Mrs RM knew me well enough to predict Dartford would win its their mini-bout with Chesham for my affections. She worked in Erith for a while and so is well aware of the Thames estuary’s many merits.
There’s a certain joy about being a decent-sized town’s only tourist, and even the closure of Dartford’s wonderful little museum didn’t upset me too much. Closed for staff training apparently, which seems odd given how good their team were on my earlier visit.
It was still worth a visit in its setting of the Central Park Gardens, which is the starting point for walks to the best bit of the Borough. On my walks along the Darent this northern edge of the Darent Valley has felt a million miles from anywhere, not a mile from the M25/M20. The Queen in South Darenth and Bull at Horton Kirby are unpretentious Kent pubs at their best, and a great place to sample Dark Star Hophead.
In contrast, our short stops here have generally been to buy emergency flowers on the way down to my mother-in-law in Tunbridge Wells, which always took just long enough for me to tick off the occasional new traditional Beer Guide entry.
One of those would have been the marvellously basic Wat Tyler, which even with Old Peculier and a 9am opening couldn’t tempt me in. I did wonder if the early opening had been introduced to hover up Fosters and Smooth drinkers displaced by the very recent closure of the Paper Moon over the road. Unlike Chesham though, Dartford had a second, less tired-looking Spoons.
I won’t pretend the town centre is a gem, but it has great street art * from various revolts, and enough historic buildings for a place its size, many of them pubs. The Youngs place below showed no sign of lunchtime opening; the Spoons opposite probably a factor in that.
Onto the Flying Boat, an attractive and busy Wetherspoons. An unfortunate preference for beers with daft names but some of the best pub “bants” going (better than when it was The Litten Tree, anyway).
I’m not sure if those gents were discussing the 5p rise in prices or the hideous Guinness glasses.
The barmaid called me “mate” here, which I like as much as “duck”, “love” or “brother”. Anyone calling me “Sir” loses a point on NBSS scores.
Dartford has (by my standards, if not Mrs RM’s) decent shopping facilities, including Dingo Jacks, a gem of a music supplies shop where I bought shiny new guitar strings. It’s next door to this green-tiled gem, now sadly closed.
I wandered aimlessly along the west of town, surprised by how steep it gets along the A207. Some attractive houses along Kings Edward Avenue, with more reliable Doom Bar outlets in abundance.
Back in town the Priory impressed, even backed onto by retail outlets.
And finally the highlight. The Working Men’s Club has won many awards but surprisingly only just claimed a Beer Guide place.
It’s a typical club layout, familiar to visitors to Mexborough, Idle or Stalybridge, with plenty of good seating to while away the hours. Not as boisterous as the Spoons, with the gentle hum of reminiscence rather than banter, and blokes enjoying quality beer.
I would have been quite happy with a good Courage Best, but from an extraordinary range I kept to my recent habit of Siren. Their Love of Work (oh the irony) was superb in condition and appearance (NBSS 3.5). Having just missed it, I will now have to hunt down the Wild Beer Co Millionaire elsewhere though.
Paul Bailey wrote a typically insightful piece about the club in 2013 here. Revisiting it today I see the discussion in the comments centres on children’s behaviour, but Paul does also raise an eyebrow at the club’s ability to maintain quality over a dozen or more beers. Get down there and drink their beer !
* worryingly, none of my sample was able to identify Sid. Guesses ranged from Charlie Chaplin to David Cameron to Justin Bieber. I blame the parents.