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Secret Drinker picks the top pubs he's visited across Kent

What a strange year. When I started my mission to discover the very best, and worst, pubs in Kent the dreaded ‘B’ word was banned in bars with some even fining locals for daring to mention it.

Now, it’s us banned from the bars, possibly even being fined if we’re irresponsible enough to break the rules, and there's a new word we're all talking about.

Pictured during an incredibly warm day in the summer, regulars at the Queen Charlotte in Rochester were keen to welcome the new arrival
Pictured during an incredibly warm day in the summer, regulars at the Queen Charlotte in Rochester were keen to welcome the new arrival

But, in such a short period, I have been lucky to visit some of this county’s quite spectacular pubs and, at this particularly challenging time, I’d like to try and lift your spirits by celebrating the very best.

So, in time honoured tradition, here they are in reverse order.

At No.8 is the Queen Charlotte on Rochester High Street. It was sweltering hot and a typical sports bar. There’s no denying this is a rough and ready boozer, but it was the warmth of welcome from so many locals which sees it sneak into the list. And, I came across the youngest drinker ever - just 12 hours old, can anyone beat that?

The area outside at the back of the Queen Charlotte was the only place to escape the overpowering heat
The area outside at the back of the Queen Charlotte was the only place to escape the overpowering heat

One up at No.7 is The Sennockian in Sevenoaks. The only Spoons to make the list, it isn’t as noisy or lairy as many others (or its owner!). As usual it offers great value for money and does what it says on the tin. Some folks are snobby about this chain, but I reckon they get a lot right. In this case it was the staff, particular those on the door, who deserve recognition.

If all door staff were as friendly and pleasant as Claire at The Sennockian, Sevenoaks there would be a lot less trouble in pubs
If all door staff were as friendly and pleasant as Claire at The Sennockian, Sevenoaks there would be a lot less trouble in pubs
Known for its unique carpet designs, Wetherspoon is proud to be different, and the Sennockian is no exception
Known for its unique carpet designs, Wetherspoon is proud to be different, and the Sennockian is no exception

Slotting in at No.6 is The Ship Inn, Ospringe (just outside Faversham). Blink and you might miss it from the road, but that would be a great pity as this is a real gem. Landlord John might have been snoring behind the fence, but it’s the quality of the garden which sets this apart from the rest. Although caring SD fans worried about a carb overload, I also enjoyed one of the best salads ever.

If you look just behind that fence at the Ship you’ll find landlord John enjoying his afternoon siesta
If you look just behind that fence at the Ship you’ll find landlord John enjoying his afternoon siesta
The Ship Inn, Ospringe has a great bar and the barmaid was equally charming, but it is the garden that’s the real star of the show
The Ship Inn, Ospringe has a great bar and the barmaid was equally charming, but it is the garden that’s the real star of the show

Five alive, and it certainly was, The Iron Pier Brewery is hidden away in Gravesend but the place was positively buzzing when I was in. Its taproom has limited hours, but when the big ‘C’ is beaten make sure you check the opening hours on its website and track down the friendliest, nicest brewer you’ll ever meet in this quite fantastic chapel to brewing.

The taproom was busy and bustling on a Sunday lunchtime. No extra entertainment is required at Iron Pier in Gravesend, just great craic and great beer
The taproom was busy and bustling on a Sunday lunchtime. No extra entertainment is required at Iron Pier in Gravesend, just great craic and great beer
The nicest guy you’ll ever meet in brewing – James has never been more at home than he is at Iron Pier
The nicest guy you’ll ever meet in brewing – James has never been more at home than he is at Iron Pier

In at No.4, narrowly missing the bronze medal spot, is a life on the ocean wave. Gazing though the window of The Hampton Inn, Herne Bay you could be forgiven for thinking you are on a boat. Many pubs are proud to be the heartbeat of the village, this one goes a step further as it’s the only place left in the village. Push hard to get through the door and you’ll meet an incredibly upbeat, smiley landlord and landlady. Quite rightly a favourite for both walkers and their dogs.

