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Cambridge & District CAMRA

Cambridge Pub Crawls

As part of National Pubs Week 2005 (19-26 February), we suggest some pub crawls highlighting a variety of pubs.

Cambridge One

This crawl follows the former main route to Huntingdon and the north. Start at the Round Church and head up Bridge Street. You'll soon come to The Mitre, dressed up in the fashionable cafe-bar style apart from the stone-flagged rear portion, a remnant from its previous "olde alehouse" look. Five or six real ales, usually including Tim Taylors Landlord. Right next door is The Baron of Beef, now with a single long narrow bar following the sad removal of the separate front room. It still has a fair degree of character and the Greene King beers, supplemented by a changing guest, are always in good nick.

Continuing north, Bridge Street becomes Magdalene Street and after crossing the Cam we'll find The Pickerel, one of several claimants to being the city's oldest pub. There is a good variety of drinking spaces in the low-ceilinged, well-beamed interior and five well-kept real ales - Woodfordes Wherry, Theakston Old Peculier and three guests.

A rarity in Cambridgeshire next as we climb the city's only hill to reach The Castle. It's hardly an exhausting experience but still creates a good excuse for a pint in this splendid Adnams pub. The full range of the Suffolk brewers' own beers is accompanied by a bevy of guests. Both floors offer a selection of drinking areas and the sun-trap garden, overlooked by the mound of the long-gone castle, is a delight in summer.

Opposite The Castle is The County Arms, owned by Everards of Leicester. Three or four real ales here in pleasant open-plan surroundings.

Onwards, past Shire Hall, to our final pub, The Sir Isaac Newton. Basically a new building following a major early-1990s expansion of the old pub, The Isaac is hugely improved in beer quality terms after recently changing hands; a couple of Greene King beers and a guest.

All pubs on the crawl sell food; The Castle and The County close in the afternoons.

Cambridge Two

Start this hike in the Market Square, head up Peas Hill, right into Bene't Street and there's The Bath. This was recently transformed from bogus olde-worlde style to swishy modern open-plan and looks much better for it. A former Laurel/Hogshead pub, it has just been bought by Greene King but for now continues to sell other brewery beers, including Hook Norton Old Hookey.

A couple of doors down is the city's most famous pub, The Eagle. Controversially extended by Greene King in the early nineties, opinions differ as to whether or not it's been ruined (the writer rather likes it, especially the wood-panelled bar to the right of the front entrance). The historic bits are the galleried courtyard and the back bar with its ceiling covered by graffiti applied by World War II airmen. A good range of mostly Greene King beers.

Bit of a trek now as we continue up Bene't Street, turn left into Trumpington Street then right into Silver Street. Just before the river, The Anchor presents itself. This is another Greene King acquisition and has just been given a quick refurb to leave it looking spick and span. Like The Bath it doesn't (yet) sell just Greene King ales and the wonderful Tim Taylors Landlord can be found. Great views across the mill pond from the upstairs bar.

Take the alleyway at the side of the pub and you're soon at The Mill. Formerly The Tap and Spile, this pretty little boozer had been in a long decline before the recent arrival of a new landlady who has transformed the quality of service, food and beer. Five regular beers, including Caledonian Deuchars IPA, a couple of guests and Old Rosie real cider. In summer, sitting outside enjoying the riverside ambience is very popular.

Walk away from the river up Mill Lane, cross into Pembroke Street and take the second road (Downing Place) on the right. This will bring you to the rear entrance of what claims to be Britain's largest pub, The Regal. A former cinema, it was converted to its current use by J.D. Wetherspoon. As you'd expect there's a large selection of real ales at very reasonable prices. During the day the atmosphere is pleasant enough but from mid-evening onwards it largely becomes the province of those for whom volume is the key component of drinking.

Turn left and you pass The Castle, a rather unexciting Greene King pub and All Bar One, which is the same as every other All Bar One. Keep going and you're back in the heart of the city.

Cambridge Three

This crawl starts at the railway station. Walk down Station Road and turn right into Tenison Road. The first pub you come to is The Salisbury Arms, now a Charles Wells pub but once part of CAMRA's own pub chain. A large, long and bustling pub, it offers six guest beers alongside a couple of Wells' own. Note the priceless collection of old Beer and Folk Festival posters.

