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Thread: A spooky day out to the Dripping Pan (or how to get legless in Lewes).

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    The Beerhunter. RogerB's Avatar
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    Default A spooky day out to the Dripping Pan (or how to get legless in Lewes).

    The alarm goes off at 7.30am. A lie in by normal standards but after the previous evening’s exploits, concentration must be turned up to full to avoid any potential embarrassing bathroom mishaps. Today is one the most eagerly awaited away days of my non league footy season, a trip to bottom of the table Lewes with 3 points and an indeterminate number of great pubs awaiting. Ok. Train tickets, check. Blackberry, check. I-pod, check. Pen and notepaper, check. Trousers, hmmm, must remember them before I leave.

    Safely aboard the 8.18, the I-pod throws up Alvin Stardust as an opening offering which has me grasping for the fast forward button. Arrival at Charing Cross is quickly followed by a detour to Treats down Villiers Street, home of the best bacon and egg sandwiches in London before a brisk walk to Victoria that partly echoes my journey to work albeit on an early Saturday morning there is less chance of being mown down by a procession of black cabs. I arrive at Victoria with 20 minutes to kill so I make use of the Wetherspoons in the station for a breakfast pint of festival Chestnut Ale before hunting down my carriage that supposedly awaits on Platform 17, a platform so remote that it was probably the source of inspiration for platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books.

    There is something about train journeys, watching the terraced roofs dissipate into the English countryside, resplendent in Autumn hues, the sunlit sky patterned by a wisp of cirrus. And then there’s East Croydon. Having safely negotiated the Hayward’s Heath train divide, we pull into Lewes on time. A sign proclaiming “Welcome To Lewes – Home of Harvey’s Brewery” is the first noticeable feature. It’s gonna be a good day.

    Where better to start than the Brewery tap, the John Harvey Tavern and after a quick stroll through town I arrive on the dot of 11. The pub is tucked away just off the High Street and has a rustic charm albeit the interior is probably more modern than it initially appears. I am surprised there are only 3 hand pulls and jump straight in for a fairly expensive (£3.40) pint of Bonfire Boy, oblivious to its 5.8% strength and with hindsight, not a good choice for such an early hour. I also fail to detect the 6 barrels on gravity sitting at the back of the bar so all in all, a rather thoughtless start to my crawl.

    I bid farewell to John Harvey’s portrait that hangs on the chimney breast and silently thank him for his contribution to the town before a 30 second stroll round the corner leads me to the Gardeners Arms, a small and unfussy place with a good choice of ales across 7 hand pulls. My challenge for the day is not to have the same pint twice although I suspect that will not be easy given the multitude of Harvey’s pubs. The Gardeners is the sort of pub where everyone knows everyone and people come and go either for a pint or to leave something behind the bar for so and so later on. One punter remarks to the barmaid about his almost lethal overdose of the Bonfire Boy ale so give it a wide berth this time even if it is 20p cheaper and go for the Rebellion Red since I am unlikely to see that again during the day. It is also becoming apparent that the town is gearing up for a party with a large percentage of people sporting fancy dress ahead of bonfire night and Halloween. They take it quite seriously around here but it does feel a bit Wicker Man’ish. Two other Dart’s fans acknowledge my presence – good to see others have also come here for a bit more than the match.

    Next on the list is the Dorset Arms, yet another short hop. A bit disappointed with this one, it seems to be a bit soulless with a few traditional pub features but the lack of furniture in places makes it feel a bit empty and hollow. A few locals are playing Toad in the Hole, a game that seems to be a feature of many pubs in town. The 4 ales are all from the Harvey’s range and I go for the Hadlow Bitter, something that turns out to be the worst pint of the day by a long shot. Not one of Harvey’s better efforts and overall I think the Dorset is one I would cross off the pub crawl list for future visits.

