Martin asked me to meet him in one of his favourite Cambridge haunts, behind my Travelodge at Plumbase, home to all your plumbing solutions and a dead cert for a 2035 GBG entry called @thePlumb & Spile opening 10-7 on Mondays, selling nothing but Marstons Pedigree and Pimms with strict 'contactless payment'only rules. Food limited to Colombian street food & tequila from 'Escobars' wagon which arrives outside the pub at high noon with the slogan 'one free shot for all'.
A car pulled up and a young dude called Matthew leapt out, making his debut BRAPA cameo, we shook hands and he dashed off for an exam on the 'Skate Parks of North Wales' or something.
We drove off to one of those "how the hell would you get to it without a car?" pubs in a village called West Wratting, not to be confused with neighbouring West Wickham even though we nearly did. We were close to Linton Zoo, one of my favourite 'When I were nowt but a Twild' places to go. They never had any animals or birds, so you just looked at empty cages. I'm sure this is why my sister is now vegan.
It was ten minutes until opening, so we wandered around the village and eyed up potential micropubs of the future, which are detailed in Martin's blog from the same day. Anyway, opening time was upon us and it always gives me a thrill to see a place like this open bang on 12 noon like it should ......
1408 / 2154. Chestnut Tree, West Wratting
We were greeted by the impressive landlady who Martin noticed had drawn off a bit of the ale and then chucked it away, like all good pubs should do, though to be honest I don't think it happens too often (boring beer comment complete). Like in the Flying Pig, she had to cope with both of our questions and comments, very much like the Gestapo but worse, I shone the torch and wore the metaphorical suspenders (I'm very much the Helga to Martin's Herr Flick in such situations. We learnt she'd wrestled this pub off Greene King and was now a freehouse, hurrah, but they still sold Greene King IPA, boo, but we didn't have to drink it, hurrah. Her excitable other half, resplendent in his West Ham home kit (he'd obviously been expecting Protz instead), was brandishing one of those Royal Mail cards, and asked us to decipher the number 4 which was quite definitely a number 4. As we praised the garden, it turned out the little Micropub thing wasn't that, or a kiddies play area, or even a smoking shelter, but was in fact a barbecue. Startling. A funny posh old couple arrived, like clockwork as they presumably do at 12:15pm every Wednesday for the last 50 years. They had a gassy little dog called Rupert with the same face as her, it wasn't very well trained causing her to wail "Ruuuuupeeeeyyy" at regular intervals. I thought the toilets were marked "Newmarket" and "Cambridge" and spent 5 minutes trying to guess which was the more masculine place, before I realised they were just random signs. Really nice pub, great quality pint, and I just hadn't been expecting this level of quality so well done Chestnut Tree as no one had bragged about it, and one thing I'm learning with Cambs, people tend to talk incessantly about the actual good pubs.
|Great landlady, great pint of Bo66y.|
|Definitely not the gents or ladies probably|
|The garden building which could've been absolutely anything|
Martin dropped me back off in Cambridge, so I could eat and drink healthy things, have a siesta and meet back up with him in Waterbeach in a few hours time. Not a bad life is it?! I even got another episode of Homes Under the Hammer in, can you buy the full thing on DVD?
I got the train up to Waterbeach before rush hour, as apparently the Ely scum like to use the road that we needed to be on to get back to their snooty little palaces. So it was important we were out of that area by 4pm.
If West Wratting had been one of those middle of nowhere place, well this one even had it in the pub name!
