The last two issues of the Peninsula Times have featured articles on some of the local public houses that have disappeared in the last few years. One article concentrated on the rural ‘boozers’, the last turned attention to those in Strood. Both these articles created lots of interest, particularly from the pubs that remain open and servicing these areas.

Our last two columns, far from casting a negative hue over the license trade, in fact are a testament to the acumen, resilience, hard work and good humour of those who run licensed premises. At a time when the powers in the industry talk of low returns, many much loved pubs closing and the future not looking too rosy, the local watering holes soldier on. How are they doing this, what can they expect to happen to the business? These are questions we hope to answer in the next few issues of the Peninsula.

The seasonal festivities and unexpected weather has restricted a full hearted stab at this, but we can report some news from a few inquiries. Higham is a fairly small village divided into lower and upper districts. At the upper section we have two public houses, The Sir John Falstaff, situated opposite Dickens’s house on the Gravesend Road and The Gardiners Arms in the heart of the village, by the post office. Both enjoy good local support and use the tourist trade well, having good restaurants and, in the case of The Gardiners, regular social events in the guise of poker gaming and a popular jam session on the last Sunday evening of each month, and provide tourist accommodation. Both pubs have to contend with a well used social club nearby. Both have to be commercially aware and are making a good fist of it. At the other end of town, by Higham railway station, we find The Railway Tavern. The Chequers, next door, closed not long ago, thus raising hopes of greater trade for the Tavern. New landlords have moved in and the old place has had an attractive make-over, to match the new occupiers. A very expansive French window has been built in, leading to a new and pleasantly re-modelled beer garden. This is where it is hoped smokers will gravitate, presumably in the warmer months. Since the smoking ban came into operation drinkers have got into the habit of standing at the front of the premises; now they have a ‘home’ of their own!

For the new tenants, Jayne and Graham, the move to this delightful pub has been a good one and village life suits them well. The pub also has a variety of social events including monthly quizzes and also hosts a jam session, this time on the first Sunday of the month. This is a very busy occasion as it is run by professional musicians, so the standard is very high, as well as being fun. Likewise Upnor is a village divided into upper and lower reaches, on the banks of the historic river Medway. In Lower Upnor, where the famous Arethusa is docked next to the centre of that name, there are two public houses, The Pier, which now feels more like a restaurant and serves very good, reasonably priced dishes, and The Ship. The latter is a warm, traditional inn also producing great traditional dishes that, in the summer months, are served outside in the very large garden. Or you can take your food and drink out into the front area and watch the Medway flow past. There is good support from the nearby Medway towns, and again, it is visited by tourists.

The other end of Upnor can be found beneath the protective walls of Upnor Castle. Here there are another two well run pubs. At the top of the High Street is The Kings Arms, a large attractive building again with a very good restaurant, serving a good selection of English fair. This pub has also won the pub of the year title for their range of real ales, acknowledged by The Campaign for Real Ale, Medway branch. You will find a wide selection of guest beers that are the pride of all that is British and brewing. How foreign fizzy beers ever made onto these shores….well there’s a topic for a good many future publications. Lastly, in Upnor we have what many people would describe as the most historic, picturesque boozer in the whole of our peninsula, The Tudor Rose. Originally this pub was built to provide alternative entertainment for the soldiers garrisoned at the lovely castle next door. One must suppose the whole company, off duty, would saunter off to the ‘towns’ to imbibe. Presumably, while visiting the lights of old Chatham or Brompton our gallant guards would meet up with detachments of soldiers and sailors barracked in the towns and a reunion of a war-like fashion would ensue. So this wonderful pub was born. With the full range of beers from England’s oldest brewers, the customary jam night and the river Medway in full flow out front, this is the place to enjoy a drink.

We look forward to these pubs providing good service in the years to come. These are unusually hard times, but with the business sense they all have shown so far, perhaps there is no need to worry. And for us to help them, go for a short walk in our beautiful winter wonderland and pop in and enjoy a drink. This is, after all, part of our English heritage. Next month I will visit and report on other pubs on Hoo Peninsula and hope to chat to more of these resilient hostellers. I look forward to seeing you all.