Sitting under a vivid azure blue sky in light summer clothes, it was strange to see the first leaves of autumn falling.
It was definitely an Indian Summer day when I finished the walk from Staplehurst to Sissinghurst sitting in the garden of The Milkhouse that was once known as The Bull.
The Bull was well-worn and almost confined to the old bar that served Harvey’s Best and a local Benenden cider on draft, the strength perhaps of which was never advertised. The settees would now be called ‘shabby chic’, the tables beer stained and the occasional lunchtime local, hunched over The Times crossword before their afternoon nap, decorated the bar.
On the day that I ventured in after my walk, mine host was very welcoming and a joy to talk to and the beer was good but next time I passed, it was closed.
The Bull had gone to the abattoir, another rural pub closed, the last in Sissinghurst and with its large carpark and grounds it was surely doomed to the builder’s whim. The end of future walks would indeed be dry.
Two years down the line, the Bull became The Milkhouse with its reference to the village’s inglorious past of the Hawkhurst Gang, gambling and drinking dens and all the criminal activity that you could mention. (Once known as Milkhouse Street it was in the 1850s that the village residents decided that a name change to Sissinghurst would rid them of their ‘dodgy’ past)
That shabby chic has been reinvented into a ‘dining pub with rooms’, a style that has succeeded where the Bull ultimately failed. Now the uniformed staff delight in good service, the menu is more ‘deli’ than bar snacks, the wine chosen and the beers wholesome – Harvey’s Best, Brains Reverend James and Old Dairy Green Hop from down the road at Tenterden.
It has been a special and successful transformation that has still left space for walkers in what was the old bar but, despite the wooden floor, it may be best to cover muddy boots on wet and difficult days.
On my azure day, Stef and I sat outside with my pint of Harvey’s, a white wine and more white wine with the food to celebrate the last breaths of summer and a special walking day in a pub that has stayed alive.
Beer Notes will be published in 2019 as a ‘must have’ accompaniment for the discerning walker on ‘Walking 1066 Harold’s Way’ – the long distance walk from Westminster Abbey to Battle Abbey and Hastings Castle inspired by King Harold’s epic march to the Battle of Hastings 1066. The Milkhouse will be No 40 in Beer Notes