wife is/was a big fan of Premier Inns, I booked us into their Ross-on-Wye hotel, a couple of miles from the centre of Ross.

    We passed through Ross-on-Wye, on that first childhood trip to Wales;  it is after all on the A40, a road which, prior to the opening of the M4, was the main route into South Walesfrom England. It’s also worth remembering that until the first Severn Bridge opened in 1966, the crossing at Gloucester was the lowest on the Severn.

    The strange thing is that earlier in the journey, as we were skirting around Gloucester, I recognised the crossing over the River Severn,  some 57 years or so after I had first passed that way. How spooky is that!

    I digress, so back to the narrative. The Forest of Dean is a geographical and historical  region which occupies the western part of Gloucestershire. It forms a roughly triangular plateau bounded by the River Wye to the west and northwest, Herefordshire to the north, the River Severn to the south, and the City of Gloucesterto the east.
     
    The area is one of several surviving ancient woodlands in England, and is characterised by more than 110 square kilometres (42 sq mi) of mixed woodland. A large area of the forest was reserved for royal hunting both before and after the Norman Conquest and it remains as the second largest Crown Forestin England.

    We arrived at our Premier Inn base just before 4pm. We had pre-booked a table at the adjoining Beefeater Pub for 6pm, which didn't really allow sufficient time for exploring prior to our reservation, so we decided to leave a look around Ross-on-Wye until the following day. This was a shame, and contrary to my usual preference of getting to know the local area as soon as possible.

    The annoying thing was the pub wasn’t overly  busy, and I'm sure that if we'd just turned up later in the evening, they would still have found us a table. Every cloud has a silver lining though and as luck would have it we were in time to take full advantage of the Beefeater's "Value Menu", which runs between 10am and 6.30pm, and offers a selection of dishes that are almost half the price of the chain's normal offerings.

    So it was the chicken and ham pie, with thrice-cooked chips and peas, for me, and a steak sandwich for  Mrs PBT’s. Not surprisingly the beer offering wasn’t up to much, with the dreaded Doom Bar as the only cask offering. I gave it a go, and whilst it was clear, well-conditioned and reasonably fresh, to say it was bland would be an understatement!

    We'd ordered drinks to go with our meal; the aforementioned Doom Bar for me and a bottle of Erdinger low-alcohol wheat beer for my good lady wife. However, when the waiter arrived with the drinks, I noticed that instead of the low-alcohol version, they had brought the full-fat Erdinger Wheat Beer. I pointed out the error, but the bottle had already been opened.

    Not wishing to see it go to waste, I valiantly said I would drink it, and whilst I am not normally a fan of wheat beers, I found that particular Erdinger to be tasty, enjoyable and possessed of far more character than Rock's "finest".

    The following evening, after a day spent exploring Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat and Monmouth,we again ate at the Beefeater. This suited our purposes, as I’d already had a birthday beer, and getting behind the wheel again that evening would have meant restricting myself to just single a pint. I therefore reasoned it would be pointless to drive out to a pub where my beer consumption would be severely limited, and besides, the Beefeater was next to the hotel.

    I’m sure the ardent pub-goers reading this will be disappointed, and I must admit that under different circumstances I would have liked to explore a few more pubs in both Ross and the surrounding area, but as I say, the Beefeater ticked the right boxes, apart from the beer offering.

    So I celebrated my **th birthday with a rather nice mozzarella filled chicken, wrapped in pancetta, complete with stem broccoli and skinny fries. The bottled Erdinger Wheat Beer (full-fat version), was a good accompaniment to the food and after a dessert and coffee, we returned to our room where I polished off one of the bottle of  Pilsner Urquell I’d bought earlier. The beer was reasonably chilled after several hours in the boot of the car, although if truth be known, it could have been a little colder.

    To end though, I have to say that Premier Inns have fallen mightily in the estimation of Mrs PBT’s. Perhaps I ought to add, as qualification that their Ross-on-Wye outlet has. It was all down to the bed you see, or should I say beds, as despite the company guaranteeing everyone a good night's sleep, neither of us did - certainly not on the first night.

    Left to my own devices, I would have slept like the proverbial log, but Mrs PBT’s experienced great difficulty in getting comfortable and consequently spent much of the night tossing and turning and, at times, positively throwing herself about. It seemed that if she couldn't sleep, then I wasn't going to either!

    Being the kind, caring and considerate husband that I am, I ignored her, or at least I did initially, but when her nocturnal movements became too pronounced and too annoying, I thought I'd better ask her what the problem was wrong. When you've been married as long as we have I more or less knew what the answer would be, and sure enough the bed was far too soft for her and she just couldn't get comfortable.

    I suggested that Lenny Henry obviously hadn't tried that particular bed, and rolled over closed my eyes and went back to sleep. Like my father I can sleep anywhere - even in meetings at work, as my colleagues will gladly testify, but my good lady wife is a lot more particular as to where she lays herself down, and it certainly showed that night.