1409 / 2155. Five Miles from Anywhere No Hurry Inn, Upware
Well, I'm not sure what I was expecting but this was quite unlike your average GBG entry, feeling as it did somewhere halfway between a family pub on a campsite and an old people's home. By the time we'd found the bar after a walk that seemed to take forever around the back, I'd been properly traumatised by a selection of weird scrap metal animals, real hens, real ducks, old fenlanders having cream teas, and strange insects. Martin was on the soda water cos he's responsible like that, and encouraged me to go for the pubs 'champion' beer Old Speckled Hen, which I haven't had in yonks, expertly pulled through by Tanya Branning off Eastenders. We continued our 'pub walkaround' and found a 1980's classic games machine with the likes of Space Invaders and Bricks, which rather put Falmouth's Creature from the Black Lagoon in the shade. Still, we knew in our heart of hearts that this was a rare occasion where most of the pub excitement lay outside on the picnic benches by the canal. We strategically positioned ourselves within earshot of a group obsessed with a dog, at one point the bloke even did a dog impression, which was classic Fen behaviour of the highest calibre. More concerning though, was that a bit of wood the dog was playing with or a human calf bone? We were both thinking the same thing and gave each other, what in the trade, is called the 'Soham Stare'. On a lighter note, Martin became captivated by the insects on display, whether it was the Twasp in a glass, or the beetle in Hull City colours. On the way out, we spied some headless mannequins in women's clothes. Martin climbed a forbidden staircase and reported a hidden room of vintage ladies clothes. A peculiar end to a peculiar pub, but certainly not a bad one.
Next to the village of Haddenham and a pub where Martin had told me to manage my expectations, despite the fact it is Greene King(!) We parked in the car park at the back and walked down the narrow garden to get inside, very similar to how I approached the Green Man in Grantchester.
|I couldn't be bothered to walk to the front of the pub, so here's a pic from the GBG, cheers Bruce!|
1410 / 2156. Three Kings Haddenham
We'd already passed a Judgey Jesus and a Fake Tom Irvin looking longingly at my stripey trousers and enjoying a pint under a parasol when we entered the pub to find our path to the bar blocked by a series of San Miguel drinking sunburnt blokes. All had fascinating noses, and all had matching polo shirts, as employees of RS Construction. The main bar blocking culprit must have said "leg of lamb" about 5 times during our time at the bar, but I have no idea why. I ordered a pint of Greene King IPA because Martin had been teasing me about the prospect. It seemed a bit 'underused'. No one else drank a pint of cask ale in the whole time we were here. A bit of an exploration of the pub found that it was quite lame, a large section covered in knives, forks and serviettes with only the little vaulted toilet being a room of any discernible character and charisma. We noticed that Haddenham was facing off with another village for whose beer festival was going to be the most impressive and could get the most ales on. It was all a bit sad, like the whole place really.
|What would you do for a pint of Greene King IPA?|
|Dried hops hanging from ceiling - always a warning sign|
|Our construction friends through the gap|
|JJ and FTI enjoy outdoor drinking in Haddenham|
|Beer fest face off|
Haddenham was our furthest north pub of the day, and perhaps it was no surprise that the people had been just that little bit stranger, giving off that Chatteris, March and Ramsey aura, and WHAT an aura that is.
Our final GBG tick was another highly valuable one. Micropubs don't ordinarily exist in villages with sketchy bus services, and combined with mean opening hours, this'd have been a hard one to get in without the help of a car!
|Rare now deleted footage of me outside our next pub|
"The casual visitor is certain to be included in local conversation" writes the Good Beer Guide about this pub, which sounds more like a threat than a promise. But the three old farmery codgers propping up the bar were barely conversing with each other, never mind a visitor like me, and probably for the best, as I imagine the topic would've been 'mulch' and I'm not an expert. "They look exactly like the type of people you'd expect to find in here" whispered Martin, something I was thinking myself. The barman did make an effort with us, especially when Martin flicked through a 'beer menu' (ooh we could've been in Camden Town) and noticed a surprising range of Cloudwater beers on, everybody's fave Manc brewery who turned their back on cask. 'Cloudwater & Elgoods, the two best breweries in the world!' someone said, maybe Martin can remember who? Amusing anyway. In fact, there was a 'bargain bin' of out of date £2 bottled beers, so we took a few. "YOU MUST PUT THEM IN THE FRIDGE!" stressed the barman when I went up to buy mine with more urgency than was strictly necessary, and I nearly told him that would be tricky staying in a Travelodge n all, but I supposed he couldn't do much about that. One of my pub pet hates is pubs that leave the front door open, but it didn't matter here cos no one drives to or through Willingham, and no one walked past, so it made no difference.
