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Secret Drinker reviews the Bowl Inn, Charing, near Ashford


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Wandering along a maze of winding lanes through Kent’s agricultural countryside I turned one more corner and was confronted by a huge pub slap bang in the middle of nowhere.

At this point I couldn’t decide exactly where I was but as this was the first hostelry I’d come across for many miles I decided the opportunity was too good to miss.

I hadn’t got a clue where I was and hadn’t seen a road sign for miles when the lights from the Bowl Inn came into view
I hadn’t got a clue where I was and hadn’t seen a road sign for miles when the lights from the Bowl Inn came into view

Despite the scale of the gravelled car park to the left of the pub we struggled to find a spot due to the haphazard organisation and folks who’d abandoned their vehicles next to the shrubs and trees in the middle.

Walking in I spotted a collapsed signpost in the hedgerow which did at least explain the lack of local signage.

I can now confidently report the Bowl Inn, which can trace its history as a hostelry right back to 1513, sits on the fringes of the village of Charing between Maidstone and Ashford.

The pub's frontage is extensive and I wasn’t surprised to discover it is still very much an inn, in the truest sense of the word, and offers weary travellers the chance to book into one of nine en suite rooms.

It’s no wonder I couldn’t work out where I was, someone had knocked the only local road sign into the hedge next to the pub
It’s no wonder I couldn’t work out where I was, someone had knocked the only local road sign into the hedge next to the pub

It must have been a husky night at the Bowl as there were three sled dogs dozing lazily around the pub entrance. There was also an open window offering garden service but I was keen to take a look inside.

There are a few remaining traditional touches, but for the most part this place has been super-sized and modernised in a big way.

As a result some charm has been lost but it does allow this free house to tackle the tricky balance of managing to cater for diners as well as locals who just want a pint in the bar.

An open window at the front of the pub had a table outside so the barmaid could offer garden service to anyone who wants it
An open window at the front of the pub had a table outside so the barmaid could offer garden service to anyone who wants it

Heading left to the bar I was immediately impressed by the brightly-lit yellow Corona pump complete with its rack of lemons. However, I opted for a pint of Flintlock from the Musket Brewery.

Very easy drinking for £4 I have to admit there wasn’t quite as much taste as I’d hoped for and it turned out to be something of a damp squib.

There were a couple of stools at the bar made out of tractor seats but, whilst they looked interesting didn’t look overly comfortable, so I headed through the cavernous dining room towards the garden area at the back.

The dining room is extensive and there’s even more seating outside – both on the patio and in the garden
The dining room is extensive and there’s even more seating outside – both on the patio and in the garden
It wasn’t quite fascinating enough to tempt me to go for a pint, but I did like the design of the Corona pump with its internal light and lemon rack on the side.
It wasn’t quite fascinating enough to tempt me to go for a pint, but I did like the design of the Corona pump with its internal light and lemon rack on the side.

I made it as far as the patio area with plenty of black, plastic tables and seats but didn’t venture as far as the dozen or so picnic tables on the grass.

There weren’t many people braving the garden as it was getting close to dusk but, judging by the evidence they’d left behind, it’s extremely popular with moles – they need to borrow the SD hound, she seems to have a knack for catching the little beggars.

There are plenty of those signs that publicans must think are really funny when they spot them and there was a whole list of dog rules as well as one stating ‘Keep calm, drink wine’.

Beyond the patio there’s a good sized garden with a dozen or so decent sized picnic benches dotted about
Beyond the patio there’s a good sized garden with a dozen or so decent sized picnic benches dotted about
The boar behind the bar wasn’t the only sign of animal life in the bar, I found this cow rug hiding under a table
The boar behind the bar wasn’t the only sign of animal life in the bar, I found this cow rug hiding under a table

Another one suggested ‘beer is cheaper than therapy’ and I was going to mention it to a quiet group gathered at the back of the patio.

However, I then realised this was a wake so obviously didn’t disturb those paying their respects and was pleased to see a message the following day thanking the pub for its great hospitality and thoughtful arrangements.

The current owners bought this free house seven years ago and, after five years, added a considerable extension in 2019 to demonstrate their commitment to the business.

The old part is great and, whilst the extended area is more bland, the pub does, as I say, tackle balancing the eating/drinking dilemma pretty well between the welcoming bar and a well organised dining room.

I selected a pint of 4.2% Flintlock from the Musket Brewery. It claims to be a best bitter to ignite your tastebuds but it didn’t quite light my fire.
I selected a pint of 4.2% Flintlock from the Musket Brewery. It claims to be a best bitter to ignite your tastebuds but it didn’t quite light my fire.

After a swift visit to the gents, which were fantastically decorated, presented and maintained, I took my pint out front and basked in the bright rays of about a dozen powerful white lights which perfectly show off the front of this historic, village boozer and hotel.

I sat at one of the table/benches fashioned out of hefty old railway sleepers and noticed there’s even a line of old sleepers forming a wall down the left hand side as well.

I also took the chance of obtaining some garden service from barmaid Eugenie and received my next pint via the window. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods between Faversham and Ashford you could do a lot worse than bowl along to the Bowl Inn.

It’s starting to feel a little autumnal but it’s not quite time to fire up the log burner – set in a spacious fireplace this burner’s quite a beast
It’s starting to feel a little autumnal but it’s not quite time to fire up the log burner – set in a spacious fireplace this burner’s quite a beast

The Bowl Inn, Egg Hill Road, Charing, Ashford TN27 0HG

Decor: Some nice touches, a cow made into a rug, tractor stools and impeccably decorated facilities but some of the history seems to have been lost with the considerable renovations. ***

Drink: The Flintlock wasn’t quite to my taste but there were plenty of other options and the Estrella was well poured and presented. ***

The toilets were superbly decorated and immaculately maintained
The toilets were superbly decorated and immaculately maintained

Price: A pint of ‘real ale from the pump’ cost £4, an Estrella will set you back £4.70 and a pint of Pepsi is £3.40. ***

Staff: Barmaid Eugenie was kept extremely busy and coped pretty well on her own most of the time – although she did spend a fair bit of time trying to track down some non-existent pork scratchings. ***

Read all Secret Drinker's Kent pub reviews here

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