    I am at a bit of a quandary where to go next but head back into town. I spot Wes, a noted ale drinker and passionate Dartford fan, popping into the Gardeners Arms but since I have already chalked that one off, I venture on, across the Ouse and up the hill. I am saving the central pubs for later in the day in the hope that they will be showing the Man U v Spurs match but the town is pretty compact and even the furthest pubs on my map are little more than a few minutes walk. The Elephant & Castle comes into view and I give it a shot. It isn’t the most enticing place on first impressions but manages to conjure up a few ales including King’s Old Ale which continues my different pint every pub theme. The food also looked pretty good albeit a basic menu but several people were tucking in. The locals were quite welcoming and I encounter one old boy who is up for the day as part of an annual crawl of town. He gives me a few tips of the best pubs in town, most of which I have already done. Good beer, average pub is probably the best summary but next on the list is one of the town’s most notorious establishments.

    The Lewes Arms made the news a few years ago when the locals took on the might of the Greene King brewery who bought the pub from Harvey’s. Such was the horror at having their beloved Harvey’s beers removed, the pub was boycotted until Greene King eventually agreed to allow them to stock Harveys as a guest beer, totally against their policy. The pub is now owned by Fullers but still stocks Harvey’s to appease the regulars. The pub has plenty of character with 3 small rooms branching off a small corridor. The main bar was packed, even at 1 O’clock in the afternoon so I had to resort to being served through a small service hatch in the corridor. Luckily there is a list of the beers that reveals a further guest beer on top of the Harvey’s in the form of Lancaster Amber. An overflow bar upstairs beckons and in turns out be a small theatre used by the local amateur dramatic society but I do at least manage to grab a seat. On my way back down I take a peek at the outside terrace at the back only to find the door worryingly locking behind me. A narrow staircase leads down the back of the pub and fortunately for me out into the street from where I can re-enter the pub. Lesson learnt for poking around strange pubs. Judging by the fact that I could barely move in the pub, it is clearly a popular haunt and the number of people eating suggests that the food also carries a recommendation.

    Time for one more pub before kick off, I pick the Kings Head as it is one of the nearest to the ground. It certainly isn’t one of the better choices in town with the modernised interior resembling a pizza restaurant more than a pub. The bad news is they only have Harvey’s Best which was the one pint I was trying to avoid, firstly because it is everywhere and secondly, it was the joker in my bid to have different ales in each pub. With the football ground still to do I am resigned to the fact that I will probably need to double up or avoid drinking at the ground.

    And so to the Dripping Pan, not some medieval torture device but the quaintly named home of Lewes FC. An interesting mix of modern stands and grass banks and of course, the bar in which I am served fairly quickly given that this is Lewes’s biggest gate of the season. More importantly, I am pleasantly surprised to find Harvey’s Armada Ale alongside the best so the beer challenge remains intact. Both sets of fans are in fine voice with the fancy dress costumed Lewes contingent boosted by a pipe and drum band. The match itself is a keenly fought contest to say the least with little to choose between the sides. Lewes struck the first blood in the 41st minute, probably slightly against the run of play and with the only significant chance in the half although with 8 pints already downed, anything could have happened and I would have probably been oblivious to it. I decided against a half time pint and swapped terrace for stand for much of the second half in an attempt to prepare myself for the evening session. With the Darts staring defeat in the face, fate took a turn in injury time and an ugly incident left Lewes down to ten men and their supporters seething. The resulting free kick led to a Dartford equaliser and the 300 travelling Dart’s fans punched the air in unison. Probably a fair result overall but not the 3 points anticipated.

    The next task at hand was to find an ESPN friendly pub for the televised evening game. The town centre threw up few options and I wandered off as far as the Black Horse with no luck and I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get to see the game. This Greene King pub did at least have a couple of the better end of the brewery’s ales and a pint of Fireside got the evening session under way. A chat with a couple of locals at the bar resulted in the info I was looking for – the Brewers Arms down the road had ESPN so I hastily finish my pint and headed back into town to the Brewers. There were no obvious TV’s as I walked in and the place appeared fairly quiet until I heard a few noises from the large rear room where 2 large screens had the action. The room was packed and I had to prop myself up against a wall on one side with my pint of Harvey’s Star Of Eastbourne followed by a Summer Lightning. So far so good on the beer front – 10 down and all different. Due the football, this was to be my only 2 pint pub although I was beginning to get fatigued and could have done without standing up. Luckily a couple next to me disappeared and I bagged a stool for the second half. I had missed the first 20 minutes of the game and given the farcical nature of the 2nd United goal, wished I’d missed the rest as well. Football aside, the Brewers is a decent enough pub with plenty of ale choice although my handwriting is by now beginning to appear a little unreadable and events henceforth may start to become a little sketchy.

