Onward to Castle Camps, which has two pubs. A quick look inside the Camps Castle (formerly the New Inn) revealed the handpump to be out of use, so the Cock was the next actual stop. This splendid village local has been run by Arthur and Iris Fuell for many years now. It too is an ex-GK free house still featuring GK beers (IPA and Abbot), but also has a guest beer that changes weekly (Flowers Original on this visit). The pub comprises a small public bar, a larger L-shaped lounge and a restaurant. A full menu is available each evening except Monday and Tuesday; Sunday lunch is also served. Earlier this year the Cock began offering accommodation in three purpose-build chalets at the back. There's also folk music here on the second Monday of every month.
Next, a pub I'd never visited before, the Montfort Arms in Horseheath. This used to be known as the Welcome Inn, though it had a reputation for being anything but welcoming, and didn't sell real ale. It closed in the mid-1980s and we all assumed that was that. Last year, however, it opened again after a major refit, using its original name. The main bar has been done out most attractively with lots of wood and brick plus some nicely quirky touches. A separate carvery/restaurant occupies the other half of the building. Only one cask beer - the ubiquitous Greene King IPA.
Time was pressing by now, so we made a final call at the Crown, Linton, a former Good Beer Guide regular. A good range of real ales here - Greene King IPA (of course!), Wadworths 6X, Flowers IPA, Wells Bombardier and Nethergate Suffolk. I had a half of the last and while not off it was distinctly tired. Jane, who was on a diet, had a half-pint of soda water, for which the charge was a princely 90p. In many pubs there's no charge at all for soda water, while in others there's merely a nominal charge. 90p is just a rip-off. The Crown hadn't changed noticeably since my last visit several years before. It remains an attractive place, long and narrow, with the atmosphere getting noticeably louder the further back you go.
Next village east is Ashley, where the pub is also GK-owned. The Crown just had IPA on handpump, though it was in good nick. This is a perfectly pleasant pub, though very much a local - not somewhere I could recommend anyone to make a special effort to visit.
Our next projected port of call was the Queens Head, Kirtling, but it wasn't there - or rather, the building was there but now very much a private not a public house. The barman in the village's other pub, the Red Lion, told us it shut down some two years ago. The Red Lion itself is very foody and though the prices looked quite steep to us, it was doing a good trade on a Tuesday night, so must have a good local reputation. On the beer front, Adnams Bitter was the only real ale; a Broadside clip was turned round on the other pump.
Finally, another food-oriented pub, the Three Blackbirds, Woodditton, where Adnams Broadside and GK IPA were available for supping. We sat out in the pretty front garden, but the interior is quite characterful with two bars sporting low beams and exposed brickwork.
Our overall impression from both trips was that really good pubs seem a bit thin on the ground in these two areas, and the choice of real ales was disappointing - unless you're a rabid GK IPA drinker. However, there's plenty more exploring to be done, and more reports will follow.