Category Archives: Ale Trails

The Chestnut Tree, West Wratting

Chestnut Tree

The Chestnut Tree is a freehouse situated about twelve miles south-east of Cambridge in the village of West Wratting. It was recently awarded Pub of the Year 2014 by Cambridge & District branch of the Campaign for Real Ale and is also on this month’s Ale Trail (pdf). More than anything, it was the draw of the large beer garden that prompted us to visit again on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Chestnut Tree garden

Rachel and Peter Casuton bought the Chestnut Tree in 2012 and have spent the last two years transforming the pub, winning Most Improved Rural Pub 2013 along the way. A freehouse, when we visited there were beers from Brandon Brewery, Saffron Brewery, and Greene King IPA and Abbot.

There’s been a pub here since at least 1861 when John Norden worked here as a blacksmith during the day, and a beer retailer in the evenings. After he died in 1881, an auction of the premises described it as:

The well known “Chestnut” public-house, containing 9 rooms and cellar. Blacksmith’s shop, barn and other outbuildings, with a well planted garden. The purchaser to pay for the 2 forges, bellows and slack-troughs, as fixed, and for the house fixtures and coppers. (Trent Valley Heritage Gazette)

The original thatched building burned down and was rebuilt later in the 1800s, retaining a blacksmiths shop and outbuildings until at least 1918.

In 1632 three alehouses were licensed in West Wratting (A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 1978). A hundred years ago, there were at least five beer retailers in West Wratting:

1904 Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire

Chestnut Tree Albert Pepper
Crown Inn Ann Bradnam
Five Bells James Saunderson
Lamb Henry MacFall
Waggon & Horses John William Radford

Only the Chestnut Tree has survived. Here are some details of the closed pubs.


Lamb Inn

The Lamb existed from at least 1876 when it was occupied by James Twinn. The landlord from c.1896 to 1906 was Henry MacFall, inn keeper and mail cart contractor. His son Arthur Ernest Macfall, a bombardier for the Royal Artillery, died in the First World War and is recorded on the war memorial inside the church of St. Andrews (Roll of Honour). In 1906 the original thatched building met the same fate as the original Chestnut Tree and completely burned down when a paraffin lamp was knocked over in one of the bedrooms. It was rebuilt but eventually closed around 1978 when landlord Percy Boreham was declared bankrupt – by 1980 he was described as ‘retired publican’ at the Lamb. His name is still above the door.

Lamb signs

During the Second World War RAF Wratting Common, a bomber command airfiled, was built on the nearby common and “the three pubs in the village quickly sold out of beer with all the extra customers available. There were rumours that spies were operating from The Lamb – they supposedly had a radio transmitter – one night they disappeared and nothing was heard of them.” (Western Colville Local History – About West Wratting)

Crown Inn:
The Crown Inn stood on the High Street, opposite the end of The Causeway that leads to the church. It existed from at least 1788 but was closed and demolished sometime after 1960, when it was still shown on an Ordnance Survey map, and before 1981 when it had been replaced by modern housing. Ann Bradnam was publican there from at least 1891 to 1916.

Five Bells:
The Five Bells (the western tower of St. Andrew’s contains five bells) was mentioned in 1850 as part of a sale of land “adjoining road to Cambridge on west, including Five Bells beer house, stable brew-house etc”. It was still trading in 1906.

Waggon & Horses:
Existed from at least 1857 when Peter Tilbrook is listed at the beerhouse, to 1921 when it is recorded in a sale catalogue from Hudson’s Cambridge and Pampisford Breweries Ltd.

White Horse, Swavesey

Twenty-five public houses, inns and beer retailers have been recorded in the village by Swavesey Pubs History. The White Horse dates back to 1668 and is the only remaining pub.

White Horse Swavesey

Branch Pub of the Year in 2009, the White Horse is a two-bar pub, with a lounge bar and a public bar leading to a pool room and an outdoor area. In the 1850s there were apparently 10 pubs in Swavesey, serving a population of about 1,400. Today only the White Horse survives to serve a population of over 2,500. Even so, like many pubs it is ‘hanging in there’ and needs more support. It no longer opens for lunch from Monday to Thursday, disappointing for the ‘one man and his dog’ that would turn up during those times. It does however, host a series of events throughout the year, recently holding its 13th annual beer festival from 3rd – 6th May, with music, a bbq and over twenty beers including a rare sighting of Elgoods Double Dog strong mild, as well as beers from Salopian, Ossett, Green Jack and local breweries Milton and Moonshine.

It is also the venue for the East Anglian Pinball Show, now in it’s 8th year, taking place from June 28th – 30th 2013. Landlord Will switched on the 1980s pinball machine ‘Night Moves’ in the public bar so we could experience a piece of the action. A ‘sit-down’ table, we sat down on seats made from wooden barrels and played while supping a nice drop of Castle Rock Harvest Pale. The pub has plenty of games – as well as pinball there is bar billiards (the pub has a team in the local league), darts, pool, fruit machines and two TVs showing sport. It is not a ‘Sports Bar’ though, still very much a friendly village pub with a cosy public bar, a place for conversation and good beer.

