Another possibility was to take the next 256 service to Wadhurst, and then walk the mile and a half down the hill, to the Wadhurst station, and the train back to Tonbridge. This would only have knocked 30 minutes off the time in the Elephant’s Head, so I reluctantly ditched that particular plan, until I can persuade a group of friends to join me on a visit to the two pubs.
My outward journey to Hook Green, involved three buses – two to get to Tunbridge Wells,and then the aforementioned No. 256. To get all geeky for a moment, the first two buses were operated by Arriva, who are the major service provider in mid and west Kent. The bus out, into the sticks, was provided by Autocar, an independent operator.
A lengthy stretch of largely straight road then followed. Its official name is Bayham Road, but it is known locally as the "Bayham Straight." Back in the early 90’s,when I worked in Lamberhurst at Crown Chemicals, it was a favourite stretch of road with some of the boy racers, who worked in the production department. Thankfully I never accepted a lift from any of those petrol heads, although to be fair, I don’t recall any of them being involved in an accident, despite their “need for speed!”
The majority of the Bayham Straight is through woodland, and on the return journey I noticed through the trees, a large group of deer, grazing in a clearing. Their presence was another reminder of the folly of speeding along rural roads.
As the bus emerged from the trees, I could see the Elephants Head, straight ahead, and just to the right of the road. It was time to push the bell and get the driver to stop. There is an official stop, on both sides of the road, (Clay Hill Road), a hundred yards or so from the pub, so after thanking the driver and stepping off the bus, I crossed the road and made my way towards it. The pub didn’t open until midday, so with 20 minutes to kill, I went for short walk along the nearby Free Heath Road. This was part of the route some friends and I had walked along, from Wadhurst station, on a previous visit to the Elephants Head, eleven years previously.
Making my back to the pub, I heard the sound of the door being unlocked, and despite me not liking to be the first person through the door after opening, I stepped inside. After the bright sunlight outside, it seemed quite dingy as I entered the bar, although my eyes quickly adjusted to the dimly lit surroundings. I was the first customer, but despite my initial hesitance was greeted with a friendly welcome by the young girl behind the bar.
I grabbed my pint and walked over to the “snug” area at the far right of the pub from where, partially hidden behind the fireplace and chimney stack, I could witness the various comings and goings. Not long after, the barmaid came over and started setting one of the tables up for dining. I asked whether the area I was sat in was reserved, but only one of the tables had been booked. She told me that particular snug area was popular with diners, so I said that regardless of bookings, I would move.
Leaving these thoughts aside, it was time to finish my pint, get my coat on, and head back out to the bus stop. I allowed plenty of time just in case the bus was running ahead of time, but as it happened it was more or less on schedule – much to my relief. Apart from me, there was only one other passenger on board the bus, but that didn’t distract from the journey back to Tunbridge Wells.
I alighted at the top of the town. It was 2.10pm and there was another pub to visit, along with a planned call in at Fuggles new bottle shop. First there was the more pressing requirement for a pee, plus a cup of coffee, so I will detail the rest of the afternoon in the next post.