ALE Spring 2002 No. 305

Fen Ditton Foursome

Fen Ditton is such a peaceful place that it's sometimes hard to believe how close to Cambridge it is. One Sunday shortly before Christmas I made my way there from the busy Newmarket Road, which leads to (and from) the A14 (it's also possible to get there by following the towpath along the River Cam); consequently the first pub I came to was the Blue Lion, which sits on the crossroads at the entrance to the village proper.

This modern two-bar pub was much extended a few years back by the addition of two conservatory-style extensions on two sides. The public bar is dominated by a pool table and a large-screen television. In the big, open-plan lounge, the Sunday carvery was doing a roaring trade. It would be difficult to argue that this was a pub over-burdened with character, but it's pleasant and friendly all the same. Real Ales are Greene King IPA and the excellent Ruddles County.

The Ancient Shepherds appears a little further down the High Street on the left. The buildings date from 1540, and the pub was formerly three separate cottages. What we see today is a highly attractive, low-ceilinged, multi-room pub/restaurant. The bar area at the entrance is mainly for standing/perching. To the left is a delightful lounge with sumptuous leather chesterfields, armchairs and a window seat: comfort is definitely the key word. Two other rooms are devoted to food and there's an attractive glass-covered entrance-cum-corridor at the back. On the beer front, Adnams Bitter, Morland Old Speckled Hen and Flowers Original make a well-balanced line-up. The pub has an excellent reputation for its grub, and the menu is wide-ranging and imaginative.

A short stroll leads to another Pubmaster establishment, the King's Head. This comprises a large lounge and, at a lower level, a cosy public bar. The abundance of posts and beams in the lounge shows that there were once several different rooms, though it's difficult to "read" what it must have been like. On this visit the central heating had broken down and the friendly landlord was bemoaning the fact that it wouldn't be fixed until February; in the meantime a battery of Calor gas heaters was doing a sterling, if somewhat smelly, job. Greene King IPA, Adnams Broadside and Batemans XB were the cask beers, and the last was in very good nick. The pub does food at all sessions except Sunday evening and there's live music most weekends. The building apparently has an interesting past though there's some disagreement as to whether it used to be a Customs House or a smugglers' den!

Onwards towards the river, where the Plough occupies an enviable bank-side position. This is a Brewers Fayre operation and the sign which greets you ("Please Wait Here to be Seated") suggests that people visiting just to drink are a rarity. I ignored the sign anyway and found a somewhat uninspiring selection of ales at the bar: Flowers IPA, Flowers Original and Wadworths 6X. I ordered the last, which was OK but not the beer is used to be. The large, open-plan interior is decked out in that utterly anonymous style that big-chain, managed pubs have got down to a fine art: somewhere there must be a huge warehouse where "designers" can select from a limited repertoire of "pub parts", and assemble them as best they can. However, places like this clearly have a role to play, and if you want safe, predictable food in bland but comfortable and family-oriented surroundings, then you won't be disappointed.

Paul Ainsworth

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