|Mulch is on the agenda, probably|
|Beery pick n mix|
|Saucy photos in the gents|
There was to be a nice little bonus to our jolly afternoon/evening crawl, for back in Waterbeach, Martin suggested I pop into Taylor Towers to say hello to Christine, who'd sadly (for me, but good for her) always managed to evade BRAPA until now so was quite starstruck at hope of finally meeting her. On the Twitter scale, probably wedged in between Pub Curmudgeon and Quosh, if you can envisage such a ranking system. Also, 'it could be a pre-emptive if Martin converts it to a micro when he turns 70', I thought, as you always have to think tactically in this game, so it was time to give it a shot......
Taylor Towers Micropub, Waterbeach (Pre-emptive tick)
A homely and nicely cool, light and airy interior awaited, and the lovely Christine, who was breathing like someone who had been decorating and renovating for 26 hours straight whilst her naughty hubbie had been off gallivanting with his evil pub friend, greeted me in friendly manner, and offered me a cup of tea, and even a bowl of leftover tomatoey pasta because the younger son had rushed off to a surprise social outing. I accepted the tea, declined the pasta, but it was fine hospitality I didn't deserve. Martin gave Christine some of the Willingham knock-off ales which was a lovely token gesture. I admired Martin's impressive record collection, though it lacked some true punk rock goodness, and chuckled at some photos from his younger days involving voluminous hair. The cuppa was very good quality, the news was on TV, Christine scowled at Donald Trump and I tried to think of something intelligent to say, but failed, so Martin suggested they show me their local for a 'swift half'. To make this potential 'pub' eligible for a 'tick', I had to ensure I was here 25 mins so went to the downstairs loo to stall them. It was a superb loo, reminiscent of both Billericay and Cheadle Hume efforts, with a nod towards Helston 'Spoons. But time to move, it was, after some confusion over where the keys were.
|Surprising myself in the Taylor's downstairs loo!|
The best of about 4 pubs in Waterbeach was this one I'm told, where I knew from recent RM blogs that he has had many pints of quality foaming bubbly bitter beer in recent times. "It won't be in the GBG this year, but after that you never know" Martin had told me earlier. My first two acts in this pub were less than impressive as I strode to the bar. They'd both encouraged me to ring the bell for service, for the barmaid was round the other side. I've never been an effective pub bell pusher, and failed. "Again!" Martin encouraged, but by the time I finally got a sound out of it and giggled, a very unimpressed barmaid was facing me square on. Talk about being dropped in it! Martin suggested I order myself some 'hot nuts' but because I ALWAYS bang on about my life threatening nut allergy, I thought he was taking the mickey and squealed 'what ya trying to do to me, kill me?' which may've sounded ungrateful to a wider audience. If Waterbeach has a wider audience, which it doesn't. I mean, I know Soham isn't a million miles away but am sure RM was channelling his inner Grimsby former school caretaker at this stage. But I settled into my superb quality pint of something possibly Adnams in a silly glass, and we had really nice chats and they had to remind me time was ticking and my train was on the horizon, so I had to drink up and go, after a quick trip to the outdoor bogs (another sign of a good pub) which was probably a horse stable. Fun times!
Well, what a superb end to my holiday and huge thanks to Martin and Christine for putting up with me and all the taxiing around and generosity. It was enough to make me forget I'd visited 39 pubs in 10 days!
It was now time to rest up on the Thursday and Friday, get into the World Cup, and get myself ready for a Birmingham based outing on the Saturday with my Dad. Never stops this pub ticking lark does it?!