CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Sandgate vs. Cheriton Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - November 15, 1999

Guinness Eileen

The Ship Inn, 65 Sandgate High Street, Sandgate, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Clarendon Inn, Brewers Hill, Sandgate, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The White Lion, 70 Cheriton High Street, Cheriton, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Morehall, 284 Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Royal Cheriton, 339 Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent

In England there are pubs and there are pubs. There are towns, villages, and neighbourhoods where pubs seem to sprout up on every corner like fast-food joints; and then there are those communities which spawn great pubs. Two suburbs of Folkestone -- Cheriton and Sandgate -- are good examples of these extremes.

Directly down the coast from Folkestone, Sandgate is a pleasant little beachside community populated with antiques dealers, independent businesspeople, and all manner of creative types. It is also home to two wonderful pubs good for enjoying stimulating conversation and quaffing pints of well-kept real ales.


The Ship Inn, located on a choice corner in the center of the High Street, is a free house which is open all day. Landlord Stewart Whiffin offers a long list of real ales dispensed via the "tap and spile" method, i.e. straight from the cask. Since I wrote my original review of the Ship Inn I've learned how they manage to keep their ales at such a perfect temperature: they use a cooling system where a cooler pumps cold water into radiator-shaped saddles which hug the top of each cask. It's a brilliant system, and I'm surprised more landlords don't utilize it.

The Ship used to be a CAMRA-approved pub but is no longer listed in their guides due to one unfortunate visit by CAMRA representatives. The story I heard was that the landlord was extremely unfriendly to them that day and served inferior pints; but after having learned of the personal tragedies he was experiencing at the time, I'm surprised CAMRA hasn't forgiven and forgotten and given the place another try. It's still a very friendly, satisfying pub and I've yet to experience a bad pint.

An ale we discovered at the Ship is Otter Bright Bitter (4.3% ABV, from the 10-year-old Otter Brewery, located at the headspring of the River Otter in Honiton, Devon). This is a wonderfully crisp, balanced ale with a surprisingly light colour; in fact, if I saw a pint of it in somebody else's hand I probably wouldn't choose to order it. But looks are deceiving, and lightness can be a surprisingly opaque front masking something much darker, fuller, and intriguing. I suppose I should stop while I'm ahead with the fearful poetics; if I steered you away from Otter Bright it would truly be a tragedy.

Another sampled ale was Rother Valley Level Best (4.0% ABV, from the 7-year-old Rother Valley Brewing Company in Northiam, East Sussex). This fine ale, brewed using locally grown hops and malt, is a nice change. My quaffing partner Andrew describes it as tasting of lime and celeriac -- a satisfying, precocious beer, entertaining yet slightly irritating, like a child prodigy. I would like to add that it's merely a side taste of lime as opposed to a top or a bottom. It tastes as if a celery heart had met a leek in passing but they didn't become acquainted. This is a voluminous beer; I wouldn't want this beer to fill my lounge, but it's quite enjoyable in a pint glass.

Clarendon Inn
The Clarendon Inn,

Down the road directly across from the beach is a hidden stairway, Brewers Hill, which leads from the Sandgate Hotel up to The Clarendon Inn. This CAMRA-approved pub, which closes in the afternoons, is well work the stair climb. First recommended to us by our late friend Fred Pittuck, the Clarendon is deftly managed by landlords Keith and Shirley Barber who take excellent care of their Shepherd Neame real ales (from Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent). Besides the usual Master Brew, Spitfire, and Bishop's Finger, a seasonal is usually available; I've been fortunate enough to try three so far. The Early Bird Spring Hops Ale (4.5% ABV) tasted "smooth and rounded in a slippery manner," according to my companion. The Goldings Summer Hops Ale (4.7% ABV), which uses Styrian Goldings Hops, was a wonderful quencher, surprisingly satisfying for a hot July day, not to mention most appropriate for those cold, rainy days of August as well. Our favourite seasonal, however, has been Late Red Autumn Hops Ale (4.3% ABV), which was first available in September and still going strong. This is a gorgeous beer, a rich reddish auburn in colour, and very hoppy; in fact Keith warned us there might be hops floating in the first few pints. This is an excellent beer for a pleasant foggish afternoon and conversations about enharmonics; the taste notes between the hoppy notes describe a rich auburn-haired woman with a strong face and a hearty laugh.

