CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Four Sussex Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - April 17, 2000

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The Woodsmans Arms, Hammerpot, West Sussex

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Dunnings Mill, Dunnings Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex

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Three Cups Inn, Three Cups Corner, East Sussex

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The Kings Head, Udimore Road, Udimore, East Sussex

My very first impression of England back in 1982 was of Sussex; I stayed with friends in Middleton-on-Sea and spent the days riding around visiting other friends in places like Arundel, Haywards Heath, and Worthing. Back then any English country pub was acceptable to me, as I was yet to acquire my knowledge and discerning taste toward real ales; so I remember many fond hours spent in pubs in villages whose names I can't remember.

More recently I've paid attention, however, and I've come to the conclusion there are indeed a plethora of good pubs serving good ale in Sussex. Perhaps this says something about Sussex beer drinkers. Whatever the reason I'll tell you about four of them, starting from the west and moving east:

As you're driving east on the A27 from Arundel you'll pass by the Woodmans Arms in the tiny village of Hammerpot. This is a 16th-century pub which appears to be extremely popular for Sunday lunch. The seasoned walls are plastered with modern colour photos of pub patrons, along with old black-and-whites of habitues from previous generations. We had pints of Gales HSB (4.8% ABV, George Gale & Co., Horndean, Hampshire); also on tap was their GB (4.0% ABV) and their Best Bitter. The HSB was a bit plain-tasting but nostalgic to me, which was a nice feeling to have seeing as how my mother was there with us. What better occasion to wax (and drink) nostalgic?

Further north in East Grinstead is Dunnings Mill, a welcoming multi-roomed split-level pub first opened in 1596 and situated on a slight hill. As the name implies this was originally an Elizabethan flour millhouse. The ceilings are very low, and you really have to watch your head---OUCH!!! Although the pub no longer operates as a mill, the original mill wheel is still in place just behind the restaurant. The walls inside are decorated with equestrian gear as well as local photos from the 1987 flood, and there is a stone-floored cellar bar which is open many evenings. According to the Good Beer Guide this pub is reputedly haunted, which doesn't surprise me in the least -- OUCH! Another beam? No, probably just bumped into a very hard ghost...

The three of us had pints of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter (4.0%, John Harvey Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex). This is always a nice pint, obviously popular in here because I noticed quite a few others quaffing pints of the same. It's a perfect beer to punctuate a drive from Gatwick, a fact which I'll make a point of remembering.

Dunnings Mill offers a very nice menu as well, with an impressively large selection of meats, fresh fish, and vegetarian entrees, most absolutely delicious-sounding (and reasonably manageable for the staff, as opposed to the ridiculously all-over-the-place menu at the Six Bells in Lyminster, but that's another story). So just what was I going to order for lunch -- an avocado Ploughman's? A smoked salmon and dill baguette? All three of us finally decided on one of the daily specials, a Tuna Melt which consisted of tuna, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes on a crusty whole-grain baguette -- a massive sandwich served with a gorgeous but overly generous fresh vegetable salad and coleslaw, all at a surprisingly low £3.75. The other prices on the menu are also very reasonable, and if this baguette feast is any indication this would be a great lunch spot for budget-conscious lumberjacks and marathon runners.

On to the east, on B2096 between Heathfield and Battle, is a tiny village called Three Cups Corner. And here you'll find the Three Cups Inn, another charming old inn. Since the pub is known for its food we met some friends here for Saturday lunch, an obviously very popular time for the pub. In attendance were younger and older adults, a baby, and several dogs; and I wondered about the portrait of a gorgeous cat displayed respectfully in the corner. Was this a previous tenant? Or was the cat simply taking a Saturday sabbatical from the pub?

And we weren't disappointed by the food; my grilled trout was lovely. I noticed one item on the Specials menu for the day was Devilled Kidneys. Is that like desiccated liver? I recall seeing those tablets in health food stores...

The sign outside says this is a Beards pub, but since Greene King recently took over the Beards brewery we saw no Beards on tap -- only my companion's beard was in evidence. So we had pints of Harvey's Sussex Best, mentioned just a few paragraphs above. This is a good rainy-day beer, and it was a particularly good pint as well.

The Three Cups Inn features a cosy inglenook for those cold days, and there are various nooks and crannies into which small patrons, pets, and children can squeeze themselves. And there were three cups in evidence, too -- in fact, quite a few more than three cups. So just which three cups are they referring to? If one gets drunk here, will they be "in their cups" or "in three cups"?

Still further east, on the B2089 west of Rye in the village of Udimore, is the Kings Head. This historic free house was established in 1535 and used to be almost seaside in the days when the Channel came up this far and boats docked nearby. From the pub you can see St. Mary£s Church which marks where the water met the land. It was from here that Elizabeth I used to catch a ship to the continent for her jollies. (Makes you wonder about the "Virgin Queen", doesn't it?) The pub features an interesting mixed decor of horse brasses, hunting horns, and old tools, and the landlord is a fount of historical information and local trivia. Traditional pub games such as Nine-Pin Skittles and Shove Penny can be played here. And we've been told Paul McCartney's kids stop in now and then for a meal. Paulie usually doesn't; he simply drives by and waves.

Here we had pints of Pett Progress (4.6% ABV, The Old Forge Brewery, Port Hastings, East Sussex ). This beer is a bit on the malty side with a nice bitter aftertaste and a mossy smell. I suppose the mossiness goes well with the antediluvian marshiness of the surrounding terrain. Ah, what a great idea: to ride along the country roads sampling a selection of real ales, each changing slightly in character to reflect the changing countryside. Yes, this is valuable historical and geographical knowledge I'm tasting -- er, acquiring...