ALE Autumn 1995 No. 282

On the Fen Edge...

...the Good, the Very Good and the Indifferent

This rural pub crawl takes us to the two villages in the north-west of the Branch area - Willingham and Over. Both were formerly surrounded by fen and later by fruit-growing country. Both have fine churches with ancient wall-paintings. But what of the eight pubs?

Starting in Willingham, there is the Milk Maid Tavern in Rampton End. This free house had a somewhat chequered recent history before Sylvie Aylward and Jacqui Tucker took it on 18 months ago and restored a proper pub atmosphere. The front bar has a cosy lounge and a small restaurant area, while the back bar is decidedly funkier, especially on Saturday nights when there is live music. Behind is a large function room which is available for anything from parties to training courses (flip charts, video equipment etc all to hand). Real ales are Adnams and Boddies with occasional guests. Food is served from an extensive and good-value menu every session except Sunday evenings and Monday. [See ALE 292 Pub News.]

Along Green St. and into Church St. is the Duke of Wellington. Probably the village's most attractive pub, the two bars are small, narrow and low-ceilinged, one having a more recent L-shaped extension. Though the Greene King seasonal beer is served through a handpump, the XX Mild, IPA and Abbot are all served under top pressure!

Just down the road is the Three Tuns, a long-standing Good Beer Guide entry and a classic example of what a village local should be. The public bar is a traditional regulars' meeting place with doms and crib usually being played in a convivial atmosphere, while the lounge is more relaxed with conversation and newspapers to the fore. Long-serving licensee Rodney Vass keeps his Greene King XX Mild, IPA, Abbot and seasonal ale in immaculate condition and at value for money prices - 1.32 for Mild, 1.47 for IPA. [See ALE 292 Pub News.]

At the end of the road, into High St, cross to the White Hart. New licensees moved here some 18 months ago and gave the place a much-needed smartening up. To the right of the entrance there is attractive exposed brickwork and a fine fireplace, while to the left, stripped pine is the order of the day. There is also a separate restaurant area. However, a recent mid-week visit found the pub almost deserted and with only the tedious Flowers IPA on handpull.

Along the High St. at the cross-roads is the Black Bull. The third of the village's Greene King pubs, it occupies a modern building which replaced an older pub of the same name. Refurbishment last year saw the two bars knocked through into one, not normally a welcome development. But the central fireplace and chimney have been retained, which breaks up the space. Handpumps appeared at the same time to serve IPA, Abbot and the seasonal ale. This is a pleasant and popular local and the petanque pitch sees regular use.

From these cross-roads, it is about a mile to Over, where the first left, Mill Road, twists and turns on the way to The Exhibition. Until the early eighties, this was a one-roomed beer house run by the redoubtable Grace Bullen. Ale was fetched from the back while you settled down in what seemed to be Mrs. Bullen's front room. Alas, such simple pleasures are not for today and when Grace retired, owners Tolly Cobbold extended the pub into the adjacent property. Fortunately they did a good job of it, especially the old kitchen area with its tiled floor and a settle from the original pub.

Subsequently the Ex has been enlarged twice more, most recently with the addition of a separate restaurant. Licensees of the last 18 months, Derek and Margaret Andrews have established an enviable local reputation for their food. Real ales are Bass, Tetley, Flowers Original and a guest from the Pubmaster selection.

Down Hilton St. and over the cross-roads stands The Poplar Farm. Inside, this is every inch the traditional country pub with its low heavily-beamed ceilings, old brick fireplace and tiles round the bar - but it has only been a pub since 1979. In those days there was also a restaurant called Lucy Locketts, but this is long gone. No food is served nowadays. The pub has a U-shaped layout with a comfortable lounge, a standing/perching area round the bar and a pool room tucked around the corner. Long-serving licensees, Rodney and Irene Crofts, currently keep 3 real ales - GK IPA, Ruddles County and Old Speckled Hen.

Back to the cross-roads, left down Long Furlong and left again into High St takes you to the Admiral Vernon. Charles Wells bought this pub a few years back from Whitbread but, for different reasons, things did not really work out with the first couple of tenants. Early this year, local girl, Jenny Muggeridge, took on the pub and it's a case of so far, so good. The lounge is effectively divided in two by a large chimney stack. There is a new door from the back part to the garden/car park, which has been much improved. A sizeable games room is home to a successful darts team. Maggot racing has also featured on the activity sheet. On the handpumps are Wells Eagle and a changing guest - Mitchell's Lancaster Bomber made a popular landing recently.


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