"Hang on a minute," I exclaimed, "isn't this a Greene King pub? Where is the ubiquitous IPA? Surely one of the GK imitations of Speckled Hen must be on sale?"
"Not here," I was told by Tom Phillips one of the regulars seated at the bar. He recommended the Jorvik Blonde and I must say it suited my palate very well.
"The CIC made a collective decision not to stock IPA", explained Tom Canning, chef and manager, "It is available in most of the other pubs in the area and we thought offering a choice might encourage people to drink here. We do, though, buy from the Greene King beer list. We sell Hardy and Hansen as our stock beer and the other two pumps change depending on what is available."
"Who or what," I asked, "is the CIC?"
We sat at with our beers in the roomy conservatory and Tom Canning told me the tale:
When Ro Asplin, the long serving landlady, announced her retirement in March 2012, the villagers felt themselves left in a dilemma. For various reasons the pub had not been making a great deal of money, and there were concerns that like most large corporate companies Greene King would take advantage of Ro's retirement to completely change the pub. Fears were that it would be "updated" in some way; that managers would be appointed and that the Greene King stock menu of vacuum packed microwavable food and chips would be introduced in an attempt to maximise profit.
The Village and Pub regulars were aware that the pub had not been perhaps as busy as it might, but they considered the Plough and Fleece to be at the heart of their community, and felt that any improvements that needed to be made would be better managed by themselves.
In short - they decided to buy the pub.
A CIC, or Community Interest Company, a not-for-profit company, was set up and began to take pledges of cash. Investments are available for as little as £60, and the pledges soon edged towards £200,000, which is a sizable chunk of the £239,000 Greene King are asking for the freehold.
"I would like to emphasise how supportive Greene King have been throughout this process," Tom Canning went on to say, " I couldn't fault them." On the strength of the £200,000 pledge the company gave the CIC a short-term lease. The keys were handed over on September 6th, and the intention is that, given time, the villagers will be able to buy the pub freehold.
But, unfortunately things have gone a little awry.
"To receive so many promises of money was unbelievable," Tom said, "Unfortunately, promises are not the same as cash and we have only collected about half of the expected funds."
Like any business that has shareholders to appease, Greene King is keen to keep the pub on the market, and there is a possibility that the villagers could be gazumped at any time.
"Could you pass on the message to those who have made a pledge? Could we have the money now?"
"Could you also let people know that we are still asking for investment? We are spreading the field a little wider and asking users of the pub who live in other villages to invest. We have also approached The National Lottery Village SOS fund for financial support."
"Excuse me, Tom." We were interrupted by a craggy faced gentleman dressed in a 70's style denim suit, " I've dropped off the tomatoes and home grown chillies I promised."
Tom thanked him and then explained: "Some of our regulars like to bring in fresh produce for the kitchen."
The evening closes in and as more customers arrive there is a vibrant feel about the pub. Everyone is talking about the mammoth effort they have put in getting the pub the way they like it.
"It has taken 15 weeks," Tom told me. " 16 regular volunteers have been doing everything from cleaning and decorating to designing websites, and working in the garden."
Volunteers also help out in the day to day running of the pub. Tom Phillips, a stone mason during the day, helps out in the kitchen 3-4 nights a week.
And the formula seems to work.
"There has been an unbelievable turnaround in trade." Tom Canning again, "Villagers who haven't set foot in the pub for years have begun to return. Real Ale trade is especially good - accounting for over 20% of our total sales."
"As well as the Tuesday quiz we have an acoustic musician's Jam Session every Thursday, and 2-3 bands play live music every 2nd Friday of the month."
All of these entertainments are run on a voluntary basis
I left the Plough and Fleece as the quiz was about to begin.
"By the way", Tom Phillips called after me, " You ought to report that we must be the only pub in Cambridgeshire where the toilets are cleaned by a world famous musician - that's why we have those fancy paper towels."
I agree with the Horningsea villagers. I have always believed that the village pub is, and will always be, at the heart of the village community. They, however, have embraced this belief and taken it one step further. In their case, in many ways the pub is the community. I very much hope that the CIC are able to overcome their current financial difficulties and that the money so readily pledged begins to appear. If they do, I'm sure the pub will flourish, and I expect that I will be returning to the Plough and Fleece in 12 months time judging it as a possible candidate for entry into the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
For more information about the Plough and Fleece, Horningsea including Horningsea Community Interest Company go to ploughandfleece.com