The Good Beer Guide gets you out of your comfort zone; no other publication is going to persuade you to trek out to Sittingbourne at 8am on a drab February morning, is it ? But remember, the sun always shines on North Kent.
Despite a prime location as a Gateway to Sheppey, Sittingbourne has failed to capitalise on a tourist potential second only to Gillingham in North Kent, and may be the county’s least visited town.
It’s a good job Tim Martin has more foresight, the new Spoons hotel on the High Street is good speculation, though at £39 a night it’s outside my budget, of course.
The town has a less than great reputation amongst Kent residents (though my in-laws in the ‘Wells may not be the best folk to ask), but the villages just to the south have some of the poshest houses you’ll find off the M2.
The last time I was in Sittingbourne, the Gateway to Sheppey was in gridlock, with a queue of folk in Audis and Range Rovers on their way to an “Elton John” gig that Reg hadn’t bothered to warn me about. Good job I know the backroads off the A249 intimately, a benefit of all that GBG ticking in rural Kent.
Since that last visit, it’s acquired that new Spoons (losing the old shabby one) and a shiny Lidl, both of which seem to have filled the residents with joy, as they should. The Golden Hope is a wonderful conversion of the old courthouse, with the former cells converted into attractive drinking booths. Not quite Cittie of Yorke good, but very characterful nonetheless.
The people of Sittingbourne are, in fact, the cheeriest in England (retiredmartin award), throwing in “lovely jubbly” and “there y’are, my lovely” as if they were extras in “Darling Buds of May”.
As you’ll know, there are few pleasure in life like people-watching in Spoons, and this was a joy. Enough pints of bargain Ruddles being pulled at 11am to make the beer a real joy, too. Cool, full-bodied and hovering between NBSS 3.5 and 4, this was my best Spoons beer in a while. Compare and contrast with Malcolm’s experience here.
For a change though, the eyes were on me. A chap on a posing table staring straight at me for several minutes in fact. Not until I walked off to be nosey somewhere else did I notice that Joanna Gosling and Salvador Dali were also in his eyeline. I have him down as a Dali fan. I’m sure Simon will be the centre of attention when he gets there in 2025.
As you know, I’m a fan of art, and I knew from earlier visits that Sittingbourne is a world leader in street art, focused around the little alleys off the High Street. From the mainstream,
to the weird,
it’s a real treasure trove.
Taking these shots really got the starers off their park benches, cans of Stella in hand.
“What you doing mate ?”
“Taking photos of the street art”
“Why, it’s **** “
They were harmless, and most of a mixed bunch of morning shoppers were charm itself. An old bloke in the butchers sang a better version of “The Tide is High” than I heard Debbie Harry manage at her famous gig in Liverpool in 1993.
There’s a Pie & Mash shop, of course, but for you gourmands out there I recommend the Central Pie Shop, unchanged in 80 years and with Balti pies aged under plastic lids for nearly as long.
Plenty to do around here for families; we still have a souvenir tyre from the go-karting circuit in our garage, and of course children love micropubs like the excellent Paper Mill.
Wetherspoons may not have the beer quality they once had (discuss on Malcolm’s blog), but their pubs seem no less popular, and I commend them for investing in hotel rooms in some of our lesser known England.