Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Black Dog, Whitstable

The Black Dog exudes style and character. It’s a strange cocktail: a measure of Victoriana/steampunk, a measure of Zeppelin, top up with essence of micropub with a dash of something of the night thrown in. Although it’s only been open since September 2013 it has a natural lived-in atmosphere to it that doesn’t feel at all contrived.

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The premises are narrow and deep, with a black floor, and furnished with micropub-style chunky wood high tables and benches along the side of the room. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling and interesting prints and artifacts adorn the walls.

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There’s a traditional-style wooden bar across the back of the room with 5 handpumps fitted. Fooled me, I clearly wasn’t paying attentions and it wasn’t until I read somebody else’s review that I realised the handpumps are dummies and the ales are actually dispensed by gravity from an unseen beer room.   I sampled an excellent pint of Hanlons Port Stout. Draught ciders, bottled beers and bar snacks are also available.

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Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to meet Mike, the landlord, but I had a chat with friendly and knowledgeable barman, Joe. I was also privileged to meet Tony from the local distributor Firkin Ale, who is himself part-way through a challenge to visit 50 micropubs in his 50th year!   I don’t know if there’s a name for our condition, but there will soon be enough of us to form a small support group!

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The Black Dog is an excellent watering hole – I think it’s safe to say there’s no other micropub quite like it!

And don’t forget to check out the toilets – even if you don’t really need to go!

 

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The Freewheel cyclists pub, Graveney, Kent

I love it when a plan comes together but, in some ways, it’s so much better when life takes an unexpected turn.

Adrian never planned to run a pub. He was a freelance cycling instructor. Then one day he broke his arm and began employing other cycling instructors to cover his own bookings. And so, out of adversity,  his one-man-band grew to become a small business.

When his arm had recovered, Adrian started to search for premises to use as a workshop and to hold cycle maintenance classes. By chance, one of the premises on offer turned out to be a closed down pub in the village of Graveney, near Faversham.

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After seeing the villagers’ expressions of hope that their local might finally re-open, Adrian decided to combine pub with bike workshop, and The Freewheel was born! It claims to be England’s first “cyclists pub” and who am I to disagree.

Instead of a car park out front, attractive planters double as bike stands. Inside, to be honest, it’s not that much different from a normal pub. They serve all the usual beers, wines and spirits, including, when I visited, one real ale on handpump. Refreshments are more geared to the hungry cyclist, with cakes and flapjacks on offer. A closer look at some of the light fittings also reveals their somewhat bikey origin. And, of course, although many of their clientele arrive on 2 wheels, everybody is welcome.

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Adrian told me that quite a few cycling clubs pull into The Freewheel for their lunch stops. He’s also had plenty of cycle tourists visit after hearing about the Freewheel on their travels. One such group was the Trio for Rio who are in the process of riding from Munich to Rio de Janiero!

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OK, so it’s not a micropub and doesn’t count toward my total, but I’m glad that Swale CTC told me about the Freewheel, and I wish Adrian the very best of luck with his new endeavour.

Furlongs Ale House, Faversham, Kent

Furlongs in Faversham has come up with an innovative design for its tables and chairs. Many micropubs use high (bar height) tables so that sitting and standing drinkers can still talk face-to-face. But sitting on barstools with legs-a-dangling is not for everybody. So, Furlongs’ tables are built on plinths so those sitting can sit on normal height benches with their feet firmly on terra firma but can still look standers in the eye!   Martin, who runs the pub with his business partner Andrew, said that an architect friend came up with the idea, and a jolly good one it is too.   Good lord, listen to me, I’ve become a table geek!!

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Anyway, I supped a pint of The Wife of Bath’s Ale from The Canterbury Ales while chatting with Martin who explained that he only had 15 months to go before he retired from his railway job at which point Furlongs would become his full-time passion.

The bar is quite interesting too: Unusually for this part of the country, the beer is served from handpumps but, to save space, the pumps are at the back of the bar rather than on the counter.

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There’s a garden out the back with lots of potential (Martin was the first to admit that it was a bit of a mess right now).

Furlongs opened in December 2014 and hence is one of the newest micropubs on my list.  The pub is housed in a former fish shop, but the name comes from a former barbers shop on the same street called Wally Furlongs.

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Unfortunately I had not reached the day’s finishing post yet, so I got back on the bike and headed towards Whitstable.

The Heritage, Minster, Isle of Sheppey

The Heritage, the Isle of Sheppey’s first micropub, has been open since January 2014 and is run by Melvin and Margaret Hopper.   It is a wide, double-fronted building set prominently on the main street, with a small outside area with tables at the front.   It was clear that the pub had a loyal following of regulars and it is also a regular haunt of Swale Cyclists Touring Club (as is the Paper Mill in Sittingbourne).

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There’s a small bar, but beer is poured directly from casks in the stillage room behind. When we visited there was live music from a gentleman on an acoustic guitar.

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Five ales were on offer, and also unusual choices including spiced cider and mead! I plumped for Canterbury Merchant’s Mild – excellent, as expected. (I’m sure then day will come when I get served a bad pint in a micropub ; when it happens, I think it will come as quite a shock to me!).   I later discovered that another of the ales on offer, Wench’s Charrington Heritage (also by Canterbury Ales), was named due to Magaret’s links with the Charrington brewing dynasty.

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I’m sorry I couldn’t spend as long as I would have liked at the Heritage. A newspaper photographer kidnapped me during my visit and drove me to a sign that said “Welcome to Halfway” for some photos (appropriate as I was half way round my 2000 mile route) and , alas never published them (unless you know different!)

The Heritage was a very hospitable pub and I’d love to go back again some time!