    The following morning we asked at reception for the sofa bed, by the window to be made up. Great  thought I, a whole double-bed to myself and with luck one contented missus. But no, the sofa bed was not only too hard, but it apparently had a ridge running down the middle. With one more night to go, I opted for the sofa bed and she went back to the double, but sleeping on the left-hand side which is where I'd slept on the first night..

    We reckoned that with single business travellers making up much of Premier's guests, certainly during the working week, they were more likely to have slept of the right hand side, purely because there's more room to get in and out on that side, and there was some truth in our logic, as we both had a reasonable night's sleep. The only problem I had was trying not to slide off the side of the sofa bed, as it had a pronounced slope.

    So is Mrs PBT's love affair with Premier Inns finally over and, if so, can we go back to my preferred option of scanning Booking.com for somewhere that is more individual, cheaper and within walking distance of a decent boozer?
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    Symonds Yat is a well-known beauty spot on the Wye Valley on the borders of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, where the river takes a large meander, before almost looping back on itself. If the local rocks weren’t so hard (not sufficiency hard to prevent the river cutting an impressive gorge through them), then that loop would have cut back on itself, forming a classic “ox-bow” lake, so beloved of school geography textbooks.

    The Yat (whatever that term might mean), is a place I always wanted to visit, so the chance came on the first full day of our stay in Ross-on-Wye. I’d carried out a little research beforehand, and I’d also tapped up the hotel receptionist – always a good source of local information, earlier that morning.

    So after a birthday breakfast (oh, did I not say I’d reached the age referred to in the title of a well-known Beatles song), in Ross-on-Wye, followed by a look round this pleasant little town, we headed due south along the A40, in the direction of Monmouth, looking out, as advised by the receptionist, for the signs for Symonds Yat.

    From what I can make out the Yat itself is a large rocky outcrop which stands 500 feet above sea-level, with some spectacular views back down to the river, and across the surrounding countryside, but of more interest to me, especially with a wife who is not really up to climbing a rocky pathway at present, is the impressive gorge that the River Wye has cut through the rocks.

    There are also hostelries on either side, along with places to park the car, and there is a choice of visiting either the east or the west banks. I decided on the west bank for starters and followed the signs leading off the A40. The receptionist had advised that the road was narrow in places, and whilst I initially thought she’d been over-dramatic, we soon realised she wasn’t kidding.

    After a steady climb, the road narrowed even more and led us down towards the river. Two thirds of the way down, was the Old Ferrie Inn, built into the side of the hill overlooking the river, but it didn’t look open.  As the narrow parking area at the side, looked like the last opportunity to turn round (and even that required something like a twenty-point turn), we decided to cut our losses, retrace our route and see what the opposite bank had to offer.

    Looking on the map, the road, or should I say country lane , on this side of the Wye, crosses the river before leading across an area of flat land, enclosed by the aforementioned large loop. This would be the equivalent of the alluvial plain from those classic old geography textbooks – geography was one of the subjects I really enjoyed at school. It then begins to ascend, before forking off in two directions.

    The left hand fork, as I later found out, leads up to the rocky outcrop – again, is this the Yat? Whilst the road to right, which is equally narrow, leads down to the river. This was the road for us and, it would seem, a large proportion of both Gloucestershire and Herefordshire!

    For reasons best known to the church authorities, Easter is very late this year, which also means the dreaded school holidays are also late. Normally I can celebrate my birthday content in the knowledge that the “little darlings” will be back at school, but I miscalculated badly this time, and it seemed as if the whole world also wanted to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Wye gorge, canoe along the river, or take a rather more relaxing cruise.

    We managed to find a parking space, although this wasn’t cheap – especially as we didn’t require a four hour period. Needs must and all that, but having come this far we wanted to take a closer look at the gorge and also to partake of the refreshment offered at the nearby Saracen’s Head Inn.

    The latter establishment occupies a prominent position on the east bank of the river, and has been providing food and drink for several centuries. Unfortunately, given the crowds sitting at the tables over-looking the river, and on the terrace outside the pub, I was starting to think we would be unlucky. However, stepping inside the large single bar, with its flagstone floor and scrubbed wooden tables, we managed to find a vacant table, tucked away by the window, at the far end of the bar.

    We made a beeline for it before ordering a drink. There was a choice of six cask ales on the bar; a selection which contained a couple of beers from Wye Valley Brewery. I opted for a pint of Hereford Pale Ale (HPA), which came up crystal clear, full of condition and bursting with fruity, citrus-like flavours.

    We were going to have something to eat, but after queuing up at the separate food counter, I over-heard a remark from one of the staff that, in view of the number of customers, there was at least a 45 minute wait for food – even for sandwiches. We decided to cut our losses and pick up a sandwich somewhere else.

