After being closed for nearly a year, the Black Horse Dry Drayton welcomed customers again on 29 August. It’s now owned by Danny Keyes and managed by his son Aaron Marshall, who was previously Assistant Manager at Henry’s in Cambridge. The interior of the low-ceilinged 17th century building has been superbly refurbished and now presents a much lighter, airier feel, thanks to the pale oak floorboards and white walls. Aaron is taking full advantage of the pub’s free of tie status with a great mix of local and more exotic real ales on the three handpumps. When I visited Milton Icarus and Old Cannon Rusty Gun and Gunner’s Daughter were in occupation with beers from Buntingford and Buffy’s next to come on. Aaron freely admits that he knew little about cask beer before taking over here but is now hugely enthusiastic about looking after (and sampling!) them. The previous long run from the cellar to the pumps has been radically shortened to the great advantage of the beer quality.

The food side is building up nicely and when I popped in on a Sunday lunchtime they were fully booked. The evening menu features a comprehensive range of permanent dishes plus daily specials which often have a gamey theme e.g. Caramelised Partridge and Roasted Rabbit and all at very good prices. Food is also served noon – 3pm. The pub is putting on loads of events including live music, fancy dress party nights, coffee mornings, monthly quizzes and a pie competition! Things are looking really good at a pub whose potential is at last being realised.

More good news, this time from the Maypole, Park Street, Cambridge where the Castiglione family, tenants for the past 27 years, have bought the freehold from Punch Taverns. Bar manager Vincent is already taking advantage of the new freedom by introducing Milton beers, with Minotaur Mild a welcome permanent presence. The number of handpulls will increase to 10 and Vincent is very open to customer request – so if there’s a beer you’d particularly like to see on sale in central Cambridge, pop in and let him know. In the meantime Vincent says they’ll be “beers I like”! – probably five permanents and up to five changing guests. The food side is also seeing changes with many more home-made dishes on the menu.

The Bun Shop, King Street, Cambridge is open again with Wayne and Kate Howell at the helm. They also have the Tally Ho Trumpington and until very recently ran the Bakers on East Road (and the Brook, Brookfields before that). All these other pubs are Greene King houses so Wayne is revelling is the comparative freedom of being a Punch tenant. The five changing beers on handpump will be supplemented by a “tap room” to be developed in the lounge bar, with up to 10 real ales served from the barrel. Both ground floor rooms are now properly pubby whilst upstairs will see a games room and a function room, the latter quite a rarity in central Cambridge. The kitchen was still being sorted out when we visited but should be serving traditional hearty pub-grub by the time you read this. A beer festival is planned for December.

And whilst in King Street…

The term “end of an era” tends to be over-used but it certainly applied on 31 October when Terry Kavanagh’s 18-year reign at the Radegund came to an end. During that period Terry turned the city’s smallest pub into a gloriously eccentric establishment which reflected his many interests, especially in the fields of sport and travel. Fortunately new licensee James Hoskins has worked there many years and plans no significant changes – though he’s already stripped the floorboards which makes the whole place much lighter. He may also move the bar counter to its original position and even perhaps take out the false ceiling. Meanwhile the six handpumps will continue to dispense excellent ales, including three from Milton.

Cambscuisine opened their second Cambridge outlet in September, the St John’s Chop House in the old Prezzo premises in Northampton Street. The offer is very similar to the Cambridge Chop House on King’s Parade – classic British cooking and real ales straight from the cask (two or three beers, mostly from Milton). The 17th century interior retains its higgledy-piggledy layout and beams, fireplaces and other features but this is overlaid by really stylish contemporary décor which works superbly. A multitude of eating spaces is spread over two floors, each of which has an area where “just drinkers” will feel comfortable.

