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Secret Drinker reviews Shepherd Neame's the Five Bells in Seal near Sevenoaks


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At first I thought it must be me – no sooner had I walked through the door of The Five Bells in Seal and everyone got up and headed for the door.

I was left all on my lonesome with a pair of brown fur balls, a tank full of fish and Derek and his Dominoes.

Gold and gleaming, the five bells at The Five Bells on Church Road in Seal look as if, along with the rest of the outside of the pub, they have had a new coat of paint
Gold and gleaming, the five bells at The Five Bells on Church Road in Seal look as if, along with the rest of the outside of the pub, they have had a new coat of paint

Two regulars, who looked as if they were in for the duration, drank up hurriedly and were gone in a flash, even the barmaid grabbed her mate by the arm and made a beeline for smokers’ corner.

I was left sitting on a tall, trendy stool checking out the tropical fish and making friends with a pair of Patterdales. Interesting in so much as the SD hound is half Patterdale terrier, half springer spaniel (and at least half completely nuts).

The music had changed to Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas singing Do You Want To Know A Secret before anyone decided it was safe to return and I’d made friends with four-year-old Gino and the more youthful, and a good deal thinner, Raine, aged one.

When the barmaid and her buddy re-entered they were accompanied by a jovial fellow, who introduced himself as Uncle Dickie.

After making a fuss of the pub hounds he took a stool at the bar and I waited to see what he’d order on a Tuesday at midday. After telling barmaid Caroline he had to be home by 6.30 at the latest to see Arsenal play Leeds in the cup, he went for a double vodka Red Bull.

I was left alone with just canine company for a little while. If you look carefully you will spot the door at the far end of the bar marked gents
I was left alone with just canine company for a little while. If you look carefully you will spot the door at the far end of the bar marked gents
Everywhere I’ve been recently seems to feature a decent sized tropical fish tank and The Five Bells was no exception. I’m not sure what the three handles are for?
Everywhere I’ve been recently seems to feature a decent sized tropical fish tank and The Five Bells was no exception. I’m not sure what the three handles are for?
Gino was perfectly happy anywhere in the bar – whether anyone answered his request to open the door to outside alley/gents I’m not sure
Gino was perfectly happy anywhere in the bar – whether anyone answered his request to open the door to outside alley/gents I’m not sure
Raine, the one-year-old Patterdale, is keen to gain the attention of Uncle Dickie
Raine, the one-year-old Patterdale, is keen to gain the attention of Uncle Dickie
While a slightly more portly Gino, aged four, takes a seat between two regulars at the bar
While a slightly more portly Gino, aged four, takes a seat between two regulars at the bar

And I thought I’d been adventurous with a pint of Hurlimanns!

Needing a little light relief I headed for the door marked Gentlemen and immediately faced another door, stepping through this second door, rather than facing the porcelain I found myself outside in the alleyway.

Thinking I’d taken a wrong turn I retraced my steps but the inner sign definitely read Gents so I investigated the alley and finally found the lavvy door.

Inside was a revelation as it was one of the nicer outdoor privies I’ve experienced and even included specific instructions for a toilet brush and a special message from the twins Kray.

Back indoors a couple of other punters had now popped in, including one regular taking a break from his shift for Sevenoaks Gutters. However, Uncle Dickie, who’d now moved to a bottle of Bud, still held centre stage and was seeking help with some delicate personal grooming. Caroline couldn’t help with his request for tweezers so instead used ‘a decent pair of nails’ to confidently remove the lengthy, rogue eyebrow hair causing Dickie’s distress.

The gents can be found in the alleyway running along the right hand side of the pub
The gents can be found in the alleyway running along the right hand side of the pub
They may be outside, but the gents were obviously included in the pub’s latest makeover and are impeccably decorated. I can report they were also clean and fresh
They may be outside, but the gents were obviously included in the pub’s latest makeover and are impeccably decorated. I can report they were also clean and fresh
Inside the cubicle you find an extremely useful graphic demonstrating correct usage of a toilet brush
Inside the cubicle you find an extremely useful graphic demonstrating correct usage of a toilet brush
Presumably a request to wash your hands is more likely to be listened to if it is accompanied by a photo of gangsters
Presumably a request to wash your hands is more likely to be listened to if it is accompanied by a photo of gangsters

My request for help with personal grooming fell on deaf ears so instead I settled for a second pint and, not being a fan of standard Sheps ales, this time sampled the Whitstable Bay Blonde lager. On balance I reckon the Hurlimanns is a slightly better option.

Chat at the bar then shifted to the current fortunes of the pub football team and the fact that the boys had very unfairly lost a recent game in Fergie time. However, the music shifted to The Turtles singing Happy Together which prompted a number of folks to sing along, with at least one whistling.

We were then firstly joined by landlady Di, who was preparing to take the hairy hounds for a walk, and a short while later by landlord Shaky who had been out doing a spot of clothes shopping.

On her return from walkies Di requested Caroline make her a quick jacket – incidentally the only time I saw any food being ordered. I might well have sampled a pub sandwich but I’d not long since finished the lunch Mrs SD had packed me off to work with.

The longer I stayed to witness the comings and goings at The Five Bells the more I realised it is an incredibly close-knit family where a very experienced landlord and landlady get on very well with extremely experienced regulars.

At the front of the pub there is a small, but beautifully formed, outside seating
At the front of the pub there is a small, but beautifully formed, outside seating
Making the very best use of limited space available, the dartboard has been carefully slotted into this tight little area at the back of the left hand side of the pub – the dart team was playing later that evening, but were away to Kemsing
Making the very best use of limited space available, the dartboard has been carefully slotted into this tight little area at the back of the left hand side of the pub – the dart team was playing later that evening, but were away to Kemsing
Not yet lit for winter, the log burner to the left hand side of the bar looks as if it creates a very cosy corner when the cold weather really sets in
Not yet lit for winter, the log burner to the left hand side of the bar looks as if it creates a very cosy corner when the cold weather really sets in

This is a traditional pub being managed and run in a wonderfully traditional way – regulars are almost treated as if they’re members of the family and, in my experience, even first-time visitors are made to feel comfortable and welcome in a short space of time.

Finally, just a quick heads up for visiting dog owners – only resident pooches are allowed inside the bar.

The Five Bells on Church Road in Seal
The Five Bells on Church Road in Seal

The Five Bells, 25 Church Road, Seal, Sevenoaks TN15 0AU

Decor: Like a proper pub should be – jam packed full of all sorts of interesting items, sports photos and tropical fish. There are also some great on-trend tall stools in a variety of different shapes and styles. *****

Drink: It was Hobson’s choice for me as I once again found myself facing the usual Shepherd Neame offerings. I went the lager route and in a close run race would put the Hurlimanns ahead of Whitstable Bay Blonde. **

Price: I’m assuming there were other drinks at different prices, but my pint of Hurlimanns was £4.70 and the Whitstable Bay was £4.70 as well. **

Staff: She might have headed out moments after I entered, but Caroline was a cheery and effective operator when she was behind the bar. And, landlady Di and shopper landlord Shaky seemed equally pleasant folk when they walked in. ****

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