Pints and Punctures

On the Cambridge Ale Trail

Ale Trail Stamp

This year’s Cambridge CAMRA Ale Trail has forty-four pubs to visit over three ‘trails’. There are no routes to follow, just lists of some pubs in the district. Still, it seems like a good excuse to visit some pubs out of town that I haven’t yet got around to, along with some pubs in town I only occasionally visit. After ticking (stamping) off a few pubs in town, I thought I’d better visit some further afield. Intent on avoiding roads where possible, sticking to cyclepaths and footpaths, I cycled out with a photocopy of a piece of OS map. Other than that, I hadn’t really prepared.


The Dykes End pub in the village of Reach is about 13 miles north of Cambridge, that is if your route follows the river Cam downstream and then diverts across tracks alongside old Roman canals and fenland fields.

Swaffam Bulbeck Lode

It was going well until I was within a mile of the pub and decided to detour to see the Devil’s Dyke earthwork from which the pub gets its name. This involved walking my bicycle through a tunnel of blackthorn, hawthorn and wild rose bushes. By the time I reached the pub, both tyres were punctured.

Reach Dykes End

I ordered a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord and sat in the beer garden considering my plight. Thirteen miles from home with two flat tyres and nothing to fix them. A local cycled up, and as luck would have it he was carrying a repair kit, tyre levers and a pump. “I’ll be back in an hour” he said, “leave them behind the bar and I’ll pick them up later”

When it came to fixing the punctures, having carelessly pulled out and thrown away the thorns, I struggled to find the holes they’d left. I then discovered that the pump adaptor was the wrong size for the valves so I couldn’t get any air in the tyres. Even with a bowl of water from the pub, it took an age to find and fix both punctures. Eventually I left the tools at the bar and paid for another pint so the gent who’d lent them to me had a rewarding drink when he returned. As I asked for directions to the nearest garage so I could get air, facing a two mile walk there, someone at the bar offered to get a foot pump from his garage.

“If you’re going to get a puncture, best place to get one is at a pub” said Simon. “You never know who you’re standing next to in a pub. Could be a dentist, could be someone who can remove a dent from your car…”

…Or someone who can help fix a puncture. Tyres repaired and full of air, I headed home, and feeling luck was on my side after all, detoured to some more beer gardens, at the Red Lion, Swaffham Prior and the White Swan, Quy.

Red Lion, White Swan

It wasn’t a particularly warm day, yet I arrived home with a sunburn of the intensity I’d forgotten was possible in this country. In April.

But the tyres stayed up.


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