Leave by the side door to go left into Felton Street then right into Mawson Road and soon you'll be in the splendid Live and Let Live, a true free house with a fine selection of often unusual cask ales, lovingly cared for. The wood panelling and gas lighting lend the place an intimate, welcoming atmosphere.

If you can drag yourself away, continue along Mawson Road and turn right into Mill Road. You could call into Bacchanalia Off-licence if you've got capacity to collect some unusual bottled ales from their vast range. Otherwise, keep going to the corner of Kingston Street, occupied by Greene King's White Swan, whose interior has a motor-racing theme. A little further down this street is The Kingston Arms, another brilliant free-house specialising in ales from smaller breweries, many of them local. The food here is also excellent. The small L-shaped bar can soon get packed but it's essential to squeeze in.

Carry on to the end of the street where it joins Hooper Street and just off to the right you'll spot The Backstreet Bistro, formerly The White Hart. As its name suggests, food dominates here but they'll happily sell you just a beer, including a nice drop of Youngs Bitter.

Go back along Hooper Street to Gwydir Street, turn right and head for Cambridge Blue, a long-standing stalwart of the city's real ale scene. The interior has two bars plus a tiny snug and a conservatory; at the back is a surprisingly large garden. The large selection of real ales can be enjoyed in a smoke-free atmosphere - it's banned here.

Turn left outside the pub and The Alexandra Arms, or The Alex as it's usually known, soon presents itself. A fairly recent makeover resulted in a light, airy, tastefully modern look. Real ales are mainly from Greene King and, as in most of the pubs on this crawl, there's good food to be had as well. If you've got a train to catch you're still less than 15 minutes from the station.

Cambridge Four

The first part of this crawl follows a Cambridge institution, The King Street run. This involved participants having a pint in each of the once-many pubs along this winding road, the winner being the first past the post who had successfully retained the contents of the many glasses in his body. The run still happens once a year though the reduced number of pubs means a couple of pints in each.

Start at the city centre end with The Cambridge Arms. Once a brilliant traditional pub with a marvellous front room, it suffered a horrendous transformation into an open-plan monstrosity called The Rattle and Hum. At great expense it has now been converted back into something closer to its former self, though much has been lost. The Greene King beers are generally in good condition here.

Diagonally opposite is The Bun Shop. Once a hapless, modern, basic box called The Kings Arms, this now has a multi-faceted interior, in which the real ale bar is our destination. The space is cleverly broken up and includes an irish-style snug. Five well-kept real ales including Youngs Bitter and a comprehensive selection of daily newspapers.

Next up is a real gem, The Champion of the Thames, one of the few proper locals left in the city centre. It has just two bars, one small, the other smaller. The Greene King beers are always superbly presented, showing that in the right hands these often-maligned ales can really hit the mark. Don't miss the etched windows showing the Champ in action.

A little further along is The King Street Run, formerly The Horse and Groom, which was given the "fun pub" treatment some years ago and is probably due for its next new look soon. Real ale availability is a bit hit and miss though there's usually something on.

At the end of the street, is a pub which makes The Champ seem quite sizeable. The St Radegund, with its single little room, more than makes up in eccentricity and atmosphere what it lacks in space. The Vera Lynn Club, the Veil Ale, the Cuban Cocktails, the etchings on the ceiling - there's so much going on here you could write a book about it (and the visitors' book is another attraction). Three real ales, always in top form.

Turn right now into Short Street (which becomes Emmanuel Road) then left into Elm Street, at the end of which is The Elm Tree. Once more, we have a small pub with a big heart. It's a Charles Wells house with a mixture of beers from their own and other breweries. Live jazz features three nights a week and the rest of the time it's a peaceful haven.

Across the way is Greene King's The Cricketers, a much improved two-bar pub with three real ales on offer. The l-shaped back bar leads through to a secluded garden.

From the front entrance you'll see our final port of call, The Free Press, a little way along Prospect Row. It's difficult to believe that the interior here dates only to the late seventies as it looks so authentically old. Two smallish bars and a snug where the current record for people crammed-in is 61 (and a dog). Like The Cambridge Blue mentioned in crawl three, this is a totally non-smoking pub. On the beer front, the rare but delicious Greene King XX Mild is a must though all the beers will be well kept. Excellent food also.

Cambridge & District CAMRA : News