CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 6 Canterbury Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - January 31, 2000

Guinness Eileen

The Rose & Crown, High Street, Elham, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The George Inn, Stone Street, Stelling Minnis, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Hop Pocket, The Street, Bossingham, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Granville Inn, Stone Street End, Lower Hardres, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Chequers Inn, Stone Street, Petham, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Franklin & Firkin, 39 Burgate, Canterbury, Kent

Take a drive in the English countryside and you're bound to bump into plenty of country pubs Some people do this literally, depending on how reckless they drive. But if you're a relatively careful driver and obey the traffic laws you can park safely outside without damaging some fine examples of traditional country pubs. The only objection I have with country pubs is that almost all of them tend to be closed between 3:00 and 7:00 PM, which is often when we find ourselves driving -- safely, mind you -- down long winding country roads in search of a decent pint.

In East Kent, if you drive up the B2068 through the valley of the North Downs toward Canterbury and are willing to take a few minor detours you'll find a wealth of pubs. Off to the west in the village of Elham is the Rose & Crown. This is a very cozy, pleasant, and warm free house sporting a rich red-dominant decor, lots of horse brasses and roaring fires, with teddy bears, board games, and jigsaw puzzles piled on one side. (These are probably there for the benefit of children, but I was dying to play with them myself.) The rosy red feeling of the pub extends to the dark red comfortable chairs -- perfect chairs for teddy bears to relax in after their cold, windy picnics.

The food at the Rose & Crown is elegant and lovely but overpriced -- but I do have to admit it was here I had the best salad and salad dressing I've ever had in the UK. The elegance of the place extends to the loo, where we found the end of the new roll of paper folded into an arrow like you'll find with serviettes in fine restaurants. Over the course of our lunch we had pints of Rother Valley Wheat Beer (3.8% ABV, Rother Valley Brewing Company, Northiam, East Sussex). This is a very pale beer, almost clear in colour, but with a great taste and a pleasantly surprising lingering bitter aftertaste. This beer is miles above Caffrey's, my only previous experience with a wheat beer. In fact, it's a towering spectacle of golden splendour -- in my friend Andrew's words, "a regal sup."

The Rose & Crown, originally built in the 16th century and operating as an ale house since 1748, also offers six ensuite rooms of accommodation in the refurbished stable block. The inn was a coaching stop on the way to Dover and was the Courthouse for the Elham Petty Sessions until the early 1970s. It was a regular visitor to this pub on which Baroness Orczy modeled her lead character in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

There's one very odd thing we've discovered about the village of Elham: you can't get there from here. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true -- we've driven for miles and miles in circles trying to find the place. And once you find your way to Elham, you can never get out of the place, driving forever in circles around country roads. It's inexplicable...but perhaps you'll have better luck than us.

Further on, as you drive up Stone Street you'll come to The George, a pub situated by itself seemingly in the middle of nowhere, even though its address is technically in Stelling Minnis. This pub, which I reviewed a while back, is a pleasant place in which to hang out and is conveniently open all afternoon. A large fire lends a cozy atmosphere, and there's even a pub parrot, although it's not exactly alive (but at least it's not an ex-parrot). A surprisingly varied food menu is written on chalkboards which surround the bar, and the food is quite decent -- especially the garlic prawns (mentioned in previous review). On our most recent visit to the pub we had pints of Ansell's Bitter (3.7% ABV, Carlsberg-Tetley Brewing Ltd., Leeds, West Yorkshire). Although relatively low in alcohol this is a yum-yum sort of beer -- a good warm-mood beer, roasty and pleasant.

Not terribly far from the George is the rustic village of Bossingham where The Hop Pocket is located. This is another pleasant pub with a roaring fire and lots of hops and hop sacks hanging from the ceiling, and there's a huge garden in the back and a large conservatory for meals. The pub offered a different menu on my second visit. On this new menu there was nothing like the previous visit's brie and caramelized apple baguette, and the sandwiches we did order were a bit on the mediocre side. But the prawns were nice, and they do offer a few Mexican snacks. On this visit we had reasonable pints of Harvey's Sussex Best (4.0% ABV, John Harvey Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex) followed by pints of Late Red Autumn Hops Ale (4.3% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent).

