My postbox is full of letters from readers asking why I never visit Ashford. The truth is that there hasn’t been a new Beer Guide pub there since The Reformation*. The answer people really expect is that Ashford is matched only by Maidenhead for its ability to create a void in the soul.
At one stage they even stopped the train that took you to Brussels, dumping you instead in France. That’s how bad it was. At least Crewe has a Belgian beer bar.
But Ashford must be worth of investigation, I thought, the population is rocketing (75,000, unbelievably). And it was only 15 minutes, and £8.10 (!) on the train from Folkestone. What sights greet you;
The street art turns out to be a plague-era warning to stay away.
But the terraces of Barrow Hill are gorgeous,
and you can never have enough tanks in your shopping centre.
The High Street isn’t buzzing though, whatever that Portas Pilot status did for Ashford isn’t apparent. The vast supermarkets and Outlet Centre have clearly sucked the life out of the centre, Brierley Hill style.
But, as they say, you won’t starve. Just don’t ask for crushed avocado here.
I warmed to the place as the High Street revealed a cheery market, some old timbered buildings, and good use of daffodils. As always, look up, not sideways.
You can see how quiet it was though.
Everyone was in the Spoons, of course, waiting for the “Available Soon” beers to come on.
Actually, they weren’t. No more than a dozen drinkers, which is shameful really. There might have been a dozen real ales on/nearly on; there was a further selection stretching to Gadds No.5 round the corner. A nice, big blackboard listing the beers is clearly an innovation too far.
I only saw the usual lagers (Carling won by a head) served in the half hour I needed to consume my 3rd crushed avocado bagel and coffee of the week. No beer review, but it’s in the Beer Guide, so it must be good, mustn’t it ? Don’t ask how I got the photo below.
It’s a Spoons, so the conversational gems just keep on coming;
“Grab that box to stand on and you’ll be able to see the bar” – to a bloke called Titch who may have been a jockey.
“Get your wedge out H” – to a bloke called Del.
“Have you got Black Label” They had Carling. “I don’t like Carling. Only Black Label”
Most folk here were under 60, on their second beer by 9.30, and engaged in an assessment of the racing odds. That’s not a criticism by the way. Far from it. They were having a better time than you were, and the state of the furniture was not their fault.
The Church of St Mary’s is stunning, the other pubs less so.
Prevailing wisdom is that a micro pub would clean up here, but prevailing wisdom is often wrong. Unusually, there’s more pubs in the suburbs than the centre, and those suburban pubs often play to the same middle-aged audience as the micros filling a gap along the coast.
*The Craft Beer reformation of 2007.