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Dining Al Fresco

Dining Al Fresco

by D Hodgkinson

Pubs in Tunbridge Wells

Pubs (short for public houses) are an integral part of English Heritage.  This is no different in Kent where they are historically safe havens to break a journey and rest weary heads and feet, with the added joy of some refreshment and sustenance. 

Now society has developed into a less nomadic existence (and journey times have become quicker), pubs are places to be social with your neighbours and friends.

As such the inherent essence of the pub today remains that of a warm welcome and cosy atmosphere.

The pubs in the Tunbridge Wells region come in all guises.  The rise of the ‘gastropub’, more of a restaurant than a pub, is definitely here to stay and provides top class fare and refreshment in a sumptuous and bountiful setting.

Many are so exquisitely decorated (no sawdust floors here), you’ll believe you have entered another era in many respects, not least one of laid back conviviality and good service.

Aside from this there are more casual pubs, friendly dining pubs, small pubs, pubs with accommodation (or inns), pubs with gardens and play areas and even an opera pub!

Best country pubs for food

Most pubs these days do serve food, colloquially known as ‘pub grub’.  However, times have moved on from bangers and mash and a paltry ploughman’s.

Today, hostelries pride themselves on their offers of fresh local produce. The great English Sunday Roast remains very popular and widely available, as is fish and chips.

Out in the borough of Tunbridge Wells, we have a selection of 85 convivial town and country pubs combining the old-style and contemporary at their best.  In Royal Tunbridge Wells, the town has over 40 pubs and bars to choose from.

Here we have hand picked a few for you; all serve real ale and some of the best local produce. 

1. The Vineyard at Lamberhurst, reminiscent of noble Wedgewood china and contemporary glassware à la Laura Ashley, does a great variety of unusual bar snacks as well as posh pub lunches and dinners. 

In the summer, join in the barbeque on their decking in the large pub garden.  Next door to a living vineyard and overlooking the Wealden landscape, this is a smart place to stop on your travels.

2. The Great House at Hawkhurst is well known in the area for fine dining.  This pub is perfect to add in to your scenic tour of the Weald particularly as it is a white clapboard building from the 1500s.

It used to be 2 cottages and was frequented by the local smuggling gang in days of yore! It still has its enclosed cottage garden which is a delight to sit in during the warmer weather.

3. The Kentish Hare, Bidborough is not far from Royal Tunbridge Wells.  Privately owned and a firm favourite with locals, this pub is very well patronised.

At the start of 2016, it won the ‘Best Newcomer at the top 50 Gastro Pubs awards’ and you’ll find it is easy to see why.  You will probably need to book to eat here.

Casual drinkers are equally welcome; local real ale and real cider are available. 

4. The Green Cross Inn at Goudhurst is a ‘free house’ meaning not owned by a chain company or brewery but a cheery family.

Some pleasing ales are on tap and it has an unusually wonderful seafood menu.  We are only half an hour from the coast after all!

This inn is another very popular place in the middle of the country and not too far from Marle Place, Bedgebury or Bewl Water.

5. The George & Dragon at Speldhurst, cited in the 2016 Michelin Guide, is one for the game eaters. The owners of this pub use local, seasonal produce so be prepared for a changing menu.

The building is an ancient medieval hall where there is evidence of sword sharpening and vicar hanging.

Striving to reach the highest standards of quality, this is a fine find of a gastropub in a wee village. 

Best traditional rural English pubs 

Chosen for their commitment to the lively custom of supping on a pint in jocular company; dog friendly, with inglenook fire places, snugs, nooks and crannies, not to mention serving a superior pint of ale, all of these suggested pubs are at least 200 years old and some much, much older. 

1. The Halfway House at Brenchley, with its higgledy-piggledy interior, has won awards for its commitment to real ale.  It usually has 10 ales on tap with 4 changed regularly.

On the bus route 294 from Tunbridge Wells, only 30 minutes away, it is well worth a visit.  This pub does serve food and provides a very large pub garden in which to idle.

2. The address for The Elephants Head is Lamberhurst but in truth it is in the middle of nowhere. A lovely old Grade II listed Tudor house built in 1489 still with log  fires and camping nearby.

There are rambling routes that go right past its front door, which makes it an ideal stop off! Ales are from Harvey Brewery in Sussex only 30 miles away. Sometimes, you might be lucky and catch some live music.

3. The Knoxbridge Inn in Frittenden is a small, newly re-opened inn or pub on Cranbrook Road (A229), the old Roman Road running from Maidstone to Hastings.  

They offer 3 regularly changed ales and a French chef to serve your taste buds. Comfortable sofas, two real fires, good wine and board games, you could easily while away a couple of hours in the warm nooks or in the well-kept garden.

4. The Bell & Jorrocks in Frittenden is the social hub of this small village and very much involved in local traditional events.  Often putting on their own seasonal entertainment and live music, they also provide sophisticated meals. 

Tucked well away from the main roads and towns, this is quite a find. Ask the staff about the local Treacle Mines.

5. The Gun & Spitroast at Horsmonden is another local opposite the village green, heavily involved with the local community and events. 

Drenched in fascinating history, it is well worth a visit. There is no spitroast at the moment but the management are looking into re-introducing it.

6. The Crown Inn, at Groombridge, is next to one of our main attractions, Groombridge Place. It is one of the most charming pubs in the area and included on the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) historic pub register for its spectacularly olden interior. 

The exterior too is very attractive being hung with classic brick-red peg tiles. They do hearty old fashioned pub grub as well as excellent ales on tap.  Originally a haunt for another set of local smugglers, The Groombridge Gang!

More Quirky Pubs in Tunbridge Wells

Apart from the above obviously!

There is the New Mount Edgcumbe on the Tunbridge Wells Common in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells which has a cave as its entrance and there is a real stone grotto to sit in right inside the pub! 

In the winter this is the ultimate in cosy, particularly being in the middle of the dark moor-like area in the evening.  And in the summer, it is beautiful to sit outside and soak up the view.

Dovecote Inn at Capel has rare traditional pub games like Bat & Trap and Shove Ha’penny as well as serving real ale, real cider and delicious food.  Capel is a mere 15 minutes drive away.

Pub Gardens in Tunbridge Wells

Surely one of the most idyllic ways to enjoy an afternoon in fair weather is to sit out in an English country pub garden, bask in the glorious views, the chirping birds and colourful flowers whilst relishing the local fare al fresco.

For the best pub gardens in Spring and Summer, read the 7 Brilliant Beer Gardens blog by local lady Clare Lush-Mansell. 

A Traveller’s Respite

Many pubs are next door to some fabulous attractions and sometimes a destination in themselves being very old and historically noteworthy.

Every village has at least one pub so whilst out exploring the region you are not going to go hungry or thirsty.

The pubs make an idyllic sojourn whilst taking driving or cycling tours round the scenic country lanes and ancient woodlands.

Discover your own hidden gem to create your special holiday memories and feel truly spoiled.

Many pubs are closed on Mondays and kitchens may close at 2pm and then open at 6pm until 9pm.  Do please check before making a special trip.

Take a look at our pub listings in the Search box and stay a bit longer in a well-preserved coaching inn.

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