A couple of years back, when my other half was temporarily prohibited from imbibing alcohol, I railed in ALE at the prices some pubs charged for a glass of soda water (whilst other, like the Regal, provided it free). Local member Jonathon Handley contacted me recently when his partner Gill reported being charged £1.80 for a half of lime and soda in a certain Cambridge pub – utterly outrageous and enough to convince them not to visit the place again. A few nights later Gill was asked to pay just 20p for the same drink in a pub owned by the same brewery (albeit a managed one, rather than a tenanted one). Do any other readers have news of rip-off prices for soft drinks? If we find the practice to be widespread we’ll name and shame!

Pubs4Kids is a welcome initiative in South Cambridgeshire which aims both to meet the demand for youth clubs as well as help out local pubs. Teenagers are allowed to use a dedicated room in participatory pubs between 5.30pm and 8pm where they can order soft drinks and snacks plus use facilities like pool tables and jukeboxes. First pubs to sign up are the White Lion Sawston and Longbow Stapleford. Sounds like a great way to introduce young people to the controlled drinking environment of the traditional pub. Well done to Councillor Charlie Nightingale for coming up with the idea.

Well done to Bernard Lee of the John Barleycorn Duxford who has been awarded both a highly commended rating for the pubs accommodation and a nomination to Greene King’s Head Brewer’s Club which recognises the quality of cask ales. Bernard ran the White Horse Withersfield until 2001 but came out of retirement to rescue the John Barleycorn from closure.

The Alma, Russell Court, Cambridge is now in the capable hands of Steve Davies who many will recall from his time at the Elm Tree. Since Charlie and Caroline (now at the Alex, Gwydir Street) left over a year ago, the Alma had suffered the inattentions of a series of relief managers but Steve has given it a really good shake down. Six handpumps adorn the bar; although this is a Greene King tied pub you’ll find neither IPA nor Abbott as Steve explores the outer reaches of the GK guest list (he even had the rarely seen Hardy and Hanson Bitter on when we visited). As with the Elm, live music is a feature though with more of a blues than a jazz bend. Currently only Saturday night is a music night though Wednesdays and Fridays will hopefully be added. The Alma is also sports-orientated with Welshman Steve favouring rugby over footy. Food is of the hearty variety and very reasonably priced with mains at between £5 and £6.

The Carpenters Arms Great Wilbraham is due to reopen about the time (mid-December) that this edition will hit the streets. This characterful 17th century pub has been bought from Greene King by Rick and Heather Hurley, who have returned to England after 23 years living in France. For the last six years they ran La Casa De La Nine restaurant in the Roussillon area and which featured in many prestigious independent French food guides. Heather is looking forward to combining her experiences of French cooking with British cuisine and fresh local produce. The building itself has needed extensive refurbishment and has been stripped back to its historic core. The layout will stay the same, with the public bar still very much a truly pubby area. The plan is to add a large restaurant extension at the back though that’s some months down the line. On the real ale front Rick is talking to local brewers and intends to take full advantage of the free house status.

Another ex-Punch pub joins the ranks of local free houses. The Fleur (formerly Fleur de Lys) Humberstone Road/Elizabeth Way has two handpumps serving an ever-changing choice of ales, often including something from Milton.

Local estate agents Cheffins are marketing the Railway Tavern Great Shelford as a “former public house” so looks like it may have bitten the dust.

Congratulations to Milton Brewery who have fulfilled their ambition of buying a local pub. They’ve got their hands on the Devonshire Arms, Devonshire Road, Cambridge and hope to open following a refurbishment, in January. The Devonshire hasn’t sold cask beer for many years so this will also be a real ale gain.

And so to our usual round-up of local pubs currently on the market. Greene King seek new tenants for the Bakers Arms Fulbourn, Bell Bottisham, Cricketers Cambridge, Hopbind Cottenham, Jenny Wren Cambridge (one of our very few non-real ale pubs), Tree Stapleford and Waggon and Horses Linton. Punch Taverns offer list comprises Sauce Bar (now back to The Great Northern) Cambridge, Haymakers Chesterton and Chequers Cottenham. Enterprise have just the lease of the Greyhound Sawston up for grabs. From Christie’s you culd snap up the freeholds of the King William IV Heydon (£925k), Plough (£590k) and Blue Lion Fen Ditton (£475k).