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Approximately two thirds of the way along my North Downs Waywalk last Thursday, I stopped off for a well-earned pint. I’d been walking since 8.40am that morning, largely along the relatively flat section of the Pilgrims Way, but after an incident involving my Smartwatch, I was relying on the map to estimate the distance travelled. I reckoned it was around 9 miles, but the lane seemed to go on forever. The NDW would take me through the uppermost part of Hollingbourne; a small village of some 900 souls, on the southward slope of the North Downs. I would also be passing directly, one of the villages three pubs, the Dirty Habit, whose odd name is said to derive from the monks who would have passed this way on their way to Canterbury.
They would probably have been following the Pilgrims Way, an ancient route, but not a particularly ancient name. My NDW Guidebook, claims the name was coined during the 19th Century, possibly by an imaginative surveyor, mapping out he locality for the Ordnance Survey and like the name of this trackway, the moniker attached to the pub, is also a modern one.
The pub was originally known as the King’s Head, before becoming the Pilgrim’s Rest. The connection with pilgrims, and particularly monks was taken a stage further when the pub name was changed to reflect the garment normally worn by members of the monastic order. Personally, I find the name Dirty Habit rather too much a double entendre; the sort of thing you’d expect to encounter in a “Carry-On” film, but perhaps that’s the intention? The name shouldn’t detract though from what is a very attractive pub, both inside and out. The Dirty Habit is a substantial brick building, sited on a crossroads at the top of Hollingbourne village. According to the signage outside, the pub has 13th Century origins, but the brick cladding looks much younger – Georgian, at a guess, but I’m no expert.
I pushed all considerations of architectural origin to one side, as I entered the pub. Instead much more important factors, such as what beers were on sale were uppermost in my mind, especially given the king-sized thirst that I’d built up, as I trudged along the Pilgrims Way. Following the now depressingly familiar Covid guidelines, I waited for a member of staff to greet me, take my details (paper ones), and then show me to a table. I informed the young lady that I only wanted a beer, as I would be eating later on, at another establishment, so after removing my rucksack and settling down at a table in full view of the bar, I was ready to order the beer I was craving.
There was a choice of Taylor’s Landlord, Musket - Flash in the Pan or Harvey’s Sussex Best. I’ve never been a fan of Musket Brewery and Landlord requires careful cellar-manship to serve it at its best, so Harvey’s it was. It was in good form too and ticked all the right boxes. The pub was reasonably busy with diners, but because of the Covid restrictions, I was unable to have a proper look around. From where I was sat, I could see along past the fireplace to another section of the pub, but the one thing I was really pleased about (apart from the excellent beer), was the tiles floor. This was a real bonus, as there was no need to remove my muddy boots!
The staff were pleasant and friendly too, so all in all I was impressed with the Dirty Habit, and that pint of Sussex Best was sufficient to keep me going until I reached the Black Horse Inn, at neighbouring Thurnham; the place where I’d booked a bed for the night. I must have made at least one visit to the Dirty Habit,during the six years I lived in Maidstone, but that would have been when the pub was known as the Pilgrims Rest.
For the record, the pub today is one of a dozen outlets that make up the Elite Pubs chain of upmarket hostelries. I spotted several others that I know from the past, albeit under different names. Fine dining is obviously the way to go in this part of Kent!
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