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Canterbury Ales and Kentish Tales....

Canterbury is a long way from Halifax, but in driving, squally rain, the journey seems even longer. Five and half hours after setting off we arrived in the city. 

We located our accommodation for the evening fairly quickly, which, with 7 of us in the overall  group, was to be at the Kipps backpacker hostel, situated in a pleasant suburban street about 10 minutes walk from the city centre. So, we checked in, all 7 of us in a room with a mix of bunks and single beds. As we were the first to arrive - the rest of the lads coming down a bit later after watching the morning session at the snooker in Sheffield - we bagged the beds we wanted, and, whilst all things considered, the room was not too bad, we noticed that there were not many towels or toilet rolls in the bathroom. Ah, well, let's go for a beer.

We had come to Canterbury for two reasons: it was one of the lads' 50th birthday, and Halifax Town were playing their final league game of the season down the road at Maidstone, with a lunchtime kick-off the following day.

Canterbury is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country, with its magnificent cathedral a major draw, although it is currently shrouded in scaffolding. But it also has city walls which stretch back to Roman times, St Augustine's Abbey, a shed load of historic buildings, with part of the city a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. And, of course, it provides the backdrop to Geoffrey Chaucer's famous set of stories, 'The Canterbury Tales', which was written at the end of the 14th century, and which gives within its 24 stories a fascinating insight into the way people lived in those long gone times.

We walked into the city, in which are situated many attractive buildings, including several Shepherd Neame pubs, such as the Cricketers, although none of Kent's biggest, and the country's oldest, brewery's pubs in Canterbury were in the Good Beer Guide.
Attractive: the Cricketers, Canterbury

Our first port of call was the Foundry, a brew pub which is home to Canterbury Brewers, whose kit can be seen through the window at the side of the bar. This is a friendly, comfortable bar, whose industrial chic is softened by touches like hops hanging from the ceiling. I opted for a pint of Torpedo, which was pleasant enough, and then went for a pint of Foundryman's Gold, which I preferred. We got a message from the other lads to say they were on their way, so we got another pint when they arrived. The food looked tempting, but we had decided we would have a curry later in the evening. I liked the Foundry, but unfortunately we all missed the fact that they do CAMRA discount!

The Foundry, home of Canterbury Brewers

From there, it was a 10 minute or so walk across the city to our next port of call, the Unicorn. This was an attractive, half timbered pub, which was rammed with the Friday tea time crowd. We spotted the sign to the beer garden, and having got our drinks we headed there. I got a pint of Green Daemon, a Helles-style beer with tropical fruit aromas from another Kent brewery, Hopdaemon. This was probably my favourite beer of the evening, and was a bit of a contrast to some of the other beers I had during the evening.

We left the Unicorn, and headed away from the city centre. Just under 10 minutes later, we came to the Eight Bells, a small locals' pub selling Young's Bitter which had retained many traditional features. Round the back was a beer garden with a large shelter with several tables, so with a singer starting up inside we settled on one of the tables there. I quite liked the Eight Bells, it was friendly enough, and whilst the beer choice was hardly exciting, it was in fine condition.

Next on our list, and on the other side of the city centre, was the Dolphin. This was another locals' pub, but bigger and less traditional than the Eight Bells. More beers were on offer, but the choice was uninspiring - Doom Bar, Landlord were hardly cutting edge. I opted for an Adnam's Lighthouse, which was OK, but hardly one to get excited about. The Dolphin was a rather bland and disappointing pub, so we didn't hang around.

Our final pub of the evening was worth writing home - or even a blog - about. This was the Thomas Tallis Alehouse, named after the 16th Century composer who spent some time as organist at Canterbury Cathedral. It is an attractive half-timbered building, and with only a couple of rooms, and the beers and ciders being served from taps in the kitchen wall, and no bar, it was the nearest we came to a micro pub all evening. I opted for a pint of Old Dairy, from another Kent Brewer, a dark beer which, upon checking on their website, must have been their Silver Top. Whilst I would have preferred something paler and hoppier, it was pleasant enough, and I liked the place. The couple behind the bar were more than happy to let me take pictures of the bar and the small cellar. Along with the Foundry, the Thomas Tallis is a must-visit when in Canterbury.

The Thomas Tallis, Canterbury
All smiles at the Thomas Tallis

It was time for that curry, so we headed up the road to a curry house, which had been highlighted as one of the best in the city. We ordered a few different dishes, but we all found as is often the case with curries in the south that there was a distinct lack of heat, and my chicken madras was very bland. I went to the loo, and spotting a large number of toilet rolls, I remembered the meagre supply in our accommodation. So I grabbed one, just in case we couldn't get any when we got back to the hostel.

We finished the meal, paid the bill, and walked back to our accommodation, where all 7 of us produced a toilet roll from our pockets....

I woke up early, with sun streaming through the gap in the curtains. There was an eerie silence, none of the usual snoring or snorting or other sounds, the initial noise and kerfuffle before lights out the night before was long gone. I crept to the bathroom, had a shower, and was dressed before any of the others awoke. Gradually, one by one, there would be a murmur and a flicker into life. Eventually, everyone was awake and ready, and most of us decided to go for a walk around the city before we headed off to Maidstone.

It took around 45 minutes to get to Maidstone, situated on the River Medway, which is the county town of Kent. After the satnav failed to recognise the postcode for the car park situated nearest to the Gallagher Stadium, the home of Maidstone United, we parked up in the car park at the Fremlins Walk shopping centre. Now this is built on the site of the Fremlins Brewery, which ended up being taken over by Whitbread in the days before they decided their future lay in hotels and coffee shops.

We located the Society Rooms, one of two Wetherspoons in the town. It was rammed, with a large number of Maidstone United supporters, but unable to get a suitable table, some of us wandered down the road and ended up having breakfast in a Greek restaurant with authentic music in the background and a huge picture on one wall of the view over Shipwreck Bay on Zakynthos! But very nice it was.

We rang the rest of the lads and they were going for a pre-match pint at the Flowerpot. We set off, but in completely the wrong direction, so with time running out before kick off we thought it best to go straight to the football ground, just on the edge of the town centre. I bought a bottle of coke, now including sugar tax, and consoled myself with the thought that as I was driving I couldn't really drink anyway. I still wouldn't have minded checking it out though. And just to rub it in, when the lads appeared, smiling and slightly flushed, our Michael said it was the best beer and the best pub of the trip! Cheers.

The game finished 0-0, a typical end of season match where neither side had anything to play for. Town ended up finishing 16th, which I would have taken at the start of the season, and which looked highly unlikely until a couple of months ago when a new manager was brought in.

We walked back to the car park, where just to cap a somewhat frustrating visit to Maidstone, the pay machine charged me £9 instead of the anticipated £5. Still, we had had a good trip overall, and looking in the beer guide for Maidstone, there seems to be enough to make that a place to stay next time I head down those parts....

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