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 Crown too, on the other side of the river, which has had Jamie Oliver as a guest. 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 – perfect to end up in at the end of that walk – reopened in April 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.
My one gripe about some of these pubs, and this particularly applies to the Dragon and the Queen’s Head in Downe, is that sometimes the regulars hog the bar, preventing others from easily ordering. I’ve come across this thoughtless behaviour a few times. The bar staff at both pubs are friendly and welcoming but the locals aren’t always (mustn’t tar everyone with the same brush though), which I think is really poor and damaging to the pubs, especially in the eyes of those who’ve come to Downe from further afield to see Darwin’s house and the children’s farm. Whinge over.
My picks of pubs and cafes
- Walk 1: Queen’s Head. The Teashop. Also in the village is the George and Dragon.
- Walk 2: Ye Olde George and The Crown (also Two Brewers and The Kings’ Arms – very good too)
- Walk 3: Eynsford – The Plough and The Malt Shovel, plus the Riverside Tearoom. Shoreham – Ye Olde George and The Crown.
- Walk 4: The Cock Inn and the Ide Hill Community Shop, which is on the road towards Sevenoaks (take care, no pavement) with a stunning view over the Weald.
- Walk 5: Best placed on the walk is Ye Olde George in Shoreham (and the King’s Arms, on the other side of the river bridge); also The Woodman and The Bull in Otford.
- Walk 6: White Rock Inn in Underiver and The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne. Also National Trust cafe at Ightam Mote
- Walk 7: The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne. Also National Trust cafe at Ightam Mote. (White Rock Inn in Underiver is a mile south of the One Tree Hill car park, but off the walk)
- Walk 8: Ye Olde George in Shoreham (and the King’s Arms, on the other side of the river bridge); also The Woodman and The Bull in Otford.
- Walk 9: King Henry VIII at Hever opposite the castle entrance. The Castle Inn is just off the walk (walk half a mile to Chiddingstone from Hill Hoath) a third of the way round the walk
- Walk 10: The Castle Inn, Chiddingstone. Best cafe is the Fir Tree House tea rooms just off the walk at Penshurst (turn right instead of left at Point 6, 2oo yrds). Also cafe at entrance of Penshurst Place, a little further to walk (third of a mile from Point 6)
- Walk 11: No pub on the route but an excellent National Trust cafe at Knole House. The Bucks Head, Godden Green, is close to the route though – you just have to dip out of the park at Point 4 – obvious when you’re there
- Walk 12: As per walk 3
- Walk 13: Daylight Inn, Petts Wood, several cafes too. Lots of pubs at Chislehurst but not on route. Closest to Chislehurst station is the Bickley . A little further away is the lovely Ramblers’ Rest and Imperial Arms.
- Walk 14: As per walk 2