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Secret Drinker picks his best beer gardens in Kent

Can there possibly be anything better than sitting in your garden with the sun shining, the birds tweeting gently and the wind rustling the trees?

Yes, absolutely there is – sitting in a pub garden with a pint of freshly poured beer and a gaggle of ‘knowledgeable’ mates all keen and able to educate you on a variety of subjects from football, to wives, to avoiding the shopping.

Remember sitting in a pub garden? Picture: Shepherd Neame
Remember sitting in a pub garden? Picture: Shepherd Neame

Of course, when we are permitted to enjoy this pleasure to rival all other pleasures the advice will need to be delivered from 2m (or perhaps 1m) but normal service will pretty much have been resumed.

The weather was brilliant when I last sat in a pub garden just before lockdown and the ‘advice’ I received was as useful as always so I’m convinced that once we’re beyond this 1970s disaster movie the sun will still be shining and my drinking buddies will still have plenty of gems to impart. I don’t know which Kent pub garden will be the first to open or what the exact rules might be, but I want to place it on record right now - I want to be there.

In the meantime I am going to share with you the five gardens I’ve enjoyed most over the last year of touring this great county’s pubs.

So, here there are in reverse order...

At No.5, and this is the only one I visited while the rain was hissing down, is the Red Lion at Badlesmere. When I was last in all I wanted was a seat in front of a roaring fire, but during a previous impromptu visit with Mrs SD we lunched in the back garden and whilst the pub might be as close to the road as it’s possible to be, the garden was tranquil, well-kept and inviting. Added to this the food we received was top notch. Believe me when this free house is allowed to re-open there will be a queue of local folk mad keen for a seat in this garden.

What Secret Drinker enjoyed while at The Red Lion, Ashford Rd, Badlesmere, Faversham
What Secret Drinker enjoyed while at The Red Lion, Ashford Rd, Badlesmere, Faversham

No. 4 on my list, and highly deserving of such a lofty position is the Anchor Inn at Wingham. I swerved the posher looking establishment at the top end of the village and opted instead for this fantastic down-to-earth boozer which does exactly what it says on the tin – as the sign outside says ‘this pub keeps it real – the food, the ales, the music and the people’. When I discovered it, the size of the back garden took me by surprise, it’s enormous. But, like everything else about the place, it’s not pretentious or poncy, just a great space to relax. And, anywhere which gives its hens an old lawn mower has to be great!

The Anchor Inn, Wingham
The Anchor Inn, Wingham

Taking third place is the Black Horse at Thurnham. When I visited this one, more than a year ago, I described it as the quintessential British pub and I stand firmly behind that statement – I still can’t imagine anyway better to conclude a long dog walk with a well-earned pint. And, from what I remember, the garden, which is spacious and inviting, is already divided up into separate areas which might adapt themselves well for social distancing. The garden is well maintained and there is a good blend of open areas and shaded corners to choose from. As soon as I hear it has been re-opened I will be reaching for the SD hound’s lead and heading to the Pilgrims Way.

The Black Horse t Thurnham
The Black Horse t Thurnham

I’m sure there will be some who take issue with my choice of a second best pub garden, The Malling Jug in West Malling. I fully accept there are larger gardens available, with more greenery and a good deal more countryside on view. But, it is all about doing the very best with what you’ve got and this is where the Jug is such a winner. It might be small and enclosed within the micro pub, but I’ve included it on the basis the roof is open to the elements and even compared to much larger, recently renovated, pub gardens in the town this is definitely the one I would choose to sit in. Issues surrounding social distancing might not be so easy to overcome, but as soon as you get the chance get along to the little cracker.

The Malling Jug
The Malling Jug

Top spot has to go to the Ship Inn at Ospringe. Perfectly pleasant and welcoming inside, it is nevertheless immediately apparent it’s all about the garden at this fantastic little boozer just outside Faversham. John the landlord may have been asleep in his private garden for the entire duration of my visit, but judging by the incredible way it is presented he clearly spends many long hours maintaining the lawns and plants. It’s relatively small, but it is beautifully formed and has obviously been developed and loved over the years. It is no surprise The Ship has been crowned First in Faversham in Bloom on more than once occasion and, to complete the experience, having found this beautiful green oasis, I was served one of the best pub salads ever.

The Ship Inn at Ospringe
The Ship Inn at Ospringe

The great British pub has become inextricably woven into our culture over the centuries and it is no surprise to me it has been listed as by far and away the most missed thing during lockdown. The vast majority of our wonderful Kent pubs have great gardens to escape into and, if they can play their part in helping us get back to the local pub safely, we should celebrate them – I hope to see you in a pub garden very soon.

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