ALE Spring 2000 No. 297

An Ely Perambulation

January Bank Holiday Monday 2000 and over a week of slobbing around and indulging to excess has gone by, so what better than a brisk walk around the fine city of Ely - stopping off at a few pubs on the way, of course.

[Map] Larger version map (160K)

Starting point is the Minster Tavern (7) (there's a large church nearby which presumably got its name from the pub). This used to be a two-roomed free house of some character, but it was bought by Bass, who turned it into a rather dull open-plan affair. More recently the courtyard garden has been replaced by a conservatory-style extension. During the day this is a haunt of shoppers, tourists and diners, but at night a youthful clientele takes over and the decibels are cranked up accordingly. Real ales are Draught Bass and Fullers London Pride.

Turning right we pass both aforesaid minster and the Kings School before the Fountain (3) appears. This pub does not open at lunchtimes, even on Bank Holidays, so we have to pass it by - a pity because it is one of the city's two best real ale outlets. A genuine free house, offerings from the likes of Adnams, Fullers, City of Cambridge and Nethergate can usually be found here in tasteful surroundings.

Further up Silver Street is the other local centre of real ale excellence: the Prince Albert (8). This Greene King house is a former Branch Pub of the Year (as indeed is The Fountain), and sells a full range of the brewery's beers, including the rare but delicious XX Mild. Traditional values prevail here - good ale and good company in a simple but attractively decorated interior. There is also a delightful secluded garden where you can take your own food so long as you buy drinks. Alternatively at lunchtime (except Tuesday and Sunday) you can purchase the pub's own homely fare.

We follow Silver Street to its junction with Cambridge Road, turn left then right into West End, where the West End House (12) soon appears. Low-ceilinged and multi-roomed, this fine old pub is also one that increasing rare breed, the food-free pub. Five real ales are normally served: Courage Directors, Marstons Pedigree, Tetley Bitter, Websters Yorkshire Bitter and Wadworths 6X - a solid but not especially inspiring line-up.

Back to Cambridge Road now, turning left to return to the city centre. We pass the Kings Arms (5) and peer through the window, noting that Websters Yorkshire is the only cask ale on offer. We give it a miss, opting instead for the Lamb Hotel (6) straight ahead of us. The Old English Pub Company now owns this fairly up-market establishment, which has two bars serving real ale. We choose the Oak Bar, sedate, wood-panelled and cosy. Adnams Bitter and Courage Directors are on the pumps, and the former is in excellent nick. The other bar, The Fenman, is accessed from the courtyard and is altogether less refined.

Said courtyard leads through to Market Street, where Ely's newest pub, the Town House (not marked on the map), can be found. Opened in 1996, this fine house occupies a Georgian property of some distinction. The bar area is very pleasant, but the lounge is quite something with its huge windows and high ceilings - most elegant. The pub started off selling four changing real ales but for whatever reason the demand wasn't there and just Draught Bass is currently on. The landlord is a real ale enthusiast and hopes that the time will come when he can offer more choice; in the meantime he'd rather sell one beer in top condition than several mediocrities, which is an admirable attitude. There is food here at lunchtimes.

Follow Market Street to "Red Square", then head down Fore Hill for the Royal Standard (10), another Greene King pub. Just IPA and Abbot are on the menu today in this pleasant L-shaped enterprise - one arm is occupies by a split-level lounge, while the wood-panelled counterpart has a games area at its far end. The pub is famed for the quality of its Guinness. It's about to have a refurbishment.

Our final call for the day is a bit of a step away in Newnham Road. The High Flyer (4) used to be a tiny keg-only Norwich Brewery pub, but was hugely expanded by its new owners several years ago. It now has two interestingly shaped bar areas, a restaurant at the back and hotel accommodation above. On our visit only Draught Bass is "on", but usually three or four cask beers can be found here, sometimes including guests from small breweries (a Cottage Brewery ale had been available on my previous visit). There are happy hours here early evenings (except Friday and Saturday), and food is available at all times.

There are two other pubs in Ely. The Cutter (2), down by the river, is another Old English Pub Co. house and has three or four cask ales generally. The Tinker of Ely (11), some way out of town on the Lynn Road, has now closed and is due to be turned into flats.

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