Monthly Archives: July 2015

Cobbetts Bottle Shop and Micropub, Dorking, Surrey

Cobbetts is in the town centre of Dorking in Surrey, a region that has been slow to catch on to the micropub trend.

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Run by Steve and Tim, the business started as a quality bottle shop that also served cask ales to take away.

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The idea of adding a micropub originated from a remark made in jest by one of their customers. And Steve and Tim thought why not give it a go?   Their premises had a back office that they decided was surplus to requirements, so they converted it into the micropub room.  So, you order your drinks in the shop and carry them through a little doorway and down a short corridor to the micropub at the back.  The room itself is quite small, having a couple of tables, but with a bar-height shelf with barstools around most of the wall.  There’s also a pleasant garden behind the building that serves as an outdoor drinking and smoking area.

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There are generally two cask ales on offer, plus cider from polypins and, of course, a whole cornucopia of bottled ales from just about every corner of the world.

It’s a different arrangement to most micropubs. The absence of a landlord (or any bar staff) in the drinking area took a bit of getting used to but overall I really liked Cobbetts.   They also organise various courses, such as Beer Tasting for Women, and also trips to visit notable pubs. So, all in all, a valuable asset to the real ale community in this area.

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And so much more than just a bottle shop!

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A headstart to Dorking

I’d originally planned to cycle down to Shoreham and Worthing in two weeks’ time, stopping off at Cobbetts Real Ale in Dorking along the way.   But when I checked out the route in greater detail I had discovered that it would be an 80+ mile slog followed by a 4-pub-crawl and I realised that I would be falling asleep in my beer by the end of the evening.

So, we needed a plan B:  I would ride as far as Dorking today, getting a 40 mile headstart that would enable me to catch a train to Dorking in 2 weeks and ride to the south coast from there.

My eldest daughter, Jasmin, joined me on today’s ride to Dorking.  It would be her first chance to sample a micropub.   She really ought to have been more excited by the prospect (!)

We set off in sunny weather and did the usual zig zag through the North London backstreets, across Southwark Bridge and then through a parallel universe of South London backstreets, via Brixton.

Mid-way, we stopped for a bite to eat somewhere near Merton:

“So, what’s this micropub we’re visiting like?” asked Jasmin.

“Well, this one looks a bit unusual”, I replied.  “I think it’s more like an off-licence”.

“So, we’re cycling f-o-r-t-y  miles.  To visit an off-licence?”

Nothing like an 18 year old to put my mid-life crisis into perspective (!)

We rode on, via the delightful Wandle Trail and a barrierless tramway crossing.  Before long, we were traversing the smart suburb of Cheam, a little slice of middle-England parachuted inside the M25.   Then, out into Surrey proper, where a well manicured lawn, a Porsche, a pony and golf club membership all seem par for the course.  Envious?   Not a bit!

As we rode on the cycleway alongside the busy A24 we spied Box Hill, that magnet for cyclists, and even more so since the 2012 Olympics.  But neither of us felt at all tempted to climb it!  Finally, we arrived in Dorking and successfully located Cobbetts.  And I’m pleased to say that it’s so much more than an off-licence!

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It is notable that so far this year I have ridden 1200 miles on this journey, plus at least 800 commuting miles on the same bike, without a single mechanical failure – not even a p*ncture (we cyclists do not speak its name!).    But on our way home, as we pulled up outside Dorking train station I suffered not one, but two, seemingly unrelated mishaps.  Firstly a p*ncture, and secondly my chain snapped.   What are the odds of those two things happening together?  But also, of all the times when this could have happened, this was perfect timing, as the day’s riding was over.  Perhaps it was a wake-up call that I shouldn’t become too complacent about maintenance.

The Potting Shed, Hythe, Kent

The Potting Shed is a no-nonsense, no-frills little boozer where drinking beer is clearly the main, if not the only task in hand.

You’ll find the Potting Shed on a quiet olde worlde street near the centre of Hythe on the South Kent coast.

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Run by Peter, the Potting Shed has been open since September 2014.

When we arrived towards the end of a lunchtime session on a Sunday it was standing room only, not that there is a large amount of sitting room as this micropub is somewhat more micro than others.   There was a choice of three ales, available from jacket –cooled casks behind the bar, and also a selection of ciders.   There was also a hand-pump on the bar, but we were not sure whether or not it was in use.

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We forgot to ask what the premises were used for before Pete took over, but from the looks of it, it might well have been a chippy or some other kind of takeaway as the high counter is still in place and now acts as the bar.

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All in all a good, basic watering hole that proves you don’t need a theme or a gimmick to be popular.

The Firkin Alehouse, Folkestone

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The Firkin Alehouse is close to the centre of Folkestone. A firkin’ enormous cask (I don’t know the correct name for it, but it was much bigger than a firkin) dominates the centre of the pub and acts as a high table.

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The Firkin Ale House was voted Ashford, Folkestone and Romney Marsh CAMRA Pub of the Year 2014.

When we visited there was a choice of 3 ales available, all accompanied by good descriptions and tasting notes.   There were also 3 draught ciders, plus red, white, rose and Prosecco wines. Also on display is a list of the next few ales due to be tapped.   I tried a pint of Old Dairy Red Top, which was excellent.

There is no bar and drinks are served through a small hatch from a cool room.  Seating is at dark wood high tables on bar stools.

There is also limited outdoor seating at the front of the pub.

