Saturday 30 March 2013

Whitstable and Herne Bay Part One

I'd somehow managed to have around 15 days annual leave leftover by the start of March this year. I was therefore forced into booking time off by the HR department as part of some "wellbeing" initiative. Taking time home on a weekday when I'm not going anywhere on holiday is never much fun as everybody I know is stuck at work so I just end up sitting at home watching crap TV and playing a tremendous amount of video games. I decided this time I would do an ale trail day trip to get me away from Call of Duty and Jeremy Kyle. Now that I'm living on the Kent borders I thought I'd see what the South East has to offer. The Lovely Jemma suggested I visit Whistable, partly because it's nice and partly because she's been there a few times and wouldn't feel like she's missing out by not visiting with me. A quick glance at the Good Beer Guide revealed there were a few decent pubs there and in neighbouring Herne Bay, so the decision was made to pay a visit.

After arriving at Whitstable train station I immediately hopped onto a bus and headed over to Herne, a small village about a 15 minute bus ride from Herne Bay. I'd forgotten just how expensive buses are outside of London, and grudgingly handed over the £6 for a one day bus pass. For that amount of money I expect gold plated seats and a relaxing massage while I travel, but alas it was just a boring journey on a plain bus. My reason for visiting Herne was to pay a visit to The Butchers Arms, a pub which has gained famed for being the first "micropub" when it opened in 2005. The landlord, Martin, took advantage of a change of licensing laws and converted a small former butchers into a den of real ale and banter. There's a no mobile phone policy which is why I haven't taken any pictures of the place. Although to be honest I probably would of forgotten to take pictures anyway.

Entering the pub at 12pm, I was the only customer and it stayed that way for a good hour. But it didn't matter as Martin was a very friendly and accommodating host, even though he had gout so he wasn't able to head back into the former butchers "cold room" to pour the beer. Luckily his lovely assistant poured the ales for me. A blackboard behind the tiny "bar" showed that there were four ales on offer although it looked like there was room for about six ales in the cold room.  The cold room must have magical properties as it managed to make Adnams Broadside taste great, with raisin notes I never knew existed coming through perfectly. Hopdaemon Incubus was a bit special, a very refreshing best bitter that got everything right. Lovely bitter finish, slightly sweet, with fruity and caramel undertones. Very good indeed. Finally The Ripple Steam Brewery IPA, which was marked just as IPA on the blackboard, causing Martin to curse his assistant under his breath, was the weakest of the bunch. Almost grassy flavours were coming through, and although there was a hint of fruitiness the overall flavour was disappointing to me. The final beer on offer was Dark Star Hophead, which is apparently the "regular" beer. I didn't sample it but I'm sure it was delicious as always.

The lunchtime hours are stated as 12pm - 1:30pm. I was the only person in there from 12pm - 1pm, but a couple of locals came in towards the end and there was some pleasurable banter. I can imagine this place being quite lively and a bit of fun with a few people in, as even just the six of us was enough to get a decent atmosphere going. There's no denying this is a very "blokey" place, with a sign on the toilet door asking patrons to leave the toilet seat up, and a couple of bottles of white wine in the cold room in case it's requested by a confused wife or girlfriend. This may rub some people the wrong way, but I liked the honesty of the place - it's Martins gaff and he'll run it how he wants (which is generally very well indeed) and if you don't like it there's a Shepherd Neame pub just across the road. I had a thoroughly pleasurable visit and I can't wait to go back.

If it's on a sign it must be true!
It saddened me to leave the Butchers Arms but more pubs awaited so it was on to a bus to nearby Fordwich, which claims to be England's smallest town. Clearly they like a drink as it's blessed with two pubs but I only had time to pop into the Fordwich Arms. I probably lowered the average patron age by around 40 years when I walked in and the elderly clientèle did make me think I'd walked into the local WI meeting by mistake but I soon settled in. This is a very well presented pub both inside and out, with a glorious fireplace, and probably the most tasteful decorating I've seen in a traditional pub. Naturally I forgot to take pictures, and to be honest I thought I'd scare most of the customers with my modern technology, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The Fordwich Arms. Nice inside and out.
Most of the patrons were there to enjoy lunch which looked very good indeed. Sadly the ale selection didn't have quite as much effort put into it as the decor and the food and I ended up having a rather disappointing half of Flowers Original, a beer as old as time and it tasted like it. After the varied beers at the Butchers Arms this was a thudding return to the bad old days of the "warm, flat brown water" stereotype that ale still sometimes suffers from. However the pub was so nice that I was happy to spend 30 minutes in there quaffing this bland, lifeless beer. Again this was another pub I'd be happy to return to, probably more for a bite to eat than for a beer on it's own.

The final pub in the Herne area was the Prince of Wales in Herne Bay. 3pm on a Wednesday during the off season at a seaside resort is never going to be the most lively time for a pub but walking into here was like walking into a morgue. A couple of punters sat dreary eyed at the bar, like real life Barney Gumbles from The Simpsons. I plumped for a pint of Early Bird from Shephered Neame, one of their seasonal beers which I hadn't tried before. Sadly it ended up being the most boring beer of the day, completely lifeless with precious little flavour to it. A dreary beer for a dreary pub. The pub is large which doesn't help the atmosphere when nobody is in. A large games room in the back look promising, and I imagine with a few in this is could be quite a good boozer. However as I found Herne Bay itself entirely underwhelming I don't think I'll be able to give this pub a second chance any time soon.

That's it for now, I'll be detailing the pubs I visited in Whistable in a further blog post. I know you can't wait and quite frankly I don't blame you. Have a great Easter.

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