CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Romney Marsh Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - January 17, 2000

Guinness Eileen

The Cinque Port Arms, 1 High Street, New Romney, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Rose & Crown Inn, Swamp Road, Old Romney, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Britannia, Dungeness Road, Dungeness, Kent

I can't seem to stop writing about the Romney Marsh. Not only does it offer beautifully mysterious scenery, eerie winds, stunning old churches in tiny villages, fields full of rough-coated Romney sheep, strange little roads down which one surprisingly never gets lost, and some great legends about smugglers and phantoms, but it's also a perfect place for nature walks and birdwatching. Best of all for Marsh pubgoers is the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway. Opened in 1927 as "The World's Smallest Public Railway", this miniature steam-operated train boasts one-third-scale cars and runs at an average of 25 mph between Hythe and Dungeness with four stops in between. The complete return fare as of the 1999 season was £8.90, with an extra 25 pence tacked on if you want to ride First Class, i.e. in the bar car. And this is definitely the place you want to be because as you enjoy the ride you can chat with the bartender (who's a wealth of information) and sip a can of Bishops Finger.

As the train pulls out of Hythe one of the first sights you'll see to the west is Lympne Castle. Eight miles down the route the train will make a stop at New Romney, where you can debark and walk down to the High Street to The Cinque Port Arms, named after the fact that New Romney was one of the head Cinque Ports for many years, being an important fishing and sea trade center. The pub, which hasn't changed for over a hundred years, has low beamed ceilings and is quite comfortable. Last year I stopped in with a couple friends and had pints of Greene King's 1799 Special Bicentennial Ale (4.5% ABV, from Greene King, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk). This is a dark, almost sweet beer with a tangy finish; it brings to mind the image of a dark brown orange squeezing its way through a weathered wooden barrel. This is a good beer for conversations about cars and airplanes and car airplanes and airplane cars. But the darkness and sweetness gets to be a bit much, and I simply couldn't finish my pint.

Sadly the miniature railroad doesn't go to Old Romney. But seeing as how it's only two short miles down the A259 from New Romney, it's definitely worth the detour to visit the Rose & Crown. There used to be a small island where the town of Old Romney now stands, but fortunately it's much easier today to reach the pub. The Rose & Crown, which dates from 1689, started life as two farm dwellings; at that time the only other structures in Old Romney were ten other buildings and St. Clement Church. The house was owned by a succession of farmers, saddlers, and carpenters until 1806, when both dwellings merged and the inn started selling ales. It was granted a full license in 1848 and is now owned by David Ball and Brian Cole.

The Rose & Crown, open all day, is a nice friendly place, and at lunchtime they're quite busy. The barkeep who served us on our first visit had gorgeous tattoos on his arms, and he seemed quite proud of the beers, a sentiment we've found in the entire staff. There are always five real ales on tap, although the owner may cut down to four, putting Fuller's London Pride (4.1% ABV, Fuller, Smith and Turner, London) on two taps. On our first visit we tried pints of Hoppy Holly Daze (4.6% ABV, Rother Valley Brewing Company, Northiam, East Sussex). This is a dark bitter with a peppery leather taste, very warming like the roaring fire near which we were sitting. The first sip elicited a "ROW-arr!" belch from my drinking companion. Since we'd heard the pub serves the best London Pride outside of London, we next had to try a pint of this. It was an extremely drinkable pint, a surprisingly drinkable pint, a pint that one doesn't often come upon. My companion said it was a very good pint of London Pride -- perfect, in fact, and extremely close to what you can get near the brewery in London. And at £1.85 it's a good value as well.

Oh yes, and the sandwiches we had were excellent: the cheese tasted like a good farmhouse Cheddar, and the pate was nice and chunky.

Back on the train you'll toodle on to the final stop at Dungeness, another village that used to be an island when most of the marsh was under water and for many years was a pilot station. Just before Dungeness you'll pass Derek Jarman's old house on the beach. Once you arrive at Dungeness you'll be greeted with the startling sight of the old lighthouse (built in 1904) standing against the scenic backdrop of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Plant. (I've been told this is an excellent spot for birdwatching, especially around the gravel pits, but you can't eat the local shrimp. I wonder why...)

If you walk toward the Channel and the newer lighthouse (built in 1961) you'll reach The Britannia. On this site originally was a World War II marine bunker which eventually became the British Inn. After it burned down, the inn was rebuilt and renamed The Britannia. The current pub, after closing in 1992 due to lack of interest, was purchased, reopened, and refurbished by the current landlords, Steve and Eileen Lillie, who plan to have three rooms of accommodations soon. (Eileen, incidentally, is originally from my home town of Seattle.) This is a light, airy, modern pub with the emphasis on the restaurant where all food is cooked to order. They're quite reknown for their fish and chips which come in three different size portions -- "Small" was more than adequate for me -- and with either cod or plaice. I took my mother here for lunch one day, and we can vouch for the quality -- although another landlord has warned us to stick to the fish and chips. But I'm perfectly happy with that.

The four or five real ales on tap are somewhat overchilled but still decent. Since this seems to be a destination for tourists, perhaps this is the reason for the cold beer. On our first visit we enjoyed pints of Greene King Triumph (4.3% ABV, Greene King, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk), an enjoyable ale named after the British motorcycle company. When we were here with my mother we had pints of Great Bear Bitter (4.5% ABV, Scottish Courage Brewing Ltd., Bristol). I'm not certain how this beer got its name, but since there's a picture of a steam locomotive on the pub clip I suspect it may be named after a steam train. This is a sweetish, darkish beer with a nice bite. My drinking companion described it as frisky but with a mature aftertaste; it brought to my mind a cocker spaniel. Even my mom likes this beer, which is saying quite a bit.

Alas, at some point you'll need to catch the last train back north to Hythe. There are several worthwhile pubs there as well, but I'll cover them in a future column.

Rose & Crown Updates
(Last updated 18th July 2001)
Britannia Updates
(Last updated 18th October 2001)