Monday, 23 June 2014

The Oldest Pub In Kent

By the Westbere Lakes on the side of the A28 there is a little sign.  A simple sign near a small turning that you can easily miss.  It points down a country lane and quietly announces '14th Century Inn".
You turn down this tiny little country lane, leaving the hustle and bustle of the main road behind you, and enter Westbere village.  A picture perfect, chocolate box village huddled near the lakes filled with beautiful country cottages and white picket fences covered in creeping wild rose and honeysuckle.  In the heart of the village lies the Old Yew Tree Inn.
Built in 1348 (it's 666 years old, making it about 20 years older than The Parrot and officially the oldest pub in Kent), this charming, sprawling pub has serviced the needs of the upper echelons of English society during its lifetime.  Queen Anne, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even Dick Turpin (more notorious than gentry it has to be said of the latter) are all reputed to have stayed here over the ages.  On this particular Friday afternoon the visitors were not quite so illustrious.  Steve, my parents and I came for some lunch following an appointment in town on a much welcomed day off work for us.
Inside the bar we stood and chatted with Wayne, the chef and a friend of Steve's from darts whilst waiting for our draft ales and Bloody Mary's to be poured.   I like my Bloody Mary's really spicy and with a decent salt kick so was pleased to be left with the bottles to adjust the seasoning to my taste.
The interior of the Yew Tree is exactly what you would expect from an ancient pub; thick whitewashed walls keeping out the heat of the day, crooked, pockmarked beams and a large inglenook fireplace that turns the interior of the pub into a cosy sanctuary against the chill of the winter and a barrier against the ghosts who are reputed to haunt the building.  If you are visiting Kent from abroad, looking for a 'traditional English pub', you can't get much more traditional than this place! 
Today was anything but a cold winter's day, and with the blazing sunshine calling to us from the gardens, we gathered up our drinks and found a picnic bench to relax on whilst we decided what to order for lunch.  It was a Friday lunchtime, and the place was pretty quiet as most people were obviously at work, but there were a few other couples and families scattered around, taking advantage of the glorious weather we have been experiencing in the Costa Del Kent recently.
My father spent a goodly amount of time admiring the workmanship and detailing in the period features, such as the carvings on the arched doorway leading from the gardens to the bar.  This is one of the charming features of the pub; wherever you look there is something to admire and catch your eye. 
The menu was extremely attractive, with a variety of fresh produce from local sources.  The 5 starters and 5 mains changes on a daily basis; years ago the rumour of the Yew Tree sandwiches was what had originally bought Steve and I to the pub for lunch, and the sandwiches were fabulous then.  The Inn has changed hands a couple of times since then and the food is even better now under the new ownership.  At the sight of pigeon breast salad on the menu, 3 of the 4 members of our party were sold instantly (with the addition of a healthy portion of chips).  Steve went for the sausage sandwich, in memory of the ones we had enjoyed all those years ago.  It was supposed to be a light lunch as Steve and I were going out for an all-you-can-eat-Chinese that night with friends, but portion sizes were extremely generous and we probably ate more than we should have done.
The pub is incredibly peaceful and we were perfectly happy to spend a good couple of hours sitting, drinking and chatting as thousands of people have done before us over countless lifetimes.  It is a little daunting to sit and think about the stories that the walls could tell about the people who have passed through the stable doors, their hopes and dreams, the intrigues and scandals.  How many of their dreams went up in ashes like the wood in the inglenook fireplace and how many came to fruition?
The Yew Tree Inn is a little off the beaten track, but such a beautiful old place that it would be a travesty not to visit it at least once.  While you are there, why don't you ask if Wayne is in today and tell him I sent you? 
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