The Paper Mill, Sittingbourne, Kent

The Paper Mill is set on a quiet corner plot a few minutes’ walk from Sittingbourne town centre and train station.   The pub is named in memory of the paper mills that closed in 2008, ending over 300 years of paper manufacture in Sittingbourne.

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The Paper Mill opened in October 2013, positively ancient by micropub standards. It has close links with Goachers Brewery in Maidstone, and stocks their ales and also guest beers from around the country. When I visited there was a choice of four ales.  I opted for the Tonbridge Coppernob, which was excellent. That was before I discovered that Simon, head brewer at Goachers, was among the assembled masses, otherwise I would have tried one of their beers!

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There is no bar at the Paper Mill; ales are brought to you from a temperature controlled beer room. The main saloon is a square-ish room with high bench seating around the edges, high tables and standing area in the middle in classic micropub style.   When I was there the place was packed with cyclists from Swale CTC who had arrived to accompany me to the next pub, and it was reassuring to see that there was also some space in the corridor for people to spill out into, which should mean that even if the pub is busy you should be able to locate some standing space even if there’s nowhere left to sit.

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I chatted with landlady Marianne, and discovered that she has visited almost every micropub in the country, and certainly more than twice as many as me (although not by bike!!!), so if you’re reading this as a micropub landlord/landlady then I’m guessing you have probably met Marianne.

22’s Company!

Sunday morning, only 14 hours after having left the town, I arrived back at Gillingham station with that sense of déjà vu that has haunted me on this journey. My first destination today would be The Paper Mill micropub in Sittingbourne, about 8 miles distant. I rejoined Sustrans Route 1 and continued my journey East where I had left off the previous day.   More déjà vu: Up ahead was a familiar-looking figure.   I recognised those panniers.   Theo had evidently not made it to Seasalter the previous day; he explained that when it had grown dark he had put his tent up near the trail and wild camped.   He had distance to make up and so could not be coaxed into stopping for a beer in Sittingbourne. Of course, beer being my raison d’etre , I needed no such coaxing and so we said goodbye again. Theo, if you read this, I hope you had an amazing journey home – who needs planes?

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As I approached The Paper Mill, I spied dozens of bikes outside, their riders filling the pub (micro as it was) and spilling out onto the pavement. This was the handiwork of Mimi and Rachel, two members of Swale Cyclists Touring Club who had somehow found out about my bike ride and had been communicating with me for the past few months. The plan, after a pint, was for the group to accompany me to the next pub, The Heritage on the Isle of Sheppey, and then see me safely back onto the “mainland”. It made a pleasant change to be able to follow others (who knew where they were going!) and the group were great company. And, yet again, I found myself learning about an area that, if not for this ride, I probably would never have visited. Much of this learning has been fascinating but useless:   For example, I am gradually gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of the affectionate but slightly self-deprecating nicknames used for people from certain regions (such as:   Teessiders = Smoggies, Hartlepool = Monkeyhangers – look them up if you don’t believe me!). And so I came to learn that the inhabitants of the Isle of Sheppey are known as Swampies – and proud of it!

We crossed onto Sheppey via the old bridge, which does interesting things like raising vertically to allow taller ships to pass below, and carrying a railway line that also must be raised vertically. Though interesting (and I would have dearly loved to see the bridge lifting, despite the delay it would have inevitably caused us in reaching our next pub), the novelty must wear off after a while, especially for the commercial traffic from the container port, and so in 2006 a new, much higher, bridge was opened. This now carries almost all motorised traffic, leaving the old bridge to cyclists, pedestrians, trains and the odd car.

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Melvin, the landlord at the Heritage, gave us a very warm welcome, and had laid on live music and bar snacks. A photographer from a local paper came down to take pictures, and then we all headed back across the bridge.

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One by one, the Swale CTC riders gradually peeled off and headed home for their Sunday dinners (I’ve become accustomed to my own being beer and crisps!).   Big thanks to Marianne of the Paper Mill, Melvion of the Heritage and to Mimi and Rachel for making it all happen. Thank you all the Swale CTC riders for your excellent company, and thank you Dick for staying with me all the way to my next pub stop at Furlongs in Faversham.

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After Faversham I was alone again for the ride towards the coast and then along it to Whitstable. I stopped on the way to drop into The Freewheel, a newly opened “cyclists pub” that Swale CTC had told me about.

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Approaching Whitstable, the road through Seasalter was lined with beach huts, chalets and caravan sites.   A cafe I passed was festooned with buckets, spades and all the trappings of the holiday kind and I sensed that I was now riding beside the sea, rather than along an estuary. I freewheeled into Whitstable, and paid a visit to the only one of the three Whitstable micropubs that is open on a Sunday evening: The Black Dog.

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And then home on the train. The other two micropubs will have to wait until next weekend.

The Past and Present, Gillingham, Kent

The Past & Present was the first micropub to open in Medway. It opened in August 2014.

The pub’s bold red, white and black signage is striking and unusual.   Walk inside and your discover a small-than-average (even by micropub standards) L-shaped room, with a mix of low and high seating.

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The room is L-shaped because the large air-conditioned beer room takes out the corner of the originally square room.   The walls are decorated with pictures of Medway’s past & present.

I got a good reception at the Past & Present, which I think is a good indicator that it is a friendly place. The regulars were very interested in my ride and keen to help me with directions to my next stop.

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There is a fairly large outdoor drinking/smoking area out the back, part of which is sheltered.

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Beer is served directly from the cask from the beer room. There is no bar. There were 3 beers to choose from when I visited, but I’m afraid I cannot remember the name of the beer I had, although I certainly enjoyed it.   I also enjoyed my visit to the Past & Present.