    Next point of call was the large White Hart Hotel, a 16th Century coaching inn where I find a very cosy if rather sedate bar set amid the hotel lounges. Unfortunately, this is the end of my unique beer challenge as they can only muster up Harvey’s Sussex Best but feel that after 12 pints across 10 pubs and a football ground, I have had a good run. I’m not generally one for hotel bars but with a more extensive range of beers, I could actually find this place quite comfortable for a few hours.

    A few hours is not what I have and the clock is ticking away to my 9.50pm train but still time for a couple more lucky dips. The Royal Oak, if I am correct, is the only pub in Lewes that I have been in before although I didn’t specifically recognise it when I walked in. I did however recognise the aforementioned Wes and his entourage who were presumably in an equal state of inebriation as me and keeping up the good name of Dartford’s serious ale drinkers. Despite being another Greene King pub, they have St Austell Proper Job as a guest so it wasn’t a hard choice at the bar. A live band weer setting up in the corner although the place wasn’t exactly heaving with an expectant audience so I leave them to it and seek out the final destination which turns out to be the Crown.

    I think I was in the Crown anyway, my notes say something that looks like Crown and I have the words Harvey’s Best scrawled down next to it so I will assume that to be correct. I can’t for the life of me remember anything about it other than there was a Halloween function going on at the rear and there were spooky looking witches and goblins trouping through the pub. Or was it just the drink.

    I emerged back into the real world but have by now lost my bearings and am probably not in any state to understand something as complicated as a map so I request directions from the Bride of Frankenstein who just happened to be walking down the road and kindly points me in the direction of the station from where I incredibly end up back in London rather than Littlehampton. That in itself was a minor miracle.

    With the clocks going back I am grateful for the extra hour the following morning but I am left to wonder how I have got a huge bruise on my arm. Lewes is certainly a top place for a pub ramble and with 6 or 7 that I have left out, a return visit will hopefully be made sooner rather than later.
    Last edited by RogerB; 02-11-2010 at 08:04. Reason: typo

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    Get some gravy on it. Maldenman's Avatar
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    Sounds like a typically good Lewes trip Roger, with the top drawer pubs all ticked off. Agree about The Dorset, a bit of a hotel lounge feel I thought. Very good chippy though just beyond the junction with the street that runs back up passed the Gardeners. The back room in The Brewers is ok for watching football, but the main sports pub in town is The Elephant & Castle, just up the hill a bit from The Lewes Arms.
    Such a shame that Lewes only stayed on season in the Conference, but I suppose I could always find another excuse to revisit.

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    This Space For Hire Rex_Rattus's Avatar
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    An excellent account of the perils and pitfalls, as well as the achievements and successes, that can befall the long distance football supporter! Clearly your innate homing instinct came into play in getting you home.

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    This Space For Hire aleandhearty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex_Rattus View Post
    Clearly your innate homing instinct came into play in getting you home.
    If anyone has well developed 'beer legs' it's Roger!

    An enjoyable read by the way.
    'And where he supped the past lived still. And where he sipped the glass brimmed full' John Barleycorn, Carol Ann Duffy.

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    This Space For Hire gillhalfpint's Avatar
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    Loved the narrative. Enjoyed revisiting some of the pubs through your encounter as we did a couple of crawls round Lewes when staying in Brighton about 3 years ago.

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    In Search of Ebriety Millay's Avatar
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    I'd somehow missed this masterpiece when it was first published Roger. Great writing and a fantastic account that reminded me of my day in Lewes. Your impressions of the pubs are largely the same as my own, the Gardeners Arms was the star for me.

    I've just joined Alcoholics Anonymous - I still drink, just under a different name.

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