CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Isle of Oxney Pubs
The Crown, Stone-in-Oxney, Kent
The Swan Inn, 1 Swan Street, Wittersham, Kent
The Black Lion, The Street, Appledore, Kent
On a recent weekend my partner and I spent the night with friends who live on the windy Romney Marsh coastline. The town of Greatstone, once a landing point for smugglers' boats, is today a quiet seaside resort just down the coast from Littlestone. I've often wondered about these names: is Greatstone greater than Littlestone? Or are the stones on the beach bigger than the stones on the beach at Littlestone? If so, why didn't they name them Bigstone and Littlestone? Or why not Greaterstone and Lesserstone? At the end of the day who has the authority to pass this sort of judgement? Do the residents of Greatstone look down their noses at the residents of Littlestone? Or do they consider them to be their petite and therefore cute neighbours?
According to historian Ann Roper, author of The Gift of the Sea -- Romney Marsh, Greatstone was in fact named for its larger pebbles and Littlestone for its smaller pebbles. But I didn't intend to write about Greatstone because we didn't stay there long. Since Greatstone resident Shirley prefers coffee to beer and loves to drive, she offered to take the three of us real ale lovers on a Sunday afternoon Marsh pub crawl. It was a lovely crisp afternoon and the views along the way from Greatstone to the Isle of Oxney on the western side of Romney Marsh were spectacular. After a brief stop at the Red Lion in Snargate we moved on to the Crown in Stone-in-Oxney. Located in the Isle of Oxney, which was an island back when the Marsh was filled with water, the village of Stone-in-Oxney does in fact have a stone, which dates from Roman times and is preserved in the 15th-century church. Whether this is a particularly great stone or a little stone I didn't have the chance to establish, as we were thirsty and badly in need of pints.
Sadly the Crown is a bit run-down these days. Aside from a nice view from the windows of a Saxon walk, the place seemed a bit lacking in character and warmth. On this particular day it was overrun with noisy children, and there were only two real ales on. Since none of us felt like Master Brew, Andrew and I had pints of Forge Bitter (3.2% ABV, Old Forge Brewery, Hastings, East Sussex). For a weak beer this wasn't bad at all, but it was weaker than we normally like -- and far too weak for Keith, who opted for a Hoegaarden instead.
Our next stop was in the village of Wittersham, the "capital" of the Isle of Oxney which boasts not only a restored windmill but the popular Swan. This pub offers a wide choice of real ales on gravity, and the food is reportedly excellent. The three of us had pints of Spark Arrester (4.8% ABV, Humpty Dumpty Brewery, Reedham, Norfolk). This is a dark, straight Redwood beer, suggestive of the scent of redwood and reminiscent of my childhood home which was surrounded by redwood fences and decorated with redwood patio furniture. Ah, yes, this beer brought to mind Pokey, our family's Bassett hound who had a taste for our redwood gates: he actually devoured several chunks of them. I suppose redwood is good for the teeth and gums if you're a dog... Anyway, a good strong redwood beer like Spark Arrester seemed an excellent choice for healing and supporting Keith's injured Achilles tendon.
Our final stop was the Black Lion in Appledore. In addition to being where our friend Karen's mum lives, Appledore has an interesting history. Once a port on the Rother Estuary, Appledore was the point at which 250 Danish longships invaded England. In 1380 French ships stopped at Appledore and set fire to the church and village. Today the main industry of Appledore is the relatively peaceful activity of farming, although the Royal Military Canal still runs through the village from Iden Lock to Hythe just in case a new Napoleonic invasion threatens.
The Black Lion is more a restaurant than a pub; the food menu is impressively extensive. On this late Sunday afternoon the place was very crowded with diners waiting for tables, the four of us just managing to pinch the last table in the bar. Our pints of Black Sheep Bitter (3.8% ABV, Black Sheep Brewery, Ripon, North Yorkshire) were pleasant enough; but our kind driver had to wait forever to get her tea! After several requests -- by which time our pints were almost finished -- the tea finally arrived. How difficult can it be for a pub to brew a pot of tea for the designated driver of real ale fans? Forget about stone dimensions -- this was the burning question of the day.
Little did we realize on this Martian pub crawl that two days later the terrorist attacks in the United States would occur and life and the world would change. But amidst the shock, horror, and grief it's important that we carry on with Life, Liberty, and the appreciation of our Humanity. And enjoying pubs and drinking fine ale with friends is part of this.