    We paused for a look at the river and to take a few photos. We also saw the ancient rope ferry in operation; a set up whereby a small boat is pulled across the river by hauling on a rope which crosses from one bank to the other. We then made our way back to the car before heading off in the direction of Monmouth.

    There’s an obvious moral to this tale, and that is check the calendar, particularly with regard to school holidays, but despite all the hassle I’m still extremely pleased that at last I managed to see and visit Symonds Yat.
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    Back in November 2017, I wrote a lengthy post titled, “A good start to the day?”  It was, of course, an article about breakfast, and chronicled some of the best early morning repasts I have enjoyed over recent years, alongside a few of the places where I polished off these culinary delights.

    Now I won’t repeat what I wrote almost 18 months ago, but I want to expand a little on the subject of the first meal of the day. First a bit of background information. I am quite frugal during the working week, where time pressures mean there is little time for anything other than hurriedly grabbing a quick bite to eat. Normally this is either a couple of slices of toast (topped with jam, marmalade or Marmite), or a bowl of cereal – porridge during the winter, and something a little lighter during the warmer months.

    I don’t normally indulge myself too much in the mornings, at weekends either; although sometimes Mrs PBT’s will rustle up some French toast, or a couple of bacon sarnies. However, if son Matthew isn’t working, and is up in time, then him and I will normally go out and grab ourselves a breakfast. Being employed in retail means he is often rostered to work at weekends, so these breakfast forays certainly don’t happen every week, but when they do it is well worth making the effort to find somewhere decent.

    I’ll be covering this area in a little more detail shortly, but before doing so it’s worth mentioning that  Mrs PBT’s likes to treat the Sabbath as an excuse to catch up on “refurbishing” herself, and not have to get “made up”; something her feminine pride normally insists on before venturing outdoors.

    She also claims she can get a lot more done when husband and son are away, stuffing their faces with all sorts of greasy and unhealthy food, although personally I think it’s just an excuse to put her feet up and slob out in front of the TV, watching "Escape to the Country" or “Homes under the Hammer”!

    Her body clock also seems to have altered since her dramatic hospitalisation last year, and is no longer much of a morning person. This particularly applies when we are away. Giving up smoking is to blame – not that that’s a bad thing; but with no pressing need to rush down to outside the hotel lobby, for her nicotine fix, she’d rather take her time and get herself ready in a far more leisurely fashion.

    This slow, taking ones time in the morning does tend to mean missing out on breakfast, although even before last year’s episode I often tended to go down to breakfast on my own, smuggling her back the odd croissant or two to eat in the room.

    This pattern continued when, back in February, on a visit to Norfolk to visit my father, Mrs PBT’s and I booked ourselves into the Norwich West Premier Inn, adjacent to the Norfolk Showground, for a couple of nights.

    Now my good lady wife likes a Premier Inn, and I must admit that whilst they might be a little pricier than I would pay if I was travelling on my own, they offer a good standard of comfort, and you know what you are getting. Lenny Henry has even tested the beds for you!

    Most Premier Inns have some sort of chain restaurant, either attached, or adjacent where, should you desire, you can tuck in to a decent breakfast. For cost-conscious individual like me, £10 is somewhat on the dear side, so on that recent Norfolk trip, I decided to go elsewhere, and ended up enjoying what was one of the best supermarket breakfasts around.

    Longwater Retail Park lies virtually opposite the Premier Inn, on the other side of the busy A47 road. There, at the Sainsbury’s Superstore, you can enjoy a good satisfying breakfast for roughly half the cost of what Colonel Whitbread will charge you. I knew this from a previous stay, several years ago on a visit to Norfolkwhen mum was still with us.

    So leaving Mrs PBT’s at the hotel to a more leisurely start to the day, I nipped across the road and treated myself to a fine full English, courtesy of Mr Sainsbury. I did however, remember to bring my wife back a subway roll and some nibbles. On the drive back to Kentthe following morning, we called in at an similar-sized Sainsbury’s Superstore, just off the A11, outside Thetford, but unfortunately we missed breakfast by about 15 minutes.

    Closer to home, the lad and I have recently tried the Gatehouse in Tonbridge; owned by the Stonegate Pub Company, and the Hilden Manor, which is part of the Beefeater chain.

    Decent breakfasts aren’t really about dining at large chains though, and I include Wetherspoon’s in this description. Even before my boycott of arch-Brexiteer Tim Martin’s establishments, I felt the breakfast offering had started to go downhill, so it’s not as if I’m missing anything. So now, supermarkets aside, the search has been on locally for a place where my son and I can enjoy a good breakfast, at a reasonable price.

    Last Sunday our quest for that perfect breakfast took us to Teal Café, just off the A21 at Morley’s Roundabout, between Hildenborough and Sevenoaks. This establishment is a fairly recent, and very welcome addition to the local dining scene. Painted white on the outside, and with a ramp providing disabled access, Teal has a bright and airy interior, with a modern and contemporary feel.

