ALE Spring 2002 No. 305

Best of the West?

The area to the west of Cambridge has tended to be neglected by CAMRA locally, mainly because we don't have any active members living in those parts. I recently revisited some old favourites to check if they still passed muster; my findings were mixed.

Barton

First up was the White Horse, a relatively recent convert to real ale which now sells Greene King IPA, Ruddles County and Abbot; I sampled the first two, and found them perfectly OK. This is one of those pubs that has been so comprehensively remodelled that any relation between exterior and interior has effectively disappeared. It's attractive enough, but nothing to get excited about. Most of the eating is carried out in a large, separate area; the menu looked both interesting and keenly priced.

The other pub in the village, the Hoops, is quite a contrast. This is that genuine rarity, a rural pub which doesn't do food: the fact that it can get by on wet trade alone is testament to the quality of the ale. If only Greene King IPA always tasted like it did here! It just goes to show that if properly looked after, what is often an ordinary, one-dimensional beer can develop a most satisfying balance of malt and hop. Landlord David Sabey has been here three years now and is happy ticking along in this peaceful old pub. The public bar with its tiled floor, huge brick fireplace and upholstered benches, is a cosy delight; the lounge is considerably less characterful, feeling almost like an abandoned dining room.

Harlton

Off next to the Hare and Hounds, a former Charles Wells pub which the current licensees bought from the brewery a few years ago. The locals remain dedicated to their Wells ales, so Eagle and Bombardier are permanent fixtures. Although very much underrated in CAMRA circles, when well kept (as they are here) both are superb beers. The third pump offers a changing guest, which in this visit was City of Cambridge's Christmas brew (actually produced by Oakham Ales while City of Cambridge sort out their move to new premises in Chittering). The interior was opened up years ago into a single space, though it's sufficiently small not to feel barn-like. Food is served every session except Sunday evening and all day Monday, and from the passing plates looked well worth investigating further.

Great Eversden

After two cracking pubs in succession, a disappointment might have been expected, and the Hoops certainly provided one. This fine old pub was closed for quite a while, and faced an uncertain future, but was lavishly restored a couple of years ago. Admittedly the operation used to be largely food-oriented, but it still felt like a pub, and handpumps dispensed Adnams and other real ales. We arrived to find that there's been a change of ownership resulting in what to all intents and purposes is a Chinese restaurant/take-away with just a residual pub element. The handpumps had gone and the only real ale was the appropriately named City of Cambridge Hobsons Choice, being dispensed from a polypin perched on the bar. This was actually very tasty, but everything suggested that cask beer is hanging on by its fingertips here. Two other pubs in the area - the Red Lion, Toft, and the Caxton Gibbet, Caxton - have been converted to Chinese restaurants in recent years, so the trend is worrying.

Hardwick

Onwards to our last port of call, the Blue Lion. Food has been important here for a long time and I've always been impressed on the occasions I've dined here. However, the beamed, low-ceilinged main bar retains a pubby atmosphere, and on our visit eating was largely confined to the separate conservatory. Greene King IPA and Abbot were on the bar; the former was in vderfy good condition, although it was missing the extra dimensions achieved in the Hoops.

There are several other pubs in the area - in Comberton, Bourn and Coton, for instance - and any intelligence about them would be gratefully received. And if anyone would be willing to distribute this newsletter to any pubs west of Cambridge, could you please contact the editor.

Paul Ainsworth


ALE Spring 2002 No. 305 : Next section
Cambridge & District CAMRA