exploring kent's traditional country pubs - canterbury
a pub crawl to be proud of
Some pubs have more to offer than just a good pint. Group some of the best together in one of England's most beautiful counties and you have an excuse for the ultimate pub crawl and the perfect break. Jonathan Crouch reports
The British pub is one of those national institutions we tend to take for granted. Foreigners don't. Fancy hotels they can get at home. Ancient watering holes going back hundreds of years are unique to Britain.
The problem, as we all know, is in finding a good one. We all have our favourites close to home but on holiday or when further afield on business or a short motoring break, you simply have to take pot luck - don't you? Not necessarily, at least if your travels take you to Kent.
Perhaps they should. From the gentle, wooded hills of the Weald to the historic splendour of Canterbury, this forgotten country is full of undiscovered treasures. Here lie some of the country's most celebrated country houses and castles as well as some of the most attractive and unspoilt landscapes in Britain. Plus, it should be added, some of the very best pubs.
But here at least, there's no need to resort to pot luck before choosing one. Kent's longest (and Britain's oldest) brewer Shepherd Neame has bought up and developed some of the country's finest hostelries so that they're able not only to provide fine local food and ales but also excellent accommodation. We've seen this kind of thing before of course. Huge company moves in and redevelops characterful country pub into something more resembling a chain hotel. Except that this isn't like that. In each case, there are only a few rooms and all of them have a feel that is distinctly country pub in style.
Or at least that's what I was told. To put the PR to the test, we decided upon a short driving tour of Kent, staying at the Millers Arms in historic Canterbury, then visiting The Granville in Lower Hardres and The George Inn in Newnham (both villages close to the city) for lunch, these two establishments apparently typical of the others in the Shepherd Neame portfolio.
We could also have chosen several other group hostelries grouped around the same area: The Grove Ferry Inn in Upstreet, The Marine in Tankerton, The White Horse in Boughton, The Woolpack Inn in Chilham, or The New Flying Horse In Wye. A trip to the historic naval town of Chatham could have been accompanied by a say at The Ship and Trades, while visits to the pretty towns of Lenham and Tunbridge wells could have occasioned a stay at either The Dog and Bear Hotel or the Chequers. Could this group from the basis for the ultimate pub crawl? And could it work as well for a longer motoring holidays as it might for short weekend break?
First impressions are good at The Millers Arms in Canterbury. The room rates were reasonable with the largest of the 11 rooms as good as anything you'd find at a much more expensive hotel. You could expect all the usual amenities (TV, bath and/or shower, tea/coffee making facilities, even wi-fi) but the feel was very different from that of normal chain accommodation. This establishment stands by the River Stour and is less than a five minute stroll from Canterbury Cathedral.
The City itself is well known, not only for its historic buildings and narrow streets but also for the quality and variety of its shopping centre. Canterbury has a World Heritage site made up of its Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church. Our kids were delighted to hear that they could visit the Rupert Bear exhibition at the Museum of Canterbury (Mary Tourtel, the bear's creator, lived and worked here).
She was just one of the many famous people who can trace their roots here from over the ages. All would have returned to sample the same quality of ale you can enjoy today, and perhaps to enjoy a surprisingly impressive menu of local food which today, as then, is prepared using entirely local ingredients put together with the care and imagination the brochure promised.
Having eaten and drunk our fill, it would have been wonderful to continue this very special pub crawl. Perhaps South to Wye, West to Lenham or North West to Chatham. Knowing that each place would have represented a unique little slice of English History. Alas we had to head for home. But we'll be back.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
* Shepherd Neame Kent Pubs
-The Millers Arms, Canterbury - 01227 456057 / email@example.com
-The Granville Lower Hardres
-The George Inn - Newnham
* 01795 532206 www.shepherdneame.co.uk