    It was buzzing when we arrived, rather later than I would have liked, but blame the lad for over-sleeping. Despite this obvious popularity, the friendly and attentive staff still managed to find us a table for two. Matt went all out with two of everything, whilst I was rather more restrained. The breakfast was freshly cooked to order, and came with a welcoming pot of tea each.

    I want to end by discussing a dish that doesn’t often appear on breakfast menus these days. The humble Kipper is an increasingly rare find, and the only places I have come across them have been in Norfolk and the Isle of Man.This is a great shame, as cooked properly kippers make a divine breakfast dish. Whole kippers, lightly grilled, and served with plenty of buttered toast are a rare treat to be enjoy and savoured, wherever you come across them.

    Mrs PBT’s has never been keen on serving up them up at home; ostensibly because of their  lingering smell, but on the basis that every cloud has a silver lining, whilst she was recuperating in hospital, at the beginning of last year, I enjoyed freshly cooked kippers for three weekends on the trot.

    I bought them whole from Sankey’s, our local fishmongers in Tonbridge who incidentally are owned by the same people who run the successful Sankey’s pub in Tunbridge Wells. An online search brought up the perfect way to cook them, and also the perfect way to minimise the smell.

    First bring a pan of water to the boil, turn off the heat, fully immerse the kippers in water, cover and leave for around 7 minutes. The result, perfectly poached kippers, juicy, succulent and with the minimum amount of lingering smell. Pure heaven on a plate.!
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    Tours of Harvey’s are notoriously hard to come by, as normally there is a 3-4 year waiting list, so when West Kent CAMRA offered a tour of the brewery to the volunteers who helped at last year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival, as a “thank-you”, I jumped at the chance.

    We had good reason to be going to Harvey’s, as their Bonfire Boy – a seasonal, darkish ale, had been voted “beer of the festival.” at the previous year’s event. Ex-branch chairman, and joint festival organiser Craig, had managed to pull a few strings, and being in the licensed trade himself obviously helped when it came to arranging the tour.

    This was definitely my fourth tour of Harvey’s Brewery and possibly my fifth, but whatever the tally, the previous one took place a quarter of a century ago. I’m pleased to report though that very little has changed and, what’s more, as on all previous trips, we had the incomparable Miles Jenner as our guide. Miles is the renowned and highly-respected head brewer at Harvey’s; a post he has held for many years, after following his father into the role.

    So on a sunny, and fairly warm Saturday, just over a week ago, our party boarded the specially chartered, comfortable 52 seat coach in Tonbridge, and set off on the drive down to Lewes.  There were other pickups along the way; most noticeably Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough. 

    We arrived in Lewes shortly before 11am, and after the driver had parked the coach at the rear of Harvey’s, we were met by Miles and led round to  the brewery yard in front of the company’s impressive tower brewery. Miles began by recounting the  history of brewery from its founding to the present day.

    It is worth noting that Harvey's is the oldest independent brewery in Sussex. It is a family business, and the brewery has been in the guardianship of seven generations of John Harvey's descendants since 1790;  with five family members from the seventh and eighth generations currently working there.
     
    Miles’s narrative was  interspersed with fascinating facts and often amusing anecdotes. For example, the Cliffe area of Lewes was a completely separate settlement from the main town, up on hill, and was rather looked down upon by the more affluent townsfolk who lived up there.


     As well as being brewers and wine merchants, Harvey’s were also coal merchants; coal being just one of many commodities brought up to Lewes, by barge, along the River Ouse. It’s probably just as well I wasn’t taking notes, otherwise I’d be boring you all to death by now. 

    Suffice to say, the brewing business at the Bridge Wharf site has expanded steadily over the years and today, Harvey’sbeers are well known throughout south-east England, and can be enjoyed in the company’s 45 pubs. They are also available in an extensive free-trade area covering the counties of Sussex, Kent and Surrey.

    One other thing worth mentioning before we entered the brewery, is that  Harvey’s have sunk a couple of artesian wells to tap into a source of brewing water or “liquor”, as brewers insist on calling it. Prior to that they relied on the town supply which, during the 19th Century, was sometimes contaminated.

    After the  introductory talk we followed Miles up into the brewery, an attractive rd-brick building, constructed on a tower principle to the design of the well-known brewery architect, William Bradford. To increase capacity a second, smaller tower, was added during the late 1980’s in front of the original. By using bricks especially made to match 19th Century ones, and cast iron window-frames which were copies of the originals, it is difficult to tell the old and the new apart.

    We viewed the brewery’s two mash tuns, and Miles related a tale about the oldest of the pair. It was acquired, at auction, from the defunct Page & Overton Brewery at Croydon. Miles attended the sale as a young boy, with his father, who was bidding for the valuable copper vessel against a group of scrap metal merchants.

