A CIRCULAR WALK AND PERFECT PUB LUNCH AT THE GOUDHURST INN
Have you ever got back from a walk and thought ‘Pah, I wish I hadn’t bothered?’ Me neither. This is what I remind myself on Sunday mornings when Walk War erupts in our house. It’s a simple deterioration: Grown ups declare we’re going for a walk. Mini Muddies have nuclear melt down. But when we are all prised away from screens / toys / sofas and the hats, gloves and boots are finally on there’s a shift in the air (and I’m not just talking about the aroma of Mr MK’s welly boot socks).
A small seed is planted, there’s a slight skip in our step. It starts tentatively, like most truces do, but in a matter of minutes we experience full scale reconciliation – in the form of puddle-splashing, stick-wielding, story-sharing fun.
We all know from personal experience (although if you really wanted to check there are thousands of studies to prove) that walks aren’t just good for your body – they boost your mood. They’re also good for your wallet. Name me another activity you can undertake for several hours with friends or as a family and not spend a penny? And because you saved all that wonga on your activity you can justify eating out on route – saving you having to cook Sunday lunch for a change.
Because I don’t know about you, but every member of our family enjoys a Sunday walk better if there’s a decent reward at the finish line, and by that I don’t mean the simple satisfaction of all that fresh air and exercise. No, I mean a pub.
But it has to be the right pub. Mr MK wants somewhere he can devour a quality Sunday roast and a selection of ales called particularly unappetising things like Toad’s Croak or Bishop’s Finger. I want somewhere which offers tasty alternatives to big Sunday roasts so I’ve got enough room to wash down two large Sauvignon Blancs. The Mini Muddies want a good kids menu and ideally somewhere they can run around outside when the strain of behaving becomes to much to bear, because inevitably, despite moaning about aching legs towards the end of the walk they will miraculously find a new lease of 100 Volt energy.
The Goudhurst Inn is one of those pubs that manages to satisfy all our needs. It also tames a tricky beast – to be both an approachable local while delivering a stylish menu selection for foodies. But it’s not a superslick, over-styled gastropub by any stretch. It’s strength is that it offers something for everybody – the sort of place I’d bring the kids after a robust walk, but you could just as easily use it as the halfway point to meet a friend for a girly lunch.
So I have customised this AA Walk – and tried it out personally – to give you an exclusive circular ramble that takes in a decent quality pub. The only change to the AA directions given is in paragraph 5 – once you get to the B2084, turn left along Chequers Road and The Goudhurst Inn will be approximately 600yds on your left. When you leave you can head back to rejoin the route via Cranbrook Rd, heading West towards St Mary’s Church. We found walking through the Church grounds means you can avoid a busy part of the road that has no footpath – you might want to do the same (none of us want to end up in the graveyard for good!)
Here is my updated version of the map, above, so you can see where my route (in purple) deviates slightly from the original to take in The Goudhurst Inn (Mr M.K has produced this especially – isn’t he kind?)
This walk is not for really little ones (you’d never get round with a pram) or elderly aunties (lots of leg-over-stile action). My kids are 7 and 8 years-old and managed just fine – the walking bit took a total of about two hours. But we had a snack stop about half way round to keep energy levels up (yup, we’re talking about me here).
This walk would be great with a dog but you’d have to keep it on the lead a fair bit as there are lots of grazing animals, and some of the stiles are particularly high and might be hard to negotiate – although most had ‘doggie doors’ underneath.
Goudhurst is one of Kent’s highest villages (fact fans) but there’s no particularly tricky gradients on this walk and the level of difficulty is pretty easy, it’s just the styles and distance to take into consideration. Well worth it to take in these kind of views of the Weald, above, and even better it fully justifies you super indulging when it comes to lunch, because by Christopher Columbus! you’ve earned it.
