Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Ferry House Inn

The Ferry House Inn, at the very end of the Harty Road, has been around for a few hundred years, looking down onto both the tidal Swale and the site of the now extinct Harty Ferry, which in its hey-day was little more than a rowing boat between Harty and the mainland. The original white-painted section of the Inn still remains externally as it always was but there have been extensions added on and the inside has changed.
Here you see the Inn as it currently is today, looking south across The Swale.

Immediately below it is the causeway across the saltings out to the water's edge.

And here a view from the car park across to Harty Ferry on the mainland side of The Swale.

The Inn first came into my life in the summer of 1962 as I about to leave school, aged fifteen. My headmaster suggested that I and a friend, given that we were interested in gardening, might be interested in a few days paid work at the Inn where the landlord, his friend a Mr. Samson, was looking to plant a large number of brassica plants. So a few days into our life as non-schoolboys, we caught the Leysdown bus, hopped off at the Harty Road and walked its length across the marsh, to arrive at the Inn. We spent a couple of days in glorious summery weather planting a few hundred brassica plants in a piece of ground that is now a lawned childrens area in front of the Inn. I remember it for two events, the gorgeous cream tea and fresh strawberry lunches that the landlord's lovely wife gave us and the return trip back along the Harty Road. Mr Samson, like one or two current Harty residents, only knew one way to drive the Harty Road, with its tight bends and deep ditches to the side, and that was flat out at maximum speed. Arriving at the bus stop on the main road was a real joy and a surprise that we had survived!

Several years later, my first wife and I, because the Inn had become notorious locally due the then current landlord, a Ben Fowler and his son, made just the one visit. Deciding that Inn owned the rights to the old Ferry crossing and its approach causeway, both Mr. Fowler and his son were regularly very aggressive to anybody that tried to launch boats from there, or indeed simply wandered away from the Inn's car park for a few yards. Fights with them were a regular occurrence. Combined with that, inside the Inn, jollity was very much frowned apon and it was not unknown for people to be thrown out for simply laughing or cracking a joke at the wrong time. Consequently, drinking in there could be a very tense experience, which was a shame because his long suffering wife was a lovely lady who was trying to make a success of a small restaurant there. At one stage Fowler and his son did buy an old army amphibious craft with a view to re-instating the old Harty Ferry but they'd made so many enemies locally that it never got off the ground.

Once again, by this time in the mid-1980's, I finally renewed my aquaintance with the Inn but this time becoming a weekly regular there for a couple of years. I was regularly using a couple of pubs in Eastchurch village at the time and gradually noticed that the regular village drinkers were becoming absent. It transpired that, despite, or because of, it's remoteness, that the Ferry House Inn had now become the place to drink at and so I gave it a visit one Friday night to check it out.
Having run the place down, Ben Fowler had finally gone and there were new landlords, five in total, who were proving very popular. They consisted of two married couples and a single friend and after the three men had left a cross-channel ferry in Sussex, had pooled their money and bought the Ferry Inn. All the people I regularly drank with in Eastchurch were there and more people I knew besides and we all begun a couple of very happy and at times manic years drinking there. I met the manager of The Swale NNR in there and consequently became the Voluntary Warden that I still am, and for a while, the single landlord, who was a devoted twitcher, also became a Vol. Warden.
Weekends there, throughout the year, became riotous affairs and at least once a month, after the pub had closed at night to non-regulars, the landlords would provide a free buffet and we would carry on drinking and eating into the early hours of the morning. On those night, once the pub was closed, the landlords joined in fully with the parties and we were expected to serve ourselves at the bar and leave the money alongside the till, sometimes at 2.00 in the morning we would then all pile in to cars and go to somebodies house in Eastchurch and re-start a party there.
For a couple of years the Ferry House Inn was a fabulous place to drink, party and do lots of other things and we were a really tight bunch of Harty friends. One thing we became adept at, had to I suppose, was the ability to drive a car along a dark and perilous Harty Road when quite drunk and no one that I recall, ever ended up in a ditch. In those days I made many patrols round the reserve badly hung over after just a few hours sleep at home - happy days!
Eventually, as these things always do, people drifted away to do other things, the trade started to suffer, drink-driving laws became more severe, the landlords' marriages went wrong and the place once again moved on. Today it has been much improved, caters for weddings, has holiday lets and is owned by one of the families that farm on Harty. It still has great charm and fantastic views across The Swale, still serves good food and drink and is always worth a visit if you are birdwatching out that way.


  1. More great accounts of your life and mis spent youth Derek !!!?

  2. Mike, the only thing mispent was the money on all that beer, everything else was pretty much enjoyable and part of packing experience into life.

  3. Ben Fowler's wife was indeed a lovely, long suffering lady. She was my mother's sister, Vera, and I was in Lincolnshire attending her funeral at Burgh, outside Skegness, last Friday. Ben was born during WW1 into a very large East End family, and took up boxing when a teenager. He had a hellish War in the forties, being in the RAF all through the seige of Malta, in Egypt, and at Salerno. Their first child was a daughter, Tina, born with Downs Syndrome, and Ben put a lot of effort into the mental health charity now known as Mencap. Ben's 2 g-sons live on Sheppey - they are really good chaps.

  4. My relations owned the Ferry House between 1851 and 1861,Martha Frances Howe ,any one have any information about the Inn back then,Dave.

  5. My relations owned the Ferry House between 1851 and 1861,Martha Frances Howe ,any one have any information about the Inn back then,Dave.