    The bidding got quite heated, until Edward Charrington, of the well-known London brewing family who was in charge of the proceedings, intervened and told those present that Mr Jenner wanted the mash tun to brew beer in, at Lewes. The scrap-dealers relented, with one shouting out “Let him have it then”, and so Harvey’s acquired their mash tun.

    Unlike modern breweries which have silos for bulk supplies of malt, Harvey’s still use malt supplied in sacks, and these have to be hoisted to the top of brewery before brewing can commence. We then moved on to the hop-store where whole hops, packed either in traditional “pockets” or more often now, in tightly compressed blocks, are used, as opposed to the hop pellets favoured by many breweries  today.  

    Harvey’s source their hops locally, from growers in Sussex, Kent and Surrey,and contracts are placed up to four years in advance. This ensures adequate supplies of their preferred hops, which in the main are long established varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings, Progress and Bramling Cross.

    We viewed the remainder of the brewing equipment,  such as the two coppers plus hop back, before moving along to the fermentation room. Harvey’sat times seems like a museum, but it is very much a working one, and the tried and tested methods used, ensure beers of the highest quality.

    Because brewing in this traditional manner is quite labour intensive, production costs are higher than at more modern, fully-automated breweries, and these have to be passed on to the consumer. Miles makes no apologies for this, and the continued popularity of Harvey’s beers is proof people are prepared to pay a higher price for a premium product.  

    Our final port of call, before the all important sampling cellar was the fermenting room, where the beer ferments away in a double row of open-top fermenters. Many of the vessels are quite old, but still fully functional. Harvey’s have used the same yeast for the past 60 years, and the strain originally came from the John Smiths Brewery in Tadcaster. You can watch and listen here as Miles tells the tale of how his father sourced and acquired the yeast.

    And so to the sampling cellar, situated in the base of the brewery, next to the racking line. Here we were treated to a selection of different Harvey’s cask beers, all poured straight from the cask. These ranged from the 3.0% Dark Mild, to a specially-racked cask of Prince of Denmark. The latter is a strong, dark 7.5%,  bottled beer, which only very occasionally appears in cask.

    Miles had found a cask of the beer, with a BBE date of 2016.Given its high strength it was still perfectly drinkable, but most of us sensibly left this beer until last. I started off with the Dark Mild and then moved up through the gravities, enjoying a couple of glasses of the delectable XXXX Old Ale. I also sampled Harvey’s Wharf IPA for the first time. This 4.8% beer is normally only available in keg, so it was a real treat to sample it in cask form.

    The company had very generously laid on a buffet for us, which helped soak up some of the beer. As well as sandwiches there were bowls of chips, samosas and chicken goujons; all of which was well received.

    As stated previously, I put off sampling the cask Prince of Denmark until the end of the tour. It is certainly a complex beer, and one to be savoured, with aromas of leather, chocolate and liquorice which combine to create a lingering taste. Miles reckoned the beer had been brewed in 2015, so the stuff we were drinking was getting on to be four years old!

    All the beer were served to us in what looked like plastic cups, but a closer inspection revealed they were made from plant starch. As such they were 100% compostable and 100% biodegradable. Most breweries take care to recycle items such as spent grain and spent hops, and Harvey’sare no exception, but they go a stage further with their beer bottles, as these can be returned to the brewery for washing and re-filling.

    I think I’m right in saying they are currently the only UK brewery which uses returnable bottles. I had a couple of dozen, gathering dust  in my shed, so I brought them along on the trip, and returned them at the Brewery Shop, prior to the tour.

    The shop proved quite a hit with other participants on the tour and was a good place to finish with. One last thing, as Peter Falk would say, if you ever get the chance to tour Harvey’s,then no matter what JUST GO!!!


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    I’ve yet to write up the account of last Saturday’s visit to Harvey’s Brewery, but in the meantime, here’s a post about the Cooper’s Arms at Crowborough. Our coach made a brief stop at the pub, in between leaving Lewes and arriving at Cellar Head Brewing.

    The Cooper’s is an attractive late Victorian building perched on the side of the hill, in an affluent residential area to the west of Crowborough. It is constructed out of brick and local stone, with a terrace at the front. Internally there is one long and quite narrow bar, which opens up at both ends. There are rooms leading off at either end as well. The Cooper’s Arms is a flourishing free-house which as well as supporting local breweries (in particular Dark Star), holds regular beer festivals.

    I first became acquainted with the Cooper’s nearly 30 yearsago, when I was working in nearby Tunbridge Wells. I was taken there for lunch by the owner of the company who handled our the print requirements. The pub was his local, and straight away I could see why he liked the place. Back then it was a Charington’s tied house and as such, served a very acceptable pint of Draught Bass. It also offered an extremely good lunch!