Back on the road to Canterbury, as you go through Petham you'll reach The Granville, whose public bar is bright and sunny on appropriately sunny days; there is also an inviting beer garden outside. This is a Shepherd Neame pub which features a spacious restaurant with full lunch and dinner menus and a wide selection of wines. The first time we stopped in, a tank was parked in the car park; seeing as how no local wars had recently developed I'm assuming there's a military installation nearby. It was at the Granville where we first tried Goldings Summer Hops Ale (4.7% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent). This seasonal is light, crisp, and pleasant, like a young girl's smile when she's not wearing any knickers.

On up the same road is The Chequers Inn. This is a big place with rich dark carpeting and a brick bar and brick walls. Immediately after sitting down we were joined by a gorgeous Springer spaniel named Barney, who turned out to be very mellow, gentle, and most agreeable -- especially while we were having lunch. (The scampi and chips are excellent, by the way.) Accompanying our meal were pints of Young's Ordinary Best Bitter (3.7% ABV, Young & Company Brewery, Wandsworth, London). This is a very drinkable beer, like an ordinary, relaxing weekend afternoon (although this happened to be a Thursday). My companion deemed it a creep-up beer, which innocuously creeps up on you like an iced tea laced with Armagnac. It slips up and grabs you, smacking you directly in the face of the afternoon.

So far the only pub I've visited in Canterbury itself is The Franklin & Firkin, located across from the Canterbury Cathedral. This Irishy theme-ish pub is part of the Firkin chain of approximately 185 pubs. Firkin (of Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire) was founded in 1979 by David Bruce, who sold it to European Leisure in 1988, who then sold it to Stakis Leisure, and then on to Allied Domecq in 1991. In October 1999 the chain was taken over by Punch Taverns -- which brought the giant pub group's properties up to 5,000 pubs -- and shortly afterward all the Firkin breweries closed. In other words, this ain't exactly a quaint little 16th-century free house.

On my first visit to the Franklin & Firkin with my mother back in 1998 I had a pint of their strong ale, Dog Bolter Best Bitter (5.6% ABV), which I recall being quite treacly. On a later visit we had the Best Bitter (3.8% ABV), which was served on the cool side. It's a pleasant ordinary bitter, not particularly hoppy or malty. My friend Andrew thought it was in search of some character, coarse, young, and desperate for somebody to notice it. I thought it was like a visitor who's entertaining at first but quickly overstays his or her welcome. It's an appropriate beer for madly dashing through the streets of Canterbury making phone calls, buying things, waiting in long post office lines, and then collapsing exhausted at a table in the pub and barely noticing your pint or your cheese and pickle sandwich. But then, what more appropriate place to celebrate your new purchases than at a corporate-owned pub?

Before I end this week's column I'd like to explain the licensing laws as far as pub opening and closing times are concerned. According to the 1964 Licensing Act, pubs in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are permitted to sell alcohol from 11:00 AM until 11:00 PM on weekdays. On Sundays English and Welsh pubs can't sell alcohol until noon and only until 10:30 PM; in Scotland they can sell alcohol on Sundays only from 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM and from 6:30 PM to 11:00 PM. (Certain holidays, including Christmas and Good Friday, have different permitted opening hours.) Nightclubs and restaurants can close later than pubs -- as late as 2:00 AM for nightclubs (later in central London) and 1:00 AM for restaurants, and hotel bars can vary as well. Extensions to the normal hours can be granted by magistrates for special circumstances or special holidays.

The long and labourious 1964 Act is under constant criticism by various lobbying groups, including the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Club and CAMRA. Under the Act licenses are granted for 3 years, at which point a formal renewal procedure is performed, regardless of whatever good conduct and reputation the pub might be known for. The lobbying groups are demanding that each application for a new license or amendment to an existing license should be considered solely on individual merits based on the pub's location and the type of business it conducts, to allow for flexibility of opening hours.

According to CAMRA 82% of regular pubgoers want more flexible hours. On the other hand the Food and Drink, Transport and General Workers Union don't want their members to have to work more hours. But all groups concerned agree that the law needs simplifying and reforming. Hopefully a new Licensing Act will be in place by next year, giving us more time to drink some fine pints.

Rose & Crown Updates
(Last updated 18 July 2001)