travel exploring kent's traditional country pubs - chilham

a pub crawl to be proud of

travel exploring kent

SOME PUBS HAVE MORE TO OFFER THAN JUST A GOOD PINT. GROUP A SELECT COLLECTION 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 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 a select collection 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 stayed at the Woolpack Inn in Chilham, this establishment apparently typical of the those 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 or The New Flying Horse In Wye being a few examples. A trip to the historic naval town of Chatham could have been accompanied by a stay 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 form 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 Woolpack in Chilham. The national room rates were reasonable with the room we tried as good as anything you'd find at a much more expensive four star hotel. You could expect all the usual amenities (TV, bath and/or shower, tea/coffee making facilities) but the feel was very different from that of normal chain accommodation. As you enjoy the inglenook fireplaces in the pub area and eat in the oak beamed restaurant, you can imagine weary coachmen and stagecoach travellers doing exactly the same thing down the years as far back as 1422, when this old ale house was first built.

Much of the real history of the place is sadly invisible to visitors - except at night perhaps when a reputably friendly ghost, 'the grey lady', is said to visit some of the bedrooms from time to time.

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

Where: Shepherd Neame Kent Pubs

We Tried: The Woolpack Inn, Chilham - 01227 730352 / woolpack@shepherdneame.co.uk

Group Information: 01795 532206 www.shepherdneame.co.uk