One of the unique pleasures of walking in the UK is the array of superb pubs offering refreshment within reach of wherever you are – often in a lovely garden and at a reasonable price. In recent years many have taken to offering wider ranges of beers, wines and soft drinks, better quality coffee and more imaginative food choices. There are many good brewers in the county – see the interactive map at Camra’s website – from old, famous names like Shepherd Neame to smaller outfits such as Westerham Brewery and Larkins of Chiddingstone. Big names from Suffolk and Sussex supplying pubs in the area include Greene King and Harvey’s.
Liking a pub is a personal thing – we all have different criteria and it’s hardly scientific in my case. I genuinely don’t know why I prefer some things over others! Of the pubs on the walks I particularly like the Queens Head in Downe (good beer selection and cider drinkers will love flattish Rosie’s Pig on a summer’s day). My pick of Shoreham pubs is Ye Olde George Inn opposite the church. It’s the closest to the station, has medieval-low ceilings and a friendly vibe. Can’t vouch for the food because I haven’t eaten there, but it looks pretty decent. There are lots of other pubs in the village – you won’t suffer in any of them. I like the George too, on the other side of the river. Camra has reviewed them all, handily, on one page.
The Plough in Eynsford is right by the Darent river (the bank here is wide and grassy, a popular spot for a summer drink – often a bit too popular) and a really old bridge and ford. The Malt Shovel, on the main road through Eynsford by the church, is also excellent and concentrates on good real ales and fresh food (daily fresh fish the website claims. It makes a point of not having Sky TV and gaming machines.
The wonderfully refurbished Cock Inn in Ide Hill, the large, efficient Chaser Inn in Shipbourne, and the rustic White Rock in Underriver are excellently placed for the Greensand Ridge walks of One Tree Hill and Ide Hill (walks 4, 6 and 7). The White Rock boasts a lovely unfussy beer garden and lawn with a competition-ready petanque court. The White Hart at Brasted (well placed for the Ide Hill walk and en route to south east London if returning from Hever and Chiddingstone/Penshurst) is another large gastro-style pub which prides itself on its food. In 1940 it was the pub of choice for the Biggin Hill squadrons who often let off steam there in the evenings during the Battle of Britain and was the original site of the famous blackboard with the chalked signatures of many prominent RAF pilots of the second world war (now at the Shoreham aircraft museum). Today, it’s very popular, maybe with more of the dining crowd than the walkers. Also in Brasted, off the main road, is the friendly, family-run Stanhope Arms, again which serves much-praised food.
The Henry VIII at Hever offers very good food, quick-serving bar staff, Shepherd Neame and guest beers, a large dining area and a large garden. It’s in a lovely old building and is perfectly positioned right at the end of the Hever walk.
The Castle Inn at Chiddingstone (website to come) – perfect to end up in at the end of that walk – has just reopened (April 9, 2017). It’s in a fantastic 15th century building, has friendly bar staff, an excellent kitchen and serves top-notch ale by local brewery Larkins, a great rival for similarly excellent Westerham Brewery. It’s the sister pub of Bough Beech’s large Wheatsheaf, also with great food and beer garden.
Around Penshurst the Bottle House Inn and Spotted Dog both have big reputations but neither is very close to the walk unfortunately. Likewise the excellent Rock Inn at Chiddingstone Hoath, a pub in which one or two walkers on the Hever walk have found themselves having overshot at Point 3 (Hill Hoath) (see blog post below for further details)!
Do look out for those local brewers like Larkins, particularly around Chiddingstone, Penshurst and Hever; and Westerham, around Downe, Biggin Hill, Ide Hill etc.
Sadly, there have been quite a few pub closures too. Of them, the Fox and Hounds at Romney St is much missed by walkers.