Owned by the Hush Heath Estate The Goudhurst Inn underwent a total refurb, re-opening for business less than a year ago. Then just a couple of months ago in December the new Manager, Chris, was brought down from the sister luxury bar and diner in London (St. Bart’s Brewery in Farringdon). And Italian chef, Fabio, has also come to Kent from a London restaurant so this is a new team putting a fresh stamp on the place. Although they do a good job to keep the atmosphere relaxed so locals feels just as happy to pop in for a quick drink rather than a formal sit down. Alongside the main kitchen Fabio also runs the attached Pizza Shack clay oven, making wood-fired pizzas all year round (which can be ordered for take-away).
The interior has been stripped back to exposed brickwork and this is complemented with a few funky fixtures and fittings (think glass chandeliers and a wall-mounted model zebra) giving it that rustic luxe feel. The space has been cleverly divided up to provide different spaces in which to eat and drink depending on what you’re after – from more relaxed to more formal dining areas. The Bar area is more laid-back, with lots of smaller tables so ideal for casual drinking, bar snacks or reading the papers. There’s also a supersize screen in the main bar area that can be rolled up or down, so time it right and you can catch the Six Nations rugby match after your lunch.
We ate in the smaller, slightly smarter Hush Heath Room, above, which I imagine is a great space for private dining and events. Right next door was the converted barn, The Conservatory, which like the Hush Heath Room overlooks the outside area (perfect if you *sigh* feel you really ought to keep half an eye on your kids while they wrestle outside).
Now, on to the best bit, the food. There’s a choice of beef, lamb or pork Sunday roast and four or five other mains for anyone that wants an alternative. Mr MK of course gunned for the pan roasted pork belly, see below.
I was uncharacteristically retrained and chose the globe artichoke, shallot and leek tart with pesto dressing. But then decided to ease it down with a big side of triple cooked chips (de-licious).
And then, of course, if would have been irresponsible not up our depleted kilojoule levels (two hour walk I tell you, two hour!!) with a pudding. Hush Heath Bramley apple, rhubarb and roasted (whole) hazelnut crumble for Mr MK and Skye’s English Chardonnay poached pear and mango sorbet for me.
And yes, they tasted as good as they looked. Now, Mr MK likes his food almost as much as he likes speaking his mind, so when he commented on the great flavours of both his dishes this was praise indeed. Also the can-be-fussy Mini Muddies ate every last scrap on their plates – thanks to the all-bases-covered / can’t-go-wrong children’s menu (pizza, pasta with tomato sauce, fish and chips, sausage and mash!!). And this I thought was particularly good value – children’s meals were all £5 set price, including an ice cream pudding. You could come here and feed two kids after school for a tenner! Bargain.
While the Mini Muddies hung around on the miniature climbing wall I chatted to the staff and unearthed one or two exclusives. Never-been-heard-before plans for the upcoming months – and there’s something for everyone here. Firstly – hot off the press! – there’s going to be live music every last Friday of the month (including Kent-based The Soundcasters and cover band Contraband) and if that doesn’t float your boat then maybe you’d prefer to try out one of the more refined Tutored Wine Dinners which are also in the pipeline. And if that STILL hasn’t got you excited *raises eyebrows* check out this next nugget! As well as the existing Pizza Shack, as soon as the sun’s rays reveal themselves they’ll be an All-You-Can-Eat BBQ on Saturdays and Sundays and Bank Holidays (weather depending). Yes, you read that right, ALL YOU CAN EAT! Mr MK will never leave.
So bring on the sunshine – we will definitely be making a return visit!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: walkers, families, anyone looking for quality food in an unpretentious, family friendly environment. Relaxed rugby watchers, or those with small kids who can make the most of the back garden.
Not for: Anyone that wants a very rural setting, this pub is on crossroads and the beer garden isn’t huge. Those seeking a very grown up space for a quiet romantic meal as this is a family pub – although the evenings are obviously more grown up!
£££: Very reasonable, considering the quality of the food. Sunday roast £14, most other mains £12-17.50, £5 for kids meal deal.
The Goudhurst Inn, Cranbrook Road, Goudhurst, Kent, TN17 1DX. Tel: 01580 211451 www.thegoudhurstinn.com