On a spectacularly sunny Saturday morning, I arrived in the city of Cambridge. There was a notable absentee, Martin Taylor who has been so instrumental in my Cambs progress over the past ten months. He was up in Sheffield on student duty, so he and other assorted Taylors couldn't join me in this final hurrah. But I had brought along BRAPA official mascot 'Martin the Owl' for his debut.
Amidst the gleaming spires (Oxford has dreaming spires, but is half the city Cambridge is in my opinion, if you discount the Twyclists), I looked up to see the first of the three pubs ......
1475 / 2445. Castle Inn, Cambridge
It was 12 noon, the pub had purportedly been open since 11:30am but the awkward half ajar door and look of terror and bewilderment on the staff faces as I entered showed I was customer no 1 of the day. A barmaid with hearty lips and a reserved yet curious manner sold me some Adnams Valentines themed shite (a good quality pint I mean) for £4.05 so I sifted around for the extra 5p, told her I had only a 10p if that helped. "Gimme whatever!" she replied, suggesting maybe I could've paid using my green Waitrose token. Never mind. Now just because the Good Beer Guide tells you a pub building dates to some historic age, 1740's in this case, isn't necessarily a sign that you will the benefit of this, but as the sun beams shone in to this still pub atmosphere, you could actually get a strong sense of the history here. Of course, there were attempts at going a bit more 'high-brow / dining' but they hadn't butchered it, and a sinister camp Russian guy (Igor?) came downstairs demanding a better table & chair layout for his upstairs restaurant. Finally, a couple of drinkers arrived, but they were full blown idiots as despite having the whole pub to aim at, they spent ages deciding where to sit. A second miserable middle aged couple soon followed, I liked these better as they'd both worn jackets to compliment my highlighter pen. "What is wrong with Americans?" shouted a voice from behind the bar. No one could answer. I think the voice may've belonged to the gaffer, cos an excitable bloke strode over to me. "Gorrr, is that the current edition?" he said peering at my GBG, "whatchya drinking?" he asks. I told him it didn't matter, the main thing was I ticked off all but two pubs in Cambridgeshire. "What an achievement!" he said, though the onlooking green couple and lippy barmaid didn't look so impressed.
|Sunbeams shining into the pub|
|I had to get my emergency beermat out (Willingham beer fest 2018) for this one|
|Mr Stabilo gets the drinks in|
|Mrs Stabilo and my pen for a guide|
|Looking through the pub, nicely unbutchered|
My next pub was down a street towards the river, a lovely little location but as I spied an 'Oyster and Stout' special sign and saw everyone 'milling' around (excuse the pun), I feared for a traumatic experience......
1476 / 2446. Mill, Cambridge
A cute, surprisingly small pub and it had a real intimate feel despite the comings and goings, diners, outdoor drinkers, which in a lesser pub could've spelt P U B H E L L. That's 'pub hell' for those of you who are a bit slow. A very motivated hands-on bar bloke charged me £4.50 (riverside prices?) for some shady looking stout, but I'd avoided the one with hotdogs on the pump clip, euuurgggh! Now bearing in mind what I'd said in the Castle Inn, it was funny when I handed over a tenner that he asked if I had the 50p! I didn't, gave him 60p, and not sure that really helped anymore than my 10p had in the last pub. I got the distinct feeling I was the first person here to pay by cash today, looking around at the pashminas and buggies in the far corner. "Are you sitting outside?" he asked me, meaning, "did I want a proper glass?" Well, Cambridge folk must be hardy, it was freeezing! So I said bugger that matey boy. But not in those words. A few steps backwards took me to the one remaining free table. "Reserved - John and Lynn 12:45". It was now 12:53, so I took a gamble and tentatively perched there thinking perhaps they're a no show. A couple of barmaids smiled and I hoped they were commending my common sense decision, rather than thinking 'cheeky barrrrstard" as they say down south. I soon figured everyone in here was younger than anyone who'd be called 'Lynn' and I'm sure I'd clock them if they arrived as she must be at least 70. Occasionally, a dreadlocked barmaid stood right behind, peering out of the window towards the river, and commenting "she's on the way!" Was 'she' Lynne? Were they trying to intimidate me? Didn't matter, I was properly relaxed by now and to all the Hooray Henry's and Henrietta's coming to the bar and saying "Waaaaah, I want the Whitebait!", I tried to BECOME John & Lynn. The one local, a jolly man in a blue tee shirt did a dance, that was fun, pub quietened down after 1pm, more staff smiled and were polite, and all in all, another strong pub effort under the circs. My friend came here many years ago and told me about a dice stuck to the wall ('Dice' were my main THING before BRAPA, don't ask!) but sadly I couldn't find it. Perhaps it got nicked.