Besides the real ales there are least 16 single malts available, and the Clarendon's food is superb. Only the best selection of farmhouse cheeses are used in the sandwiches and cheese plates, and many of the hot dishes are cooked using beer. Refreshing devoid of pool tables and fruit machines, this pub is a great place to sit and chat with Irish writers, rich eccentrics, retired sea captains, traditional musicians, traveling executives, ex-SAS operatives, and charming little four-year-olds with names like Lucy-Lucy -- not to mention Sebastian, the orange Manx cat.

If you leave Sandgate and drive north on Military Road you'll come to Cheriton, where pubs nothing like the Ship and the Clarendon thrive. If you dislike real ales and prefer noisy pubs plastered with signs advertising gaudy drink specials and karaoke nights, Cheriton is the place for you. There are no real ales available at The White Lion, but there is a videodisk jukebox in the corner, and they offer a cheap giant breakfast and Sunday lunch. Thursday nights feature Willy's Karaoke, Saturday is Disco Night, and there are regular-scheduled Ladies' Nights featuring cheap alcopops and the occasional male stripper. This is definitely not a pub for real ale lovers and intelligible conversation.

Just down the road is The Morehall. Once again no real ales are offered, even though there are two hand pumps on the bar, so we had to settle for expectedly disappointing half pints of Tetley's on smooth flow. The Morehall is a huge pub like the White Lion, featuring the same types of events -- except that they have Shane's Karaoke on Thursday nights instead of Willy's. There is also a large menu of bar food available.


You can get a real ale at The Royal Cheriton, although I wouldn't count on it being particularly drinkable, as the landlord doesn't seem like the particularly caring type. On one visit my friend Andrew looked at the two hand pumps, one with its clip turned around to show that the pump was off. When he asked if the Courage Directors Bitter was the only bitter on that day, the landlord replied sarcastically, "No, there's this bitter and this and this," pointing to all the keg (CO2) selections. Obviously he just didn't understand at all. On another visit, however, we had a pint of Thwaites Golden Charmer (4.5% ABV). This is the autumn beer selection from the Daniel Thwaites Brewery, established in 1807 and located in Blackburn, Lancastershire (and no, I can't tell you how many holes are there). Golden Charmer is a reasonable laundry-day beer: it's nice, pleasant, and real, and never needs ironing.

Why are there so many pubs like those in Cheriton? Why have so many young people been lured away from real ale to be snagged by overly chilled and carbonated lagers, sweetened alcoholic fruit drinks, and loud and obnoxious pub chain promotions? Does this have to do with the takeover of the British brewing industry by giant conglomerates such as Bass and Whitbread? Or is it because the all-mighty pound has become more influential than the traditionally enjoyable pub experience? Contrary to what the big moneymakers think, "kids" don't always want inferior products; I happen to know a 16-year-old who loves and appreciate real ale even though his friends don't understand it at all. In my opinion it's all due to million-dollar marketing, not radical changes in beer tastes. Most people do like good things, and many habitués of mediocre pubs simply aren't aware that there's something better available. What we need is a better means of educating beer drinkers. CAMRA is doing its part, although due to piddling little in-house political struggles and nit-picking they seem to be in danger of self-destructing. All that the individual real ale lover like myself and my friends can honestly do is to spread the word, hope for survival, and enjoy.

Ship Inn Updates
(Last updated 23rd Deccember 1999)
Clarendon Updates
(Last updated 3rd April 2000)
Royal Cheriton Updates
(Last updated 20th March 2000)