A vast array of carry-out sizes were available from 1 pint up to 35 pints with almost every conceivable increment in between!

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An excellent micropub serving great beer!

Kipps Alehouse, Folkestone

Kipps Alehouse in the centre of Folkestone was set up by Andrew, one of the original partners that created the Thirty Nine Steps in Broadstairs.

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Andrew works as an environmental consultant, working in Kipps part-time and employing carefully picked staff to run the place.

The offering at Kipps is a little different to the average micropub, so as well as an excellent choice of well-kept ales and ciders, there are also bottled beers and quality lagers. You’ll find that hot food, cakes and pastries are also on offer from an adjacent kitchen counter.

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The casks are held in a stillage behind the bar, behind a sliding glass panel which allows air conditioning to be used instead of cooling jackets, while still allowing the casks to be “on show” – this seems like a good all round solution.   When we visited there were 4 cask ales on offer, as well as ciders, wines and bottled beers.  Oh, and tea & coffee too.

Andrew explained that their clientele varied depending on the time of day and the day of the week, being busy and young on Friday and Saturday nights but with people coming in looking for a quiet place to drink at other times.

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Andrew has a keen sense that a pub belongs as much to its regulars as it does to the landlord. As such, he would like to see the place evolving around his customers’ demands and tastes as much as his own. It seems to be working – there’s a keen sense of community there. The pub often has live music and also hosts games nights.

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The room itself is quite large, being on a corner site, with lots of low, comfortable seating. There is also a pleasant outside drinking area at the back with a herb garden.

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All in all, we really liked Kipps Alehouse and felt it offered something for everyone.

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Dover to Ashford – and goodbye Kent

Breakfast was like a cold war experience.  The long, tiled breakfast bar which had undoubtedly provided sustenance to generations of commercial travellers and hung-over wedding guests was today tasked with feeding perhaps a total of 20 guests.  At one end was a 12 pack of Tesco yogurts, at the other end was a Tupperware tub half full of corn flakes which you had to scoop out with your own bowl.  But we lingered over our morning feed just long enough to allow the rain clouds to blow over and the sun to come out.

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As we photographed ourselves about to leave the hotel, we noticed that the neighbouring building had already succumbed to the wreckers’ ball and ours was propped up by scaffolding.

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Goodbye County Hotel Dover, at the time of writing this you will probably already be rubble!

As three of my group were on road bikes and we had been warned that the stretch of Sustrans route between Dover and Folkestone was not very road-bike-friendly, we opted to take the B2100 road rather than hug the coast.  This still took us past the Battle of Britain memorial where we stopped to pay our respects.

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I felt that we should have stayed longer and that an appointment with beer was not really quite a good enough excuse for such a brief encounter, but I’m afraid that’s the way it was.   We left the B-road shortly after the memorial and followed a delightful country lane with incredible views for the decent into Folkestone.  (For cyclists, the delight of such descents can often be tempered by the knowledge that every descent has an equal and opposite ascent).

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It was good to see Dawn, her brother Keith and their Mum and Dad again – they had come down to Kipps Alehouse in Folkestone to welcome us to their home town.  Also in the area on holiday were friends from back home Dave and Barbara and they made the trip over to Folkestone to meet up!

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It was a short walk across Folkestone centre, where we noted the interesting sculptures on various shop buildings, to the Firkin Alehouse.

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The short, flat ride along the coast to Hythe should have been a breeze.  Well, in a way, it was!   Pity that the breeze was in the wrong direction for us:  it was a lovely ride, mostly along the seafront, but hard work!
That hard work was rewarded with fish and chips al-fresco in Hythe, before our last micropub visit of the day, The Potting Shed.

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And then it was time to climb, climb, climb away from the coast and back to Ashford station.  For logistical reasons, we revisited the Dog House in Smeeth on the way (closed on Sundays) just so I could tick-off the place (i.e. drank there and cycled there).  And then it was onto the fast train back to London.

For those of you accustomed to the painfully slow train services to Kent from Victoria, the new-ish High Speed services from St Pancras will be a game changer, reaching Ashford in 40 minutes and almost anywhere in Kent in little over an hour.

Big thanks to everybody who joined me, on and off the bikes, this weekend!  Hope you had as fun a time as me.  Fundraising doesn’t need to be hard work.  Mind you, now that Kent is behind me, the mileages between micropubs will increase considerably.

The Mash Tun, Dover

The Mash Tun is in a semi-pedestrianised area of Dover town centre, and within walking distance of the other Dover micropubs.

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Landlord and landlady Peter and Kathryn run it as a semi-retirement project, having run other pubs and a B&B in the past.

An interesting and unusual feature of this micropub is the wooden church pulpit that is installed in front of the beer room and acts as a serving counter. The ale itself is poured directly from the cask from a temperature controlled beer room.  Also on offer are ciders, wines and Prosecco.

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Decor and furnishing-wise, the pub can be divided into three sections: Front of house feels almost like a gentlemen’s club, with a mix of furniture including leather armchairs.

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The rear of the micropub is narrower (due to the space occupied by the beer room) and is furnished in a more traditional pub style with round tables and barstools.

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Finally, out back is a small courtyard with picnic benches.

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The Mash Tun opened in August 2014 but have already been awarded Deal Dover and Sandwich Cider pub of the Year and Kent Cider Pub of the Year awards by CAMRA.  Well done!