No sooner had the BRAPA feet touched down on the firm ground of Maidstone for the first time in my life, I was straight back out the other side to the arguably more life-sapping town of Ashford.
It was Sunday, day 2/6 in Kent, and with limited bus services, today wasn't the time to try and be too clever. Or so I said at 10am.
Ashford International was the name of the railway station, which makes it sound a lot more exotic than the reality. I found too many Kent towns this week blighted by an over abundance of through-traffic, not enough bypasses, and aggressive impatient drivers. Ashford was the epitome.
But it had a GBG 'Spoons. And where there is a GBG 'Spoons, there is hope. Sort of. At least I could get off to a pre-noon ticking start.
Just about hidden from the main drag in a leafier location with some healthy hanging baskets, County Hotel, Ashford (2387 / 3951) nearly fooled me into thinking it was going to be a genteel cut above, but it was 100% pure unadulterated 'Spoons filth once inside. The carpet was easily an 9, my pint of Pieces of Eight dredged from Chatham Dockyard was a smashing drop at £1.69, but the clientele were ashen faced droogs. The most notable feature was the huge ceiling extractor fan. The whole pub is in a permanent state of vibration as a result. The glasses above the bar were jingle jangling throughout. It all felt a bit perilous, like some fault line had opened beneath Ashford, causing earthquake tremors, the whole town about to be swallowed up. Well, we can dream.
The sensible thing to do at this stage would've been to take myself back to Maidstone for a few ticks before retiring to the North Kent coast for last orders, somewhere east of Sittingbourne. But when I saw TWO Sunday bus services running to the 'dual tick' town of Tenterden (45 minutes to the south), temptation proved too strong.
Not that our bus driver had any intention of following the timetable. Relaxed, didn't speak much English, and he wasn't familiar with the route, the previous driver warned me and an old man, the only passengers. A dangerous concoction of bus farcery. I browsed the lending library before our departure - only Captain Pugwash piqued my interest.
Sure enough, our bus driver got lost. Out in the sticks, reversing into some gravelly carpark where kids go to prod farm animals. Luckily, a horse lady came out and shooed him in the right direction!
It had been about an hour and my bladder was fit to burst when I finally pressed the bell for our first pub. More insane traffic made it a difficult road to cross, ruining the upper class, flowery, gentle town that Tenterden thinks it still is.
This Ancient Boro', Tenterden (2388 / 3952)
was about as peculiar as its name. What actually was it? When a pub ticker like myself can't get a handle on it, it must be confused, surely? A plain bare boarded set up, smoked salmon walls and cluttered tables which don't make the most of the space. Local bar blockers line the bar on high stools, and luckily a young Victoria Coren-Mitchell is on top form, spotting me straight away and following me the full length of the bar before I can find a gap to get served in. All the ales come straight from the barrel, making it even harder to tell what is on. Dynamo by Wantsum if you care. Decent, a bit dull. And at the end of the bar, an empty cage saying "Do not feed me please" but try as I might, I can't spot anything alive within. I did consider throwing Colin in to see what'd happen, but I suspected whatever it was wasn't a vegetarian. The locals soon left as one, and despite the initial quirkiness, the pub faded into quite a non-descript experience, which surprised me.
But Tenterden took on a new lease of life when I left the main road, in search of my next pub tick, and stumbled upon a steam railway. Always a pleasing sight.
And a few yards further on, to the right, a corrugated iron nuclear bunker ... well you can't be too careful with Putin about who I've heard hates the town. This must be the place! I negotiate the world's fattest corgi, which looks like its been on the steak bakes, and I'm in.
Old Dairy Tap Room, Tenterden (2389 / 3953)
may just be a low-key shout for BRAPA brewery tap of the year, if such an award existed (it doesn't). I'm surprised, nay, shocked, to see a comfortably furnished room, fake fire on the left, everyone is wearing a fleece and seems calm. The staff are angelic, and I've always thought Old Dairy ales were pretty good since I first tried one in Rochester, 2013. Today I opt for a Table Beer, always a good idea when you're on a seven pint session. It is a cracking drop, but then again, your own Brewery Tap is hardly going to keep bad cask is it? Tiny Rebel in Rogerstone is saying 'hold my beer, literally' at this moment. Old Dairy are so proud of their CAMRA awards, they've stuck them in the bogs. One has fallen down behind the cistern, but I manage to retrieve it, and the mountain of paper towels that have gone down with it. A raucous group 'twixt bogs and bar are injecting a bit of life into this sleepy Sunday daytripper atmosphere. But when one lady tells a story that involves a frozen cauliflower, poor Colin ducks back into the bag. Great place this, worthy of a visit.
|Blind Sooty - just like an outdoor loo, always a sign of quality|
|All tidy again!|
But if I left with a smile of my face, it was soon wiped off when I saw the steam railway barrier was down because a train was imminent. 'Nooo, I've got a bus to catch!' Luckily, Mr Station Master had them back up post-haste and I made the bus stop with time to spare.
I needn't have bothered. Bus didn't show! Pink fluorescent lady was similarly confused by its absence. According to bustimes.org, the nearest one heading this way was still near Maidstone which is miles away (I was hoping to go back a different route, cutting out Ashford). We had a nice chat but I told her I was off for a quick half somewhere else while I waited.
I could've probably picked a better 'pre-emptive' than The Vine, Tenterden
but it was handy. There may've been a cask ale on but I went instead for a keggy Bear Island for the sole reason that there was a teddy behind the pumps. It was a horrid dining pub so I perched on a table in the corridor where two staff members plonked down a load of newly dishwashered cutlery and started sorting them noisily in my ear 'ole. I asked if I was in the way, but they said not. The younger lady had a bad hangover and confessed she kept rushing off to be sick as she'd overdone it last night. And that summed up the place.
Back at the bus stop, and I notice the bus has now disappeared entirely off bustimes.org live tracker. Also disappeared was pink fluorescent lady. Had it arrived and she'd hopped on, or had she made other arrangements?
Finally, a bus does turn up, but it was an Ashford one. That wasn't all bad, because it was passing another pub I needed. I'll tell you all about that, their Facebook sulk, and my first two Maidstone ticks in Part 3 coming up tomorrow, unless the new GBG arrives which still looks very unlikely at this stage.
Sleep tight, Si
You visit Old Dairy Brewery. It closes for good. Coincidence, no ?ReplyDelete
Ooh, Facebook sulk, can't wait. You didn't ask them to confirm opening hours, did you ?ReplyDelete
Haha that would've done it. No, it was more a sulk at their locals I think.Delete
Oh no, has Old Dairy gone? I'd heard they were in a bit of trouble. Should've known a cosy brewery tap was too good to be true!