Sunday, 16 April 2017

Faversham


Faversham is a charming market town situated on the north Kent coast. It is situated 48 miles from London and 10 miles from Canterbury, and lies just south of the Swale; the strip of sea which separates mainland Kent from the Isle of Sheppey. It is a town of just over 19,000 souls, and has good communication links with both the capital and the coast, lying as it does on the old Roman road of Watling Street (now the A2). Back in medieval times it was also a seaport with a tradition of shipbuilding, although the silting up of Faversham Creek has restricted its connection to the sea.

The town was  formerly a centre of the explosives industry, and was renowned for the manufacture of gunpowder. Brewing gradually became more dominant, and until quite recent times there were two major breweries facing each other  across Court Street; just of the town centre. Shepherd Neame, of course, are still operational and are one of Faversham’s major employers, but the substantial and sprawling brick-built group of buildings, on the other side of the street, were formerly the premises of Messrs George Beer & Rigden.

For most of my lifetime the brewery was part of the Whitbread group and operated under the name of Fremlins. The latter were originally based in Maidstone, and in their time were the largest brewery in Kent. Fremlins acquired Beer & Rigden back in 1949, but kept the Faversham plant in production. When Fremlins were purchased by Whitbread in 1967, production was centred on Faversham, with the Maidstone brewery ceasing production in 1972.

Eighteen years later, Whitbread closed the Court Street premises, and the buildings stood empty for some time. In 1996, after much reconstruction and renovation, one of the former brewery buildings opened as a Tesco supermarket, but I have been unable to discover the fate of the other two structures. I was fortunate to have had a trip round the brewery, back in the early 1980’s, when it was still flourishing, and I have course, enjoyed several guided tours around Shepherd Neame, just across the road.

My son and I found ourselves in Faversham on Good Friday. We had travelled there with a party of CAMRA members from Maidstone to take part in the annual ramble, which MMK Branch always undertakes on that day. Our destination was the atmospheric Shipwright’s Arms; an isolated pub overlooking the Creek, on the edge of the Ham Marshes, to the north of Faversham.

I will be writing about the ramble in a separate post, so for now I want to concentrate on Faversham itself. The first thing to report is that, given a little planning, the town is easily accessible by rail, from my home in Tonbridge. There is an hourly direct service from Tonbridge to Strood, and whilst this meant an early start, we were rewarded by some very pleasant views as the train travelled along the line up the Medway Valley.

We were joined by several MMK members at Maidstone Barracks and by another two who joined the train at Snodland. The rail line continues to follow the course of the river, but the landscape along this tidal section of the river is not so pleasant as much of it is a post-industrial wasteland.  It was encouraging though, to see some of the former cement works and paper mills being demolished, and the land being cleared for new housing.

Our train terminated at Strood, where there are connections either onwards to Gravesend, or in an easterly direction towards Canterbury and Dover. The National Rail Enquiries Site shows a 3 minute “non-connection” onto a direct service to Faversham. The “non-connection” description is due to having to descend to the subway, in order to access the appropriate platform, but we managed this with relative ease and were able to board one of the high-speed “Javelin” trains which was heading towards Ramsgate.

The train was surprisingly busy, but we all managed to find seats and settled down to enjoy the view from the window as we first crossed the Medway at Rochester, and then traversed the rest of the Medway Towns via a series of  cuttings and tunnels. Eventually we reached the flat open countryside which slopes gently down towards the Swale and the Thames Estuary. This is fruit growing country, and the orchards we passed by were a mass of blossom-covered trees, ready to bear fruit in the months to come.

We waited at Faversham station for the rest of the party to arrive; the sun by this time having put in a welcome appearance. We then set off, through the town, in the direction of Faversham Creek, passing on the way the two breweries described above. We were walking at quite a pace, which was a pity, as I would have liked to have taken some photos en route,  but before long we had crossed the Creek and were passing out of the town, towards the rather bleak and windswept looking marshes, as we followed the line of the Saxon Shore Way coastal path.

It is here that we must adjourn the  description of the walk to Hollow Shore and the Shipwright’s Arms, and return to Faversham itself. We arrived back in the town, in dribs and drabs, at around 3.15pm,  following our walk back from our lunchtime refreshment stop.

We had entered the town from the opposite direction to which we had departed, earlier in the day, and it was whilst walking through the quiet streets leading towards the centre, that I realised what a pleasant and historic town Faversham is.  We were aiming for Furlongs Ale House,  Faversham’s first micro-pub, which opened in December 2014, and despite us arriving not long after opening time, it was standing room only.

Furlong’s was formerly a wet fish shop, and unusually for a micro-pub, has its own cellar.  The beers are therefore drawn up by hand pump to the small bar area at the rear of the pub. I tried two of the beers on sale; Southern Cross 3.6% ABV from G2 Brewery and the 4.4% ABV Smoked Oatmeal Stout from Boutilliers. Both were good, but for someone who loves genuine Rauchbier from Bamberg, the latter could have done with a lot more “smoke”!

We then moved on to one of Faversham’s latest openings; the Corner Tap, which is just a short walk from the station.  Owned by the Whitstable Brewery, the Tap obviously concentrates on the brewery’s own beers; both cask and keg, but does have a fair selection of other beers from both home and abroad. Matthew was particularly pleased to see  Hacker-Pschorr Helles, from Munich on tap; I was glad of the chance to try the draught 5.4% Gamma Ray from Beavertown, as I had only previously tried the canned version.

The friendly barman told me the bar had only opened at the beginning of last December, but the place had proved popular with townsfolk, right from the start. Our little group sat in the comfortable raised room at the rear of the bar. Much of the talk centred on our forthcoming trip to Düsseldorf, which is scheduled for next month. There was also talk about a trip planned for 2018 to Bamberg.

We left the Corner Tap in time to catch the 17.26 Javelin train back to Strood. This time we only had to cross the platform for the Medway Valley line train, so the 3 minute, National Rail Enquiries “non-connection”, was even more absurd. We had an uneventful journey back, and shortly before 7pm, Matthew and I were alighting at Tonbridge.

It had been an excellent day out, during which we not only experienced the many contrasts which Kent has to offer in terms of scenery, but we also experienced a charming market town, with a wide variety of independent shops, and above all we did this in the company of friends whose friendships go back many years.
 

Footnote: prolific blogger and Good Beer Guide enthusiast, retiredmartin, wrote his own piece on Faversham, following his visit to the town at the beginning of last month. Like me, Martin visited Furlong’s, and also called into the local Spoons. He also managed to take some decent photos of the town centre; something I was unable to do for want of keeping up with my fast-paced walking companions!


2 comments:

retiredmartin.com said...

I enjoyed the detail and history here, Paul. For some reason I thought Faversham was bigger, but it does stop quite suddenly as you leave town.

I see that as usual I missed a good place (the Tap)that wasn't in the Beer Guide; no doubt I'll be back.

Glad you all had a good day.

By the way, offer of a trip to Ely on Friday if you'd like to say hello !

Paul Bailey said...

Faversham is a surprisingly small town Martin, but one which is full of delights. It’s strange but I don’t often get over to that part of Kent but, as I found out, it’s surprisingly easy (and relaxing), by train.

It would be good to meet up for a few beers in Ely on Friday, and I have sent you an email about this.

Cheers for now, as we are off to Canterbury shortly. Two trips to East Kent in 3 days; must be a record!