Published: 11:30, 03 January 2020
| Updated: 14:43, 27 January 2020
There might be a few older pubs out there but I can’t believe there’s another in Kent which can trace its landlords back to the middle of the 15th century.
The Woolpack Inn has been welcoming visitors to Chilham, near Canterbury, for half a millennium and, judging by the quality of its offering and popularity, has every chance of doing so for another five centuries.
Steeped in history, the place oozes tradition from the second you walk through the door to the moment you finally drag yourself away from the log burner in the fantastic fireplace.
You might reasonably expect stripped wooden floorboards, hops hung from beams, homemade chutney for sale on the bar and barmaids in neat black uniforms. But, unless the heart and soul of such historic pubs is right such things are mere window dressing.
There’s nothing more traditional than the board proudly listing every custodian the place has ever had, but on the opposite wall was a large TV screen, set to silent, displaying the latest update on Trump’s impeachment.
So, does this hunking historic hostelry, currently part of the Shepherd Neame family, maintain the values created over the centuries?
I started with a pint of 4.5 per cent Howling Woolf. The latest offering from Kent’s oldest brewer is a warm winter ale with a slightly red colour. It has been created in collaboration with a Finnish brewery and is easy drinking despite being full bodied and full of flavour.
There was also mulled wine on offer at £3.95 for a medium and £4.95 for a large glass, the Tattinger Brut Reserve was a good bit steeper at £8.50 a glass.
There is a large restaurant at the side, as you might expect in an impressive 14-bedroom hotel (only three of them are in the main building) and, although not busy, it looked inviting. However, having secured a fireside seat I was going nowhere so we ordered our food to be delivered to the bar.
There was a radio station playing gently in the background at the right level, just loud enough for me to first recognise a Blondie hit and then Goodbye Blackberry Way by The Move (the first song ever played on Radio 1) – now there’s history for you.
Before the food arrived Lizzie the barmaid delivered a second drink and we got chatting. She’s worked here for 10 years so the place has certainly impressed her and when she got married in September she used the green hops, now in the Woolpack bar, around the church. She was even happy to share the photos and informed me the price of hops has doubled recently from a tenner to £20. Apparently they have to go up green, the same day they are cut, or they dry out and are impossible to handle.
You could immediately tell she has a real love for this pub and if the staff are this happy then you know the boozer is getting most things right.
We went on to have a very interesting conversation about the number of Europeans who cancelled bookings because of Brexit, particularly the Germans and the Dutch, but as she was about to host a private party for a group of Government officials and planned to install a swear box for the dreaded ‘B’ word I kept my thoughts to myself.
By now the food had arrived, which was excellent, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, though you do pay for what you get and this sort of quality isn’t cheap.
During lunch a hairy mutt by the name of Hagrid came bowling into the bar and I took an immediate shine to the bouncing, boisterous fellow. He’s bright too - his owner, who was in for a swift one (or two) before the dreaded school run, says he’s learned the word pub and as soon as it’s mentioned he’s by the door. In fact, he’s even brighter than this because when she spelt out ‘p’ ‘u’ ‘b’ he knew exactly what she was saying.
There are plenty of good reasons to praise the Woolpack Inn and, for me, it retains and respects its proud history in exactly the right way. It’s a great pub in a typically chocolate box Kent village, but it certainly knows how to charge.
When all’s said and done, regular Hagrid is a great judge of a ‘p’ ‘u’ ‘b’ – if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.