Five Bells – Brabourne

The rain in ‘the Garden of England’ was coming down, as only it can in August: heavily. As I nosed the car into the car park of the Five Bells Inn, I was pleased to see the warm light emanating from the bar area. I was en route to Paris and wanted a civilised overnight stop not too far from the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone (20 minutes away to be precise) the night before. Civilised is certainly the word for the Five Bells. Standing in the doorway, giving off the appearance of a wet dog, I was greeted with a smile and shown through the warm bar, busy with the hubbub of lunchtime, and up to my room. The creaky narrow staircase is full of old-world charm and adds to the cosy feel of what was looking to be a real find. The room I was staying in was called ‘Ortega’. It had a wonderful combination of rural charm and country chic. The centrepiece has to be the enormous freestanding copper bathtub that dominates the beautiful bathroom. Roughing it? Not a chance! The far-reaching rural views add to the tranquillity as you begin to feel nestled in a small, untouched corner of old England. Ablutions performed and a drink beckoned. Once downstairs, the lunchtime diners had ebbed away and I perused the bar. The selection of gins is particularly impressive, and the fishbowl glasses add a sense of tradition to the British classic. I ordered a pint of the local bitter and was asked the question of questions: ‘Would you like a glass with a handle?’. As I flicked my imaginary silk scarf over my shoulder and wondered if I had left the keys in my Hawker Hurricane, I responded with delighted (and excited schoolboy-esque) ‘YES PLEASE!’ You cannot beat a pint with a handle. It felt a little like being at home. Not in the way that everything was covered in dog hair and the washing up needed doing, but that a relaxed atmosphere flowed throughout. Some places feel a little overmanaged with lots of dos and don’ts preventing you from truly relaxing – but not here. A home from home. The Five Bells is part of a small group of inns, under the heading of Ramble Inns. The reason for the ‘Ramble’ in the title is that they are within rambling distance of each other (the Woolpack in Warehorne and the Globe Inn Marsh in Rye). If you like the idea of a walking holiday, though not the idea of people who have no concept of personal space, wear gaiters, and think that a Porsche is a small building on the front of your house, then all is saved. However, if the walking all gets a bit much and you suddenly find yourself sober, then they will send a broom wagon to sweep you up, take you onto your destination and see that you are returned to a suitable state of refreshment. As the dull rainy afternoon turned into night, thoughts of filling one’s belly beckoned. The relaxed feel continues with a sit where you like policy for dinner, which allows you to hunt out cosy corners. As you would expect from an establishment in a county with so much coastline, the variety of seafood on offer was plentiful and, from what I saw of other diners’ orders, tempting. However, if you prefer your fish in small plastic bags, handed out to children by gypsies – as I do – then there is a good selection of land-based delights. My choice of steak, paired with a well-recommended Malbec, was certainly no regret. The experience was enhanced tenfold by the staff. As a self-respecting Englishman, I’m happy to admit that I don’t really like people, and usually try to maintain a healthy weather-chat based distance, but these folks are genuinely superb. I really mean that. Helpful and attentive without being sycophantic, as well as friendly and full of useful suggestions. It’s a pity that a career in service in the UK is often viewed as a stop-gap between jobs, as it’s a profession that takes skill, professionalism and capability. Because of this, we seem to suffer poor service from stroppy, resentful people. But not here. The staff at Five Bells Inn should be proud. Alas, with departure at 6am to catch the Eurotunnel, I unfortunately had to skip breakfast. Not relishing the prospect of a journey on an empty stomach, you can probably imagine my delight when an unprompted chopping board of croissants and jams were presented to me to take up to my room after dinner, along with fresh orange juice to keep me going early the next morning. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the differences, the little touches, which create the gap between just a great stay and something you tell others about. As I climbed the wooden hill to bed, it did cross my mind that perhaps Paris could wait for another day, and I could stay to sample more of the delights that this place has to offer. In fine weather, I challenge you to find a prettier spot. The following morning, departing the inn as dawn began to turn into day, I felt a little wistful to be leaving. Whether it’s a stop-off on the way to la belle France or a romantic weekend away, I really would recommend that you stay here. All the best bits of Blighty in one place.

Oliver Smith

Smith is our Automotive Editor. Having worked with some of the world’s finest British sports cars he is a keen historic racer and enjoys in his own words ‘the evolution of engineering’ in modern machinery.

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