    Moving swiftly forward to 2007 when, after several changes of job, I returned to the Cooper’s Arms with a group of local CAMRAmembers, to find it too had undergone several changes. After a spell under Greene King’s ownership, the pub had become a thriving free-house, and at the time of our visit was holding a mini-beer festival celebrating that most threatened of native beer-styles, mild ale.

    I have been back several times since then, most noticeably to attend a couple of the pub’s Dark and Delicious Winter Beer Festivals. This is an annual event hosted by the Cooper’s at the end of each January. There are normally a dozen or so strong, “winter ales”, most of them on the dark side, although not exclusively.

    As you can imagine, this is a popular event and the pub tends to get really crowded, so it was nice to call in when it was less busy; although our party of 40 did bring one or two problems of its own. Fortunately our tour organiser had warned the pub beforehand that we were coming, and I’m given to understand that they forewent their normal mid-afternoon, closed session, and opened up especially for us.

    It’s quite a trek to the pub from the centre of Crowborough, and if you are on foot it’s one of those walks where you keep thinking the pub is just around the next corner, or just over the brow of the hill. Fortunately arriving by coach did away with this lengthy walk, but it’s worth mentioning that the route down to the pub passes some large and very posh looking houses, many of which have splendid views out towards the High Weald.

    The pub is situated in a side road, which falls away sharply as you turn into it. Before the road starts to descend, there are some quite spectacular views towards the edge of Ashdown Forest; a reminder, if one was needed, that Crowborough is the highest town in South East England.  

    I didn’t rush into the pub, preferring instead to let the rush die down. I’d had plenty of beer at Harvey’s so was in no hurry to get some more in. When I eventually stepped inside, most people had chosen their beer and had moved away from the bar. There were a familiar favourites, but pride of place went to the four beers from the Engineer Brewery. Describing itself as a “nano brewery", the company are based at High Hurstwood, a small village in the heart of the Sussex Weald. 

    Their beers are hand-brewed in small batches, which gives them the ability to  produce virtually any style. Two local pubs are supplied regularly at present; one being the Hurstwood in High Hurstwood, whilst the other is the Cooper’s.

    The Engineer’s aim is to make a high quality product using the best available ingredients appropriate to the style, from local suppliers where possible and, as with Cellar Head which we visited after leaving the Cooper’s, the brewery does not use finings, filtration or pasteurisation in the production of any of its beers.

    Amongst our party was John Packer, who is the brewer and proprietor of the Engineer Brewery. I’m certain he must have been both pleased and proud to see four of his beers adorning the bar. As shown in the earlier photo, the beers were, from left to right, Pink IPA, Sussex Altbier, Golden Ale and Whisky Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

    I opted for the Altbier which was an excellent interpretation of this classic German beer style from, Düsseldorf. I also had a small taste of the Imperial Stout, which was on the strong side at 6.8%, but was a lot smoother in taste than the Prince of Denmark Ale we’d been treated to earlier, down at Harvey’s.Some of the party tried the Pink IPA, a 4.5% pale ale, packed full of citrus flavours from both the hops and also whole grapefruit.

    It was a real pity that this brief visit was sandwiched in between the two brewery visits, as I would have liked the chance to sample what appear to be some really great beers at a much more leisurely basis.  That’s what comes when you try and cram too much into a day.

    On the plus side, it was good to renew my acquaintance with the excellent Cooper’s Arms, and to have glimpse of what the Engineer Brewery is capable of turning out. For a closer look at the company, click on their website, here.

     
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    On Saturday I attended a tour of Harvey’s Brewery, in Lewes, East Sussex, along with around 40 other local CAMRA members and supporters. The tour was a “thank-you” from West Kent CAMRA for the volunteers who helped at last year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival.

    As you might expect, the tour was interesting, informative and enjoyable. I am in the process of writing a full article, detailing our visit, but for the time being here is a short post about Cellar Head Brewing Company, a local brewery whose premises we visited on the return journey fromLewes.

    You might think that two brewery visits in one day was a bit much, but that depends on your point of view, as with proper pacing of one’s drinking, and just the right amount of self-discipline, it was perfectly possible to combine the two and manage to feel alright the following day.

    Cellar Head Brewing Company was founded by Chris and Julia McKenzie in 2017. They were joined by Dave Berry, whose previous brewing experience included stints at both Old Dairy Brewery and Tonbridge Brewery. Joining Cellar Head gave Dave the opportunity to become Head Brewer along with the chance to brew beers to his own recipes for local drinkers to enjoy!

    Cellar Head's cask beers are un-fined, which means they carry a natural haze and are also vegan-friendly. In addition they do not filter or pasteurise their bottled beers and neither do they artificially carbonate them. Instead they undergo a natural secondary fermentation in the bottle which, they claim, results in a gentle, light fizz which gives a more refined texture and mouth-feel.

