Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Further Watering Holes Along the Wealdway

I returned late on Saturday evening following three days walking completing the final part of the Wealdway long-distance footpath. The path runs for 82 miles from Gravesend on the River Thames to Eastbourne on the south coast. After completing the first 50 miles of the walk earlier this year, my friend Eric and I were determined to complete the trail before the weather worsened with the onset of winter.

The final stage of the walk took us from Uckfield, just south of Ashdown Forest, to the end of the trail in Eastbourne. Unlike the first part of the walk, which took place in 30 degrees of June heat, September's temperatures were much more conducive to walking. In addition, there was less distance to cover over the three days, making for a less hurried and more relaxed walk. This had the added bonus of allowing for more time in the pub, so the following is an account of the excellent hostelries we visited along the way.

Our first port of call was the excellent King's Head in East Hoathly which proved a welcome refuge on a rather damp Thursday lunchtime. This was my second visit to the pub, which is also home to the 1648 Brewery. The latter is housed in the old stable block behind the main building and like my first visit the King's Head did not disappoint. The quarry-tiled floor was a welcome bonus for two slightly bedraggled walkers, as it meant we were spared the task of removing our boots. The second bonus was the cheerful welcome we received from the friendly and chatty barmaid. We sampled two of the house brewed beers; the 3.9% Brew Master and the 4.6% Bee-Head which incorporates honey in the brew. I also gave the 4.5% Dark Star Sussex Extra Stout a go -purely for research purposes of course!

By early evening we were close to our overnight stop; the un-inspiring, but cheap Travel Lodge at Hellingly. We popped into the the King's Head at Lower Horsebridge to check whether it would be suitable for our evening meal later on. It was a large old pub, with a plainly furnished bar to one side and a spacious restaurant to the other. Harvey's Best and 1648 Brew Master were the beers on sale, and both seemed in reasonable condition. However, despite being early evening there were only a couple of people in the pub and furthermore the menu looked rather un-inspiring.

On our way to the Travel Lodge we passed Horsebridge's other pub, the Wheatsheaf. Peering in through the window the pub looked much more homely and welcoming, so after checking in to our hotel and changing out of our walking clothes we returned to the Wheatsheaf and were glad we did. There was a games area at one end of the pub and an eating area at the other. The serving area was in between. Harvey's Best and the dreaded Doom Bar were the beers on sale, but we stuck to the Harvey's which was the perfect accompaniment to our evening meal of liver and bacon. It certainly proved a wise decision to call in at the Wheatsheaf that evening.

The following lunchtime we visited the picturesque, but food-oriented Yew Tree at Arlington. As on the previous day we had been caught in a heavy rain shower, so yet again the pub formed a welcome refuge. Although quite characterful inside, with a fair-sized plainly furnished bar to the right, and a plush, comfortably furnished room to the left, the pub was largely given over to diners. Harvey's Best and Armada were the beers on sale, but I'm sorry to report that they were way past their best. I ended up leaving most of my second pint, but really I should have returned it and asked for my money back.

It was not all doom and gloom, as that evening we arrived at our second over-night stop, the excellent Giant's Rest at Wilmington. Here we had a comfortable and well-appointed room and after showering and changing into something more comfortable, we made our way downstairs to the large bright and airy bar. There were three beers on sale; Harvey's Best, Hopback Summer Lightning and Taylor's Landlord, and we sampled all three along with some excellent food. The Giant's Rest seemed an extremely popular place, so it was a good job the landlord had reserved a table for us. It was certainly good to see a village pub full of happy customers on a Friday evening.

After a hearty cooked breakfast, the following morning, we left the Giant's Rest and walked up through Wilmington, under the shadow of the famous "Long Man" - a mysterious figure carved into the chalk. We then began our ascent of the steep chalk escarpment which marked the start of our walk across the Downs to Eastbourne. Approximately halfway we found ourselves in the tiny downland village of Jevington, a place we had passed through a couple of years previously whilst walking the South Downs Way. On that occasion there wasn't sufficient time to stop, but this time we were able to call into the Eight Bells, an ancient village inn with a timeless feel to it.

There were some attractive looking women on both sides of the bar and after a bit of friendly banter we settled down at one of the tables to enjoy our beer. Unfortunately I must have copped the last pint out of the cask, as my pint of Charley's Angel from Springhead Brewery was flat and un-inspiring. I couldn't really take it back as the barmaid had earlier given us a sample, and it had tasted ok then. After switching to Adnams Bitter all seemed right with the world and we continued with our "people watching". A wedding party arrived, and it was interesting seeing them in their suits and best frocks inter-mingling with the walkers, riders and dog walkers that made up the bulk of the pub's clientele.

After leaving the Eight Bells we climbed back onto the downs to complete the walk to Eastbourne. It was a perfect mid-autumn day, with bright sunshine and a bit of a breeze blowing. Once we had climbed Combe Hill we were rewarded with some fantastic views, and eventually could see the sea in two directions. With Eastbourne spreading out below us, it was worth getting the binoculars out in order to see further afield. They allowed us to see right across towards Hastings and beyond to Dungeness in the far distance.

After linking up with the South Downs Way for a while, we eventually descended down into Eastbourne and made our way to the Lamb, in Eastbourne's Old Town. The Lamb is Harvey's show pub, and is a place I had wanted to visit for many years. This late 12th Century pub certainly lived up to its reputation, with two bars and plenty of old beams, as one would expect from a building of this age. We were served by an attractive and friendly barmaid who advised us that they had Harvey's Old on sale - the first brew of the season no-less! This excellent dark ale proved a fitting beer to end to our walk with, but as it turned out it wasn't quite the last drink of the day! Travelling back to Tonbridge by train we decided to break our journey at Frant in order to call in at the Brecknock Arms in Bells Yew Green. The pub was a bit quiet for a Saturday night and landlord Joe hadn't yet got the Old on sale, (the Brecknock is another Harvey's pub), but we had a couple of pints of Best before catching the train home and back to our respective families. It had been an excellent few days away, with some excellent pubs to boot. All we need do now is to work out what walk to do next year.