"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Travels Among The Winkle Pickers

We had our first serious doubts as we were peddling away from the Headcorn railway station in the rain. We were jet-lagged, riding dodgy bikes and trying to remember to stay on the left (as Land Rovers came hurtling past) while glancing repeatedly at the map to navigate our way to the first of the series of pubs we intended to visit that day. This was less fun in the rain.

Fortunately the rain was brief and what had been misty grey surroundings resolved themselves into brilliant green sheep-studded fields bounded by dark green hedges in a patchwork laid out like a chess board drawn by an epileptic chimpanzee. And even more fortunately the first pub was nearby, so we were able to roll up to the "Bell & Jorrocks" in Frittenden (not quite as funny as Headcorn, but amusing enough when muttered darkly) just in time for its 11:00 a.m. opening. Incidentally, if anyone knows what a "Jorrocks" is, please do let me know. Most pubs have more comprehensible, if somewhat curious names, such as "The Slug and Lettuce", "The Cat and Custard Pot" and "The Donkey on Fire", but "Jorrocks", although it sounds faintly rude, is beyond me.

So, beers at 11:00... Anyone have a problem with that? I will confess that morning beer, although fun to think about, is something I've always thought of as... unwise. This was different however. To begin with there was already an English gentleman at the bar, enjoying a pint and not looking at all unsavory. Secondly the publican's small children were sitting at a nearby table in their pajamas, playing handheld video games and eating cereal, so it had a very relaxed family atmosphere. Thirdly cask-conditioned, hand-pulled English ales are only about 3.5% alcohol on average and are flat and warm, so it feels more like sipping tea than slinging frosty lagers in the mid morning. Honestly. In any case it was lovely. The beer, the pub, the atmosphere, the whole package. They even played Pink Floyd. And then as I sipped my Woodforde's Wherry (or was it the Sharp's Cornish Coaster...?) to the strains of "Wish You Were Here" the sun broke through the clouds and pointed a sunbeam through the window right at my beer. It glowed.

Onwards to "The Bull at Benenden" we rode, quite literally "over hill and dale", through a postcard English rural idyll. "The Bull" was even more absurdly atmospheric with it's ancient half-timbered ceilings, giant brick sit-in fireplace, creaky floors, multiple nooks and crannies (yes, nooks! and crannies!) and hodgepodge of antique furniture. It was even fully stocked with English people! It was veritable a carnival of cliches. There was an old gentleman in tweed with extravagant eyebrows nursing a pint by himself in a corner while muttering (probably about the war, or possibly "Frittenden, Frittenden, Frittenden"). And then there was a younger fellow up at the bar with the ruddy cheeks and over-sized yellow teeth. And there were also the schoolchildren, well-dressed, well-coiffed, well-behaved, but clearly evil, sitting with their families for lunch. I could go on, but I fear I am either boring or frightening you. It was marvelous though. We didn't want to leave. And we almost didn't, but we had a train to catch back in Headcorn and one more stop to make on the way.

The "Bell & Jorrocks" was early 18th century, "The Bull at Benenden" was early 17th century and "The Three Chimneys" was early 15th century. And "The Three Chimneys" was closed. Or closing. We had gotten significantly lost on the way and had just missed last call for the afternoon. We couldn't even beg a half-pint from the barman; we could only gape at the extraordinary medieval interior before being ushered out. Bummer. We consequently arrived in Headcorn with twenty minutes to spare, which, it turned out was just enough time to enjoy that missing half-pint at the jolly "George and Dragon" before boarding our train. We scanned the taps and immediately made our selection: "Winkle Picker" bitter. A very English end to a very English day. Cheers!

1 comment:

mondotrasho said...

A bitter Winkle Picker, who'd a thought?