    The weekend saw Cellar Head celebrating their 2ndbirthday, and to mark this milestone the brewery held a birthday bash at their new brewery and taproom, which is just off the A21 at Flimwell. As the West Kent CAMRA coach would be passing close by, on our way back from Harvey’s, it seemed rude not to stop of and join in the fun.

    We arrived shortly before 5pm, having stopped off briefly at the Cooper’s Arms, Crowborough – more about the Cooper’s in another post. Cellar Head’s premises are situated down a rather narrow lane, and with all the parked cars belonging to other visitors, our driver found it rather difficult to squeeze the coach past and find a suitable parking place, but all credit due, he managed it.

    The party was in full swing when we arrived, with plenty of thirsty punters, as well as quite a few families, sat at picnic-benches both inside and out. The brewery itself is housed in a small industrial-type unit and obviously a complete contrast to Harvey’s.The bar was housed directly opposite the entrance, with the brewing plant and fermenting vessels off to the right.

    There were three beers on hand-pump, plus a couple of keg ones. In view of the fine weather, I opted for the 4.0% Spring Ale, a zesty, light pale ale, with plenty of citrus notes. The 4.3%  Festival Pale also looked interesting, but in view of the amount of beer I’d consumed earlier, I thought it wise to pace myself. Instead, I went in search of something to eat.

    There was a food truck called  the “Gourmet Griddle” was  parked outside, with the usual food offerings popular at outdoor events. The prices seemed on the high side, with the burgers selling at £8.00 a throw! I am always a little suspicious when I see the word “gourmet” as to me the term often means over-priced and over-rated, but perhaps I am a little out of touch with the going rate at such events. Despite my mis-givings, hunger got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation of pulled pork in a bun for a pound less.

    The truck didn’t seem to be doing that much trade, which made me think that for a family-friendly event, with lots of people there with their kids, eight pound a pop was on the dear side. The prices certainly seemed more expensive than those advertised on the company website.

    Now I don’t wish to sound like a moany old git, but I’ve another gripe relating to the toilet facilities – or perhaps the lack of them! The single WC, which served for both sexes, inevitably meant long queues. Anyone who has completed the Bermondsey Beer Mile will know what I mean, so my question is, that whilst such facilities are obviously adequate for the day to day running of the brewery, when a function involving large numbers of members of the public takes place, why not hire a few Porta-Loos?

    These issues aside, the Cellar Head birthday bash seemed a fun event with everyone having a good time. The whole brewery-taproom set-up, along with the al fresco drinking, reminded me of the Vanish Woods Brewery in Leesburg, VA, which I visited whilst attending the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference in the United Sates, last August. 

    With its stunning rural setting with views over the local country side – this time across to Bewl Water, and the families there with their children, enjoying a few beers, I could have been back in rural Virginia. There was even a duo blasting out country and western music in the bar!

    Having eaten, and queued for the “facilities”, I was in the mood for one final beer, but this idea was scuppered by the announcement that our coach would be departing shortly. Somewhat reluctantly we rounded ourselves up and boarded the coach.

    All things considered it had been a good bash, with a chance to enjoy some fine and fresh Cellar Head beers on their own turf. It was also a  good way to round off  our trip into deepest Sussex.


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    Petteridge is a tiny and quiet Kent hamlet which lies roughly halfway between the villages of Brenchley and Matfield, but slightly to the south of them. It would remain as just an anonymous spot on the map were it not for the fact it contains a rather nice little pub.

    The Hopbine is an attractive, part weather-boarded, and part tile-hung building built into the side of a hill, at the top of a leafy lane opposite a row of cottages. Although its exact age is uncertain, the Hopbinehas only been a pub since 1949, when it was converted from two cottages; one of which had traded as an off-sales outlet, selling beer and cider to local agricultural workers. Evidence of this can be seen internally, by the fireplace which partially separates one part of the pub from the other.

    After operating as a free house for many years, the pub was acquired in 1984 by the Horsham-based brewers, King & Barnes, becoming the brewery’s first and, as it turned out, only tied house in Kent. In 2000, Dorsetbased Hall & Woodhouse, announced a takeover of King & Barnes; the Horsham brewery was closed and the company’s 65 pubs became part of the Badger estate.

    Nearly six years ago, the long serving landlord Mike and his wife "B"  (we never found out her actual name), announced their retirement after clocking up 25 yearsbehind the bar. I remember Mike saying at the time that Hall & Woodhousewere planning to sell the pub, once the couple had stepped down, and today the Hopbine is now in private ownership serving two local beers along with two guests and a cider. 

    I first became familiar with the Hopbine during the mid 1980’s, shortly after I began work at a small pharmaceutical company, based at nearby Lamberhurst. Because of the cramped nature of the Lamberhurst site, the company purchased a plot of land at Petteridge, where they erected a storage and distribution centre. It was on a visit to this facility that I first became acquainted with the Hopbine.

