Published: 06:00, 30 April 2021
It’s the coldest April for 60 years, do we really want to be sitting in a pub garden?
The SD apprentice and I decided we did and that we’d take the opportunity for a little star gazing as well.
For no particular reason we found ourselves in Hextable, near Dartford, which I now know to my cost to be the driest spot in Kent, (thanks to a 19th century by-law) with not a pub in sight - and to think, I used to quite like Quakers Oats.
Right on the edge of this oasis away from alcohol we discovered, through the gloom, a pub so shrouded in scaffolding we weren’t sure it was open.
The Ship Inn at Wilmington is so close to the Quaker boundary that the top end of its car park is probably a booze-free area, fortunately for us the bottom end isn’t.
Not sure if it was open, I approached two doors at the back, the only area with any light at all – the first was locked but I was delighted to find the second one open and promptly walked straight into a kitchen.
There was a very tasty looking meal ready prepared on the side but remembering my manners, not to mention the Three Bears, I called out ‘hello’. I did this five or six times before venturing through the kitchen into the bar and calling out several more times.
Finally I concluded it must be a ghost ship and walked back out, bumping, as I did, fairly and squarely into the landlady who was just showing her last three customers of the day out of her voluptuous garden.
Fearing the worst, that I might be considered a burglar, or perhaps even worse, wasn’t going to get served, I hurriedly explained that I’d tried calling out.
But I needn’t have feared, they are clearly welcoming folk in this neck of the woods on the fringes of Kent and Steph said we’d be fine to sit at a table in the car park.
The apprentice, who prides himself on being a hardy, outdoor type took a seat in his shirtsleeves and ordered a Guinness. I pulled on a hat, coat and gloves and asked what beer they had on. Unsurprising for the times there was nothing on cask and not desiring lager, I bravely went the John Smith's route.
Sat in the dark waiting for our drinks with the car park dimly lit by a large pink super moon I couldn’t decide whether the strange circumstances felt clandestine or just a bit daft?
Steph was back in a trice and delivered the drinks with a smile, she looked absolutely freezing herself by now but was still happy to chat for several minutes.
We discovered this is a Stonegate pub, or an Enterprise Inn as they used to be, or an Ei, as the group chose to be called. The landlady said it could be confusing and during her four years tenure of The Ship the company had chosen to change its name at least once for each year.
It was so dark I couldn’t help sampling the apprentice’s pint instead of mine. Ah well, accidents do happen and particularly when his outdoor bravado rubbed off and he returned to the car for a coat and gloves.
For my second drink I decided to stick to JS but my sidekick took a more warming option and ordered a Jack Daniels straight. I can’t tell you the exact price of each drink as I paid a tenner on my card each time and received hard cash as change – it must be something to do with minimum amount card payments. In any event the first round was £7.80 and the second 90p cheaper, so pretty good value all round.
Cheerily delivering our drinks, Steph again paused awhile to share the Hextable and its Quaker history and explain why there can be no offies, pubs or takeaways in the village. The Ship itself dates back to the 1800s and will be starting a new era when the scaffolding comes down in three weeks to reveal a fully renovated building.
As already mentioned, I resisted stealing Steph's supper and other food was no longer being served so we didn’t eat but I have it on good authority The Ship served takeaways right through lockdown and the only thing more popular than Curry Thursday was the Sunday roast, which at its height, you had to order by Wednesday to have any chance.
Food is currently available from noon to 3pm Monday to Thursday and from noon to 5pm Friday to Sunday.
Not long before we departed the landlord arrived back and as he passed shared a friendly ‘alright lads’, but this was before, ironically, he found himself locked out – following my accidental incursion Steph had obviously tightened security.
Despite the dark and the cold I’m delighted it didn’t turn out to be a ghost Ship and will do my best to get back and sample the garden in some sunshine.
The Ship Inn, Puddledock Lane, Dartford DA2 7QF
Decor: A very difficult one to call as I only saw the kitchen and the bottom of the car park in the dark, but everything suggests the large garden must be lovely. ***
Drink: The Guinness, which I sampled, was good and, as John Smith's goes, my pint didn’t taste too bad at all – for some reason I kept being reminded of those cans with widgets. ***
Price: Due to the payment method I can’t be specific but a Guinness and a JS were £7.80, the second round of a Jack Daniels and JS came in at £6.90. ****
Food: I didn’t get to try it, but I have no reason to doubt Steph and by the sound of it the food here is in great demand. ****
Staff: Given our late, unconventional, arrival the landlady could not have been more welcoming and given he was locked out as a result of us, even the landlord shared a cheery greeting. ****