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We try Kentish pub game Bat and Trap at The Stanhope Arms in Brasted, Westerham

Bat and Trap was first played in a Kentish monastery more than 280 years ago. A gentle sport, which gained a resurgence amongst injured servicemen after the First World War, the pub garden game has seen a gradual decline over the decades as more fast-paced ones took over. Reporter Keely Greenwood had heard about it through friends but had never seen it played, let alone give it a try. She went along to The Stanhope Arms in Brasted in Westerham to find out more.

As I arrived for my first taste of bat and trap, I was reliably informed some games go on until midnight, in the pouring rain. And to be honest, if that was the case, I would have struggled to see the attraction.

But on a relatively warm evening, as the sun started to set on The Stanhope Arms’ idyllic pub garden in Westerham, and the beer and banter flowed, I started to see the appeal.

Paula Taylor, from Fawkham, is the only female on the Stanhope 4ths team and only joined to avoid being stuck home alone every Tuesday while her husband was down the pub.

But that was almost 30 years ago and she’s been hooked ever since. In fact, she admits the only times she’s missed a game are for the births of her two sons in 1999 and 2001.

“I had a caesarian so I couldn’t play for a bit,” she told me.

But once she was healed Paula was straight back to it.

“I’d bring my sons and people would walk around the garden with them whilst I played,” she said. “I’m an outdoorsy type. It doesn’t bother me if it rains or if it finishes late.”

Reporter Keely Greenwood has a try at batting
Reporter Keely Greenwood has a try at batting

Over the years, as the boys have grown, they have played too.

A newcomer to the sport, I can definitely see it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening, taking a turn at batting or bowling in between sipping a pint or a glass of wine.

But along with the banter and the drinking, there is a definite feeling of competitiveness in the air.

As I joined the final match of the season, between The Stanhope Arms and The Rose in Dartford, you could feel the tension in the air.

Paula confided in me. “We’re fighting for second place in the league but to be honest we usually come first, so it’s not great.”

Paula Taylor is a champion bat and trap bowler
Paula Taylor is a champion bat and trap bowler

The home teams keep score for themselves and the other team, and while there is friendly nit-picking at each other over paying attention to the scoring it is also desperately important to get it right.

The team is made up of between six and eight players and is part of the Sevenoaks league, which includes teams from West Kingsdown, Dartford and Sundridge.

The league has been forced to travel further afield for matches as fewer pubs are entering teams, which skipper Roy Taylor, 57, puts down to a variety of reasons, including the loss of space in pub gardens.

“In the past, bat and trap pitches used to be like bowling greens, all fenced off and pristine,” he said. “But when pubs had water meters installed they stopped watering the pitches.”

Roy’s wife Paula puts it down to the concreting over of outdoor space.

Roy Taylor is skipper of the Stanhope Arms team and has been playing for almost 40 years
Roy Taylor is skipper of the Stanhope Arms team and has been playing for almost 40 years

“They’ve all been turned into food areas now,” she said.

And the state of the pitch is of utmost importance in the game, as the bowling element requires a flat surface to avoid the ball bouncing in the wrong direction.

The game, which dates back to the 14th century, is a bit like cricket but without the running. My sort of stuff.

The two teams take it in turns to bat or bowl. The batting team bowls to themselves using the antique-looking trap by hitting one end and releasing the ball placed at the other end into the air. They must then hit the ball and send it to land between two goal posts at the opposite end of the pitch, just under 20 metres away.

The opposing team stands behind the line between the posts and can either catch the ball before it bounces, thus catching the player out, or catch it after it bounces and attempt to bowl the batter out by throwing the ball and knocking down the tiny 12cm square flap at the front of the trap.

Gary Meekcomes demonstrates the perfect stance for the all-important bowling element of the game
Gary Meekcomes demonstrates the perfect stance for the all-important bowling element of the game

One run is scored if the batter hits the ball between the posts and the bowler does not knock down the flap when bowling the ball back.

One batter can continue indefinitely if they manage to always hit the ball between the posts and not get bowled out.

The process of batting and bowling continues until all the batsmen are out. The teams then rotate and the process is repeated.

The team with the highest number of runs wins the leg, and a match consists of the best of three legs.

Daniel Williams from The Rose in Dartford prepares to bat
Daniel Williams from The Rose in Dartford prepares to bat

Gary Meekcomes, who has been playing for more than 20 years, prides himself on hitting more than 100 runs in one innings and being crowned highest runs winner three times in his career.

I rather cheekily suggest that with the width of the goal posts that is not too tricky to achieve, but Gary said it requires a lot of concentration.

“When it’s getting dark and it’s raining and you’ve been playing for a long time, it gets hard to hit it on target every time.”

And he’s proved right when one member of his team hits their first bat wide of the posts, and is automatically out.

The rather antique looking trap
The rather antique looking trap

And he’s proved right again when the first time I try hitting the ball I almost knock myself out.

Gary, from New Ash Green, does admit the game is mainly focused on the bowling, which is why the condition of the pitch is so important.

“When the pitch is bad there is no skill to it. It’s just luck when the pitch bobbles.”

But then, having said that, he says batting is important too.

“Batting out is throwing it away,” he says. “Good batters win the game.

Gary Meekcomes once scored more than one hundred runs in one innings
Gary Meekcomes once scored more than one hundred runs in one innings

“If the batter is good it relies on the bowler to get them out.”

The 55-year-old said he enjoys the game for its unpredictability and social aspects.

“It’s an enjoyable game and you just get to love it,” he said.

“It’s competitive but sociable at the same time. The banter is great. We slate each other.

“We go to different pubs and different pitches. No night is the same.

Skipper Roy Taylor ready to catch the ball
Skipper Roy Taylor ready to catch the ball

“It’s unpredictable. You can be the best batter but if someone bowls you out, that’s it.”

As the sun sets and the night draws in, the urge to win is contagious. Even I get caught up in the moment as secret weapon bowler Paula hits the flap and knocks out her third member of the opposition in a row.

Waiting as the ball, always bowled underarm, slowly heads towards its target and then knocks that flap is actually pretty exciting.

And it’s also pretty hard. I was allowed to have a try during the break between games and threw it so far clear of the target there was no sense of anticipation at the chance it might get anywhere near the flap.

So it might not be anywhere near as raucous and lively as football but for a bit of fun in between drinks and a bit of friendly rivalry in a Kentish pub garden I don’t think you can go far wrong in giving it a try.

The league runs from April to August and all teams are always keen for more players. Looking ahead to next season, anyone interested should contact Adam at the Bird in the Hand pub in Dartford on 01322 280139.

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