    I have been a visitor to the pub ever since, although not as frequently as I would have liked, particularly in recent years, so on Friday I decided to renew my acquaintance with the Hopbine. I’d booked the day off as my car was due its annual service and MOT, so after leaving it at the service centre I took the train, one stop down the line from Tonbridge, to Paddock Wood.

    The route I took was one I have walked on several past occasions, back in the day when a walk to the Half Way House at Brenchley, for one of their twice yearly beer festivals, formed part of the West Kent CAMRAsocial calendar. I had a detailed map with me for guidance, but I recalled most of the way. The sun was shining and the temperature rising, and I remember thinking to myself that I should have worn a sun-hat.

    The other item I should have worn was a pair of stout walking boots, because whilst the recent spell of warm dry weather had dried up much of the route, the first off-road section out of Paddock Wood was very muddy in parts, which meant normal shoes were quite unsuitable. Fortunately I did have a walking stick with me – something I find essential as age creeps up on me, and this steadied me through the slipperiest sections and prevented several falls. (A stick is also useful when negotiating styles and, should the need arise, would come in handy in warding off any fierce dogs).


    This first off-road section involved a steady climb up from the belt of clay flatland surrounding the Tonbridge to Ashford railway line, towards the section of south-east England, known as the High Weald. It was a pleasant route through a number of neat and regimented, newly planted orchards, passed a couple of converted farm dwellings, and into an area of woodland.

    Eventually I reached the picture-postcard village of Matfield, complete with its extensive green and associated duck pond. Matfield has two pubs, (there were three until a few years ago); the Star and the Poet. Both look rather upmarket, particularly the Poet, which is really more of a restaurant. Years ago it was a simple country pub, known as Standing’s Cross.

    I diverted off along a footpath which forms part of the High Weald Landscape Trail, which allowed me to walk, off road, all the way to Petteridge. The last section was through woodland, which afforded some respite from the fierce sun, but upon reaching the little hamlet, a right turn brought me into the quaintly named, Tibbs Court Lane, and then to the Hopbine.

    There were several groups of drinkers seated outside, both at the front as well as the side of the pub, but before going in I made use of the facilities at the rear of the building; as the Hopbine is now the only pub I know in the area that still possesses an outside gents toilet.

    Mission accomplished I stepped inside the pub. Nothing much seemed to have changed since my previous visit, nearly six years ago, which was encouraging, and the place was busy with  several groups of diners. There were a few spare tables, but given the glorious weather I wanted to sit outside and take full advantage of the Spring sunshine.

    Before doing so, I ordered myself a pint, opting for the Cellar Head 3.8% Session Pale Ale, in preference to the offerings from Long Manand Tonbridge Brewery. I was glad I did as it was in fine form, pale, cool, well-conditioned and well-hopped. It scored an easy 4.0 NBSS.

    I sat outside at one of the bench tables after a  friendly couple had made room for me. Noticing my stick and map, the revealed they were also keen walkers, and often walked to the Hopbine from their home in nearby Brenchley. The beer slipped down all too easily, but whilst I was tempted to have another pint, I restricted myself to just a half,  full in the knowledge that I would have to drive later.

    Food-wise I’d picked up a smoked ham and Cheddar sub roll at the Tesco Express in Paddock Wood, but I saved that for the return journey. Instead I treated myself to a bag of “Proper Black Country Pork Scratchings” and not only were they very nice, with just the right amount of crunch, but my fillings appear to have survived too.


    For the homeward journey, I followed Tibbs Court Lane for a while, before turning off onto a northward leading footpath which brought me into Brenchley. I have walked that path before, and if you continue on it, you arrive at the Halfway House. This time I wanted to be just to the west of Brenchley village, where another path leads back towards Paddock Wood.

    After passing a couple of very well-appointed houses, the route took me through some orchards, before a long descent through an abandoned golf course, and back to Paddock Wood. It is several years since I last passed that way and the golf course, which was a victim of the 2008 banking crisis, has continues to revert back to nature. You can still make out a few overgrown bunkers, but the greens and the fairways have long disappeared.

    I arrived back in Paddock Wood at around 3.30pm, and as I approached the station, received a phone call telling me that the service on my car was complete and that it had passed its MOT for another year. After a 20 minute wait for the train, I was back in Tonbridge to collect it.

    The tracking device on my phone told me I’d walked just over 11.6 kilometres (I haven’t worked out how to change the units to miles yet). It had been a glorious spring day of virtually wall to wall sunshine and with blossom on the trees and everything coming into leaf, the Kent countryside was starting to look its very best.

    As for the Hopbine, it was good to renew my acquaintance and good to see the pub nice and busy. The only slight cloud on the horizon was the news from a CAMRA colleague that the place is up for sale.
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