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

Previous Pint Pleasures - January 3, 2000

Guinness Eileen

The Star Inn, St. Mary In The Marsh, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Red Lion, Snargate, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Royal Oak, High Street, Brookland, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Woolpack Inn, High Street, Brookland, Kent

Considering this is my first beer column of a new unknown millennium, I think a review of a few Romney Marsh pubs is most appropriate. The Romney Marsh is a fascinatingly mysterious and beautiful place where smugglers used to hide and where various phantoms and marsh apparitions are still witnessed. Extending twenty-five miles along the coast of Kent from Hythe down to Rye and inland ten miles, the Romney Marsh used to be completely under the sea, making a natural harbour for ships from early Roman times. The River Limen gradually sifted clay down from the Weald, which progressively built up the harbour bed. Eventually a natural protective ridge was formed on the seaward side, small sandy islands appeared, and tracts of land eventually took shape. By the thirteenth century, with the help of a little human technology, the sea had finally receded from the area, leaving behind minerals making the alluvial soil extremely fertile.

It's only natural there should be some fascinating pubs nestled in the villages of the Marsh, each equipped with an eccentric assortment of landlords and clientele. As you near St. Mary In The Marsh you'll see virtually no sign of a village except for a few houses, a church, and a pub, -- specifically St. Mary's Church and the Star Inn. (As one local was heard to say, he's got everything he needs here: he's got a place to drink and a place to be buried.) Before stopping into the pub you should take a stroll around St. Mary's Church, which dates from Norman times. The pleasant little graveyard features markers leaning so much they look as if they're sinking into the Marsh. Buried here underneath two wooden posts and a rail is E. Nesbitt, author of The Railway Children.

Now that you've worked up a necrology-inspired thirst you'll appreciate The Star Inn. Built in 1476, this is a cozy pub frequented mostly by the locals. Two cats rule the roost, a brown tabby and a black and white domestic. The tabby was extremely friendly, jumping onto my lap and giving me a badly-needed kitty fix. (I'm afraid I don't know their names, but the day we met them the substitute landlord was referring to them respectively as Nuisance and Bully.)

On a recent visit our pints of Late Red Autumn Hops Ale (4.3% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent) were very good, delectably hoppy and auburn in colour -- perfect for my drinking companion's autumn birthday celebration, and a good accompaniment to the Marsh wind whipping up a frenzy outside. Also on tap were Shepherd Neame's Master Brew (3.7% ABV) and Wadworth 3X (4.3% ABV, Wadworth & Company Ltd., Devizes, Wiltshire). We're told the food is quite good here, featuring special lunches for OAP (Old Age Pensioners) every Thursday. At one time Noel Coward lived in the cottage next door and wrote his first successful play there. And a drawing on the wall tells the legend of the Pot-Bellied Pig of St. Mary In The Marsh, which appears only on Christmas Eve and only to certain people (a la the Pink Elephant).

If you drive from St. Mary In The Marsh through Ivychurch and down to the roundabout, someone has conveniently stenciled the word PUB on the sign pointing to Snargate. Continuing along the B2080 you'll come to another tiny village consisting of nothing more than a church, a pub and approximately twenty houses. The church is Snargate Church, which was built around 1220 and was officially a safe hiding place for smugglers. The pub, the Red Lion, originates from the early 17th century and has been run by the current family since 1911. This is a tiny pub with an antique marble bar top and raw wood floor. The walls are decorated with World War II-era memorabilia, and according to a brochure I read recently there's a 200-year-old clock in the taproom. This pub, run by Doris Jemison, has won a number of awards including CAMRA's Ashford Folkestone and Romney Marsh Pub of the Year, the Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year, and the South East Regional Pub of the Year. During our first visit in October Doris was sitting on a side bench knitting while Sheba, her gray-muzzled black dog, chatted briefly with us.

Doris dispenses her award-winning beers by gravity. We opted for pints of Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2% ABV, Swale Brewery, Sittingbourne, Kent). This is a very light-coloured beer with a bit of citrus reminiscent of something else...something during The War, perhaps? Hmmm...anything is possible, including memories of somebody else's life, in a pub like this. If you feel like stepping outside to gather your own recollections, the toilets are located outside, and there's a beer garden as well. The Red Lion features periodic beer festivals. We were extremely regretful we couldn't make it to the one on Halloween; I'm sure it was a unique Marsh experience.

In case you're wondering, Snargate's lovely name comes from the days when sluice gates had to be erected on the nearby River Limen. Since the sluice gates snared the water the village was called Snergate, later spelled Snargate. Just thought you should know that.

The Royal Oak in Brookland was constructed in 1570 next to the mid-thirteenth century St. Augustine's Church as a dwelling for the parish clerk and sexton. Is this why there's a church harmonium against one of the pub's walls?

The church itself features a detached wooden belfry . There are many legends about why the spires of St. Augustine's Church sit on the ground alongside the church. The truth is that the land is simply too marshy and wouldn't support such a structure. Fortunately it supports the Royal Oak.

Back in the Royal Oak, you may be greeted by two retired greyhounds, a friendly black and white named Ellie and a beautiful but shy blonde named Ziggy. Landlord Andrew Lovell, self-described as "strange", recently adopted Ellie and he's had Ziggy for five years. They run a pleasantly friendly pub which features a restaurant menu with delicious sounding items such as Stilton sandwiches, smoked salmon Ploughman's, mushrooms in a "secret" sherry and cream sauce, and on and on. We enjoyed a very satisfying lunch one afternoon: my whole grilled plaice was a delight, and my friend Andrew was moved to tears by his rack of lamb. The beer is good as well. Normally on tap is Bateman's XB (3.7% ABV, George Bateman & Son Ltd., Wainfleet, Lincolnshire), a somewhat weak but definitely drinkable beer, like plain but sensible shoes. If you desire something tart, sassy, and more powerful, go for the XXXB (4.8% ABV).

Down the road in Brookland you'll come to the Woolpack Inn. This pub, run by landlords Pat and John, dates from 1410, when wool smugglers, or "owlers", used the inn as their base. It features a very low beamed ceiling, wattle-and-daub walls, and a wonderful big hearth in which you can sit on the padded benches and ponder the meaning of life and death -- when the hearth isn't lit, that is -- although I suppose you can sit there when there is a roaring fire and ponder the meaning of life, death, and the potential of agonizing pain. In reality the safer hearth seat is usually occupied by a Jack Russell named Nellie or a calico cat named Hailey, so you may have to settle for an alternate seating arrangement.

The Woolpack, a Shepherd Neame pub, offers a decent pint of Master Brew (3.7% ABV): good, cool, and bitter. The sandwiches are an excellent deal as well, and the macaroni and cheese is pleasantly warming. On our most recent visit we overheard some people next to us saying that Paul McCartney has been known to stop by. Since his home in Pease Marsh isn't far away this isn't surprising. I doubt he ever does any spontaneous concerts here, though; there simply isn't enough room. Trust me on this one, and remember to watch your head.

Red Lion Updates
(Last updated 18th February 2002)
Royal Oak Updates
(Last updated 17th April 2000)