|I got the one with the Robin on cos I like the bird. Selecting your beer can be this easy!|
|MY table now|
|Probably the new micro pub extension - expect to see Mill Taproom in 2020 GBG|
|Friendly bloke pre-dance on his way for a wee|
|Typical Northampton Town hooliganism|
So, now for the walk back to Cambridge station and a train north to Peterborough. Amazingly, my York train down to Kings Cross this morning didn't stop at Pb, plus it was a 12 noon opener, otherwise I'd definitely have done this one first, but hey ho, the 'county clincher' would be here.
Due to being on a series of 'fixed' tickets, time was of the essence so to take some pressure off, I hopped in a taxi to Stanground rather than walking the 5 mins to Queensgate bus station and getting one of the regular 10 minute buses, it just alleviated a bit of the pressure (NOT that I have to justify myself to you or anything ......)
The pub was open! Hurrah. This was my moment ......
1477 / 2447. Woolpack, Stanground, Peterborough
"EYORE! EYORE! EYORE!" chanted the locals as I squeezed in at the bar, ordering a good pint of Tim Taylor Landlord from a reassuringly small selection of standard bitters. Oh yes, Cambridgeshire was going to go out with a bang and not a whimper. No, so it wasn't me who was the donkey but one of their local old bloke mates called Mick/Michael. Not sure what he'd done to earn this nickname, but they were lovin' it. The one sensible bloke at the bar rolled his eyes at me like teenagers do in that "oh god, you are so immature, so embarrassing!" kind of way. I says to him "wow, this is quite an introduction to the pub" and I sat at the far end as the donkey themed chat continued. "Next time I go to the seaside, I'm gonna name every donkey Mick!" said one. "It's horses for courses!" laughed another. Oh dear. It soon died down as the football results ticked around on Sky Sports News and they all started randomly slagging off Lincoln City and Notts County which was pleasing to see. "Danny Graham!" screamed one of the blokes, and I tell you, that guy is haunting my 2018/19 BRAPA season, for he'd scored again! As always happens in a real ale pub of good honest standing, a smug Bristol Rovers fan walked in. They were winning too. "I bet you are pleased .... but it won't last!" commented the donkey ring leader. Then "Spirit in the Sky" by Dr and the Medics came on and everyone got a bit worked up by it. Although the 'donkey' stuff had died down, it was revived just before I left when it became apparent Mick was the frailest deafest bloke in the group. "Don't worry Mick, the new nickname won't stick!" reassured one bloke, in a rare moment of Stanground poetry. Poor Mick was now being teased for having some rather trendy Nike trainers, but undeterred, he schooled the others in Greek mythology as a result. After the nice landlord and local helped me find the loo, I put my coat on, glanced up, and Hull City were winning! What a pleasing end to my Camridgeshire adventure, great little boozer this.
|Not a fan of the Adnams glass, but good ale, Mick is nearest the camera|
|Celebrating my final Cambs tick with Martin the Owl|
So in my still limited pub ticking experience, how did Cambridgeshire rate as a whole? A lot more favourably than I was initially expecting. Certainly above Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, more like Berkshire and Cheshire which both had moments of magic mixed in with some absolute gastro bland bullshit. But on the whole, I'd rank Cambs slightly above both as there was a bit more rough and readiness at the most unexpected moments.
Peterborough area offered plenty of good stuff, the Fen pubs were amusing, weird and a little bit special. Cambridge itself has plenty to commend it but suffers from the popular pretty city thing a bit. St Ives was an underrated gem. Ely decent, March I really didn't enjoy, and some of the obscure southern outliers like West Wratting, Abington Piggotts and Little Gransden (my overall fave) deserve much love.
I was off back to North London (zzzzz) for the BRAPA after party. Could I squeeze three in before the train home? News on that in tomorrows blog so thanks for reading.