Travelling round the country* I’m always struck by how little I actually know about our great land.  I’m also amazed by how many wonderful pubs, like Stockton Heath’s Red Lion and Fleetwood’s Royal Oak, I’d never heard of before their inclusion in the new GBG prompted a visit.

But the Queen’s Arms in Cowden Pound had been on my hit list for 20 years, a series of unfortunate events contriving against a visit.


The primary unfortunate event is the proximity of my in-laws.

Cowden 2.PNG

It’s in the middle of nowhere, but only 22 minutes from Southborough (the rough bit of Tunbridge Wells), or 19 if Mrs RM is driving.  But the Queen’s Head never seemed like a pub you’d take my in-laws, who regard the local Spoons as a bit challenging.

It’s not that they don’t enjoy the odd half of Harveys, and I got them famously sozzled in the Craft Central that is Fuggles last year.  But, like most Kent gentlefolk, they expect 21st century comfort, such as a uniformed young man asking “Will you be dining with us today Madam ?”.

You wouldn’t have got that in the Queen’s Arms, whose niche food offer is captured here beautifully by Paul Bailey.

Mr Coe’s Basic Unspoilt Pubs list

The legendary Mr RW Coe rated it second only to the Sun on his list of Classic, Basic and Unspoilt Pubs, which should have been good enough to force a visit out of me, in-laws or not.

But, despite ticking pubs in Markbeech and Cowden over the years, I failed to visit.  Largely, I guess, due to the constrained opening hours you only saw in rural parlour pubs run by octogenarian ladies (until micros outdid them).  Following the retirement of Elsie the pub has started opening weekdays, albeit from a civilised start time of 5pm.  One of the easier ticks this year, in fact.

The third reason for neglecting it is the perverse one; it rarely, if ever, made the Beer Guide.  I now know that this was at the request of the landlady herself.

Anyway, it’s firmly in the Guide now, and is an absolute classic. The 25 minute walk from Cowden station seems scant effort for the beauty of the interior.



I’m not much fussed about authenticity; this room to the left is just a beautiful pub room to match Leintwardine’s Sun.

Of course, everyone was tucked in the unchanged bar to the right. You come here to chat, not to stare. And to drink, of course.


I do like unmarked handpumps, but it’s a good job I know this is a Larkins stronghold. The other dozen or so villagers seemed to be drinking it, anyway.  That may explain why it was such a superb, scarily easy-drinking low-strength beer (3.4%, NBSS 4).  One gent seemed to be using it to cut the strength of his Gold Label, perhaps a first in the history of mixology.

It was entirely unpretentious, reminding me a bit of this bustling pub in rural Hertfordshire, rather than being preserved in aspic.

A local signalled me to sit on his table, so I joined in the chat rather than take photos (canine friend apart).  I asked him who owned the pub now.

The village ?”  No

Elsie’s family ?”  No

Who then ?”   I do

Good job I’d been so gushing about the beer and the pub, then.

There was a joke about unusual Vietnamese dining habits that I’ll spare my sensitive animal loving readers.  It may be repeated when Simon visits, though. Quite what they’ll make of Simon, I shudder to think.


*Don’t worry, I’m going abroad again soon. Edinburgh and Mid Wales in May.


  1. Martin, in my experience the best way to make a visit in an area populated by relatives is simply not to tell them of your trip. That way, they can’t be upset that you wish to visit a different pub to their choice and they can’t be offended if you try to get away from them to go to such an establishment. The only thing to be wary of is it could get awkward if you are caught. Up to know, I’ve never been caught doing this.

    Assuming the landlord has no connections to Chesterfield, the appearance of a kitchen containing a cream cracker tin, some pickled onions and presumably some cheese is very pleasing. That should be the maximum allowed in a pub kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Larkins, haven’t heard of them for years. Does their output travel outside their core area at all these days? I have vague memories of getting hold of a stray cask of that in the mid 90’s, excellent beer.


    1. Larkin’s are still going strong Scott, and a new generation is being trained to take over. The beers are rarely, if ever, seen outside the brewery’s trading area; which is a radius of roughly 30 miles from Chiddingstone.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m pleased that you finally made it to the Queen’s Arms, Martin. It’s great that the pub has been saved, as there were real concerns a few years ago that it might have been converted into a private house, or redeveloped altogether. However, I agree that the pub isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I remember the look of sheer horror, on the face of a friend’s wife when we called in for what was her first, and also her last visit!

    You made the right choice in walking from Cowden station. Did you cut across country or follow the roads? If you follow the path which runs parallel to the tracks northward from the station, you will come across an isolated house, alone in a clearing in the woods. It reminds me of something out of a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale, and you half expect to see an old crone leaning on her broomstick, by the door!

    There was a reason for the pub not appearing in the Good Beer Guide, and that was because Elsie, the former legendary landlady, had specifically requested that her pub be omitted. She was concerned the place could be over-run by visitors, and wanted her pub to remain primarily as somewhere for locals to enjoy and appreciate. The local branch, of course, respected her wishes.

    It’s good to see the Queen’s Arms selling Larkin’s, as rumour had it that Bob Dockerty, the brewery’s owner, had always been keen to get his beer into the pub, but had been unable to do so because of its former tie to Whitbread and then Admiral Taverns. I’m not sure of the reason for the unmarked hand-pulls, especially as the pub is listed as stocking a Larkin’s seasonal beer alongside the Trad.

    I must get back over there, this summer.


      1. I am slightly surprised by that. Keeping it out of the Good Pub Guide makes more sense, but there cant be hundreds of people navigating rural Kent by GBG, can there. And it would still appeal in the National Inventory and local CAMRA guides.


  4. Until not too long ago, two very erudite, octogenarian gents, used to drink in The Old Star, Clifford every Friday evening (and, in moderation, on other occasions). Initially they would have a couple of halves of OBB. When the second half was roughly half way down the glass, two bottles of Strong Golden (Sam Smith’s barley wine) were purchased. Said Strong Golden was then added to the glass, a little at a time. This continued with the purchase of two more bottles of the strong ale, until their glasses contained 100% barley wine. With the second bottles polished off and their glasses now below a third full, two whiskeys would be obtained, tipped into the glass and swirled round with the dregs of the ale, to finish off with. I wished I had written down the tales they told me; lives well travelled, well lived, everything well done. Sadly neither of them are no longer with us, but I am proud to have been able to call them my friends.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Reminded me of the time I was in the Plough and the large clinically obese (NHS vets section definition) pub dog decided to lean against me and my daughter’s legs. It had to be levered off by locals when we wanted to get up for another another beer. Proper pub.

        Liked by 1 person

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