Happy in their work, the barmaids at the Hampton are helpful, friendly, chatty and efficient
Happy in their work, the barmaids at the Hampton are helpful, friendly, chatty and efficient
Taken directly through the window at the Hampton Inn, Herne Bay you won’t get a much better view of the sea than this
Taken directly through the window at the Hampton Inn, Herne Bay you won’t get a much better view of the sea than this

Squeezing itself into third place is The Old Neptune in Whitstable. With memories flooding back, I enjoyed a fantastically nostalgic visit to the beach and was pleased to find this dog-friendly pub is equally as warm and welcoming at any time of year. As quirky as its barmaids, this boozer still attracts plenty of local hipsters. It was so good I was even prepared to forgive the lumpy custard.

Sitting on the beach as it does, it takes a fair bit of blue and white paint to keep The Old Neptune, Whitstable looking this good. (32447967)
Sitting on the beach as it does, it takes a fair bit of blue and white paint to keep The Old Neptune, Whitstable looking this good. (32447967)
The benches outside at The Neppy literally sit on the beach and are packed during the summer
The benches outside at The Neppy literally sit on the beach and are packed during the summer

My runner-up from a year of brilliant pubs is The Malling Jug in the village of the same name. Hidden away down an alleyway only a small blackboard gives away its location, but it’s beautifully formed and barmaid Tapi will make sure you don’t pass by. This superb micro-pub offers a fantastic range of wonderfully brewed ales. It doesn’t seek to compete with its bigger, brasher neighbours, but offers something very different and very special. It doesn’t

need to advertise as everyone who visits knows how good it is and returns.

Tapi is keen that everyone gets to enjoy the Malling Jug in West Malling and she’s not afraid to make her point!
Tapi is keen that everyone gets to enjoy the Malling Jug in West Malling and she’s not afraid to make her point!
Beautifully presented, The Malling Jug is one micro-pub you will definitely want to re-visit.
Beautifully presented, The Malling Jug is one micro-pub you will definitely want to re-visit.

And, wait for it, the top spot and gold medal goes to…drumroll… The Red Lion at Badlesmere. Even a torrential downpour couldn’t put me off this roadside beauty. A proper family-run free house, this is a boozer which perfectly blends tradition with a truly friendly welcome and great customer service. I had no idea the menu was gluten free but my meal was brilliant, almost as good as the perfectly kept and poured pint from the Wantsum Brewery. Visitors are made just as welcome as the regulars.

A perfect blend of tradition and modern customer service the Red Lion is a pub which knows exactly how to welcome regulars and visitors
A perfect blend of tradition and modern customer service the Red Lion is a pub which knows exactly how to welcome regulars and visitors
It might be close to the road and not be particularly inviting from the car park, but The Red Lion at Badlesmere is a quite fantastic, family-run local pub
It might be close to the road and not be particularly inviting from the car park, but The Red Lion at Badlesmere is a quite fantastic, family-run local pub

I realise everyone will have their personal favourites, but I hope you can see why these little beauties were chosen as my top eight Kent pubs…so far.

If I’d had room to complete the top 10 I’d have squeezed in The Anchor Inn, Wingham and The Foresters, Tonbridge in that order.

The Anchor in Wingham lives up to the board outside – real food, real ales, real music, real people, real pub
The Anchor in Wingham lives up to the board outside – real food, real ales, real music, real people, real pub
Colourful by anyone’s standards, the Foresters in Tonbridge is eclectically decorated and packed full of fascinating items
Colourful by anyone’s standards, the Foresters in Tonbridge is eclectically decorated and packed full of fascinating items

As always, I’d love to hear about your favourites and for you to tell me why they’re your best boozer.

Finally, prepare yourselves for next week, as I will be bringing you the names of the pubs from the other end of the scale – the worst pubs I’ve visited.

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