White Horse Swavesey

Less than 10 miles from Cambridge, the pub is just a few minutes from the Guided Bus stop, so is easily reachable by bus or cycle. We visited as it featured on the Ale Trail, but we won’t wait for another excuse to return.

Swavesey Pubs History
Cambridge CAMRA

Related posts:
Pubs along the Guided Busway

Ale Trail – Four Pubs by River and Roman Road

Plough & Fleece – Sun Inn – Red Lion – Jolly Brewer

Cambridge CAMRA Ale Trails 2013

Prompted by the Ale Trails to visit some pubs I haven’t been to or don’t visit often enough, this is another route that follows cycle paths and avoids roads where possible. A fairly easy route, about 15 miles. No punctures on this occasion.

Cambridge Ale Trail 2013

From the Green Dragon, joining the riverside path just past the former Penny Ferry Inn, the path leads to Waterbeach and beyond, but at Baits Bite Lock there’s a bridge over the river Cam and a footpath to Horningsea.

Baits Bite Lock

Baits Bite Lock

Before crossing the river, a short detour northwest along Fen Road leads to the Jolly Brewers in Milton.

Jolly Brewers

Jolly Brewers

A recently refurbished, late seventeenth century Inn, it seems there was a brewery here from at least the 1830s, William Essex the brewer and publican, his son Thomas taking over in the 1870s and continuing into the last century. Now a freehouse, I had a drop of Milton Pegasus (when in Milton…), also on – Lord Conrads and two from Greene King.

Crossing the river at Baits Bite Lock, it’s not far to the Plough and Fleece.

Plough and Fleece

Plough and Fleece Horningsea

Recently awarded Community Pub of the Year (Rural) by Cambridge CAMRA, this pub has been bought from Greene King by the villagers so it can be protected and turned into a freehold (apparently the money has now been raised and the deal agreed, although it’s currently tied to Greene King on a short term lease). It is listed as an 18th century inn, but the building may date back to the 16th century.

Low timber beams, tiled floors and a large fireplace in one room, the rear bar leads to a beer garden with views across the meadows, woodpeckers drumming as I supped a Timothy Taylor Best. I’d be happy if this was my village local.

Bridge Inn, Clayhithe

Bridge Inn, Clayhithe

A short piece of road leads to the Bridge Inn, not part of this year’s Ale Trails, but a landmark along the way. There’s been a pub here since at least the 18th century when the Jack and Eel is recorded, perhaps later rebuilt as the House of Lords, becoming the Clayhithe Bridge Inn in the 1880s. A nice enough pub with a riverside beer garden, a previous pub sign showed a horse and cart crossing an old stone bridge, with a narrowboat on the river – the more recent pub sign has chosen the Cambridge Bridge of Sighs instead. I saw the first swallows of the year here before heading to Waterbeach.

Sun Inn, Waterbeach

Sun Inn Waterbeach

The Sun is nearly 250 years old at least, licensed by 1765. It overlooks the village green, opposite the White Horse. A two room pub, the cosy lounge featuring a large fireplace, albeit filled with a collection of empty beer bottles. I had a nice drop of Woodfordes Bure Gold (named after the River Bure which passes within half a mile of the brewery in Norfolk) on the outside seating overlooking the green before heading west to Landbeach, crossing over the A10.

Mere Way between Landbeach and Impington

Mere Way

Past Landbeach, turning south along Mere Way, the Roman Akeman Street, south passing Chivers fruit farm, to Milton Road and a cycle path to Impington and Histon.

Red Lion, Histon

Red Lion Histon

Here since c.1840, the Red Lion is an impressive pub outside and in and serves good beer. There other several other pubs in Histon, all worth a visit, but the Red Lion is hard to beat.

From here it’s an easy ride back to Cambridge, joining the guided busway cycle path at Impington, to Chesterton and the city centre.

Ale Trail – A Bumble Through Beer Gardens

Whittlesford ChurchTicking off a few of the most southerly pubs on the Cambridge CAMRA Ale Trails, all with beer gardens, a twenty mile round trip following good cycle paths pretty much all of the way to Whittlesford and then roads through Duxford to Ickleton. Despite losing the cycle path as it goes through Stapleford, it was a pleasant route that even goes through the churchyard of St Mary and St Andrew’s at Whittlesford.

Bees In The Wall

Bees In The Wall

Built in 1851 as the Exhibition, the pub’s name was changed in 1950 when bees were discovered living in different sections of the walls as the pub was being redecorated. Initially the hives were actually cleared away and the walls sealed up, with 25lbs of honey extracted and used to make mead. However, a couple of years later in 1952, the bees returned and were allowed to remain. The bees still live here and can be seen going in and out of a hole high up on the outside of the building. Apparently upstairs in the private lounge, the landlord can view the nest through glass. They usually swarm once a year around May – on occasions they have left in autumn before returning in spring.

I have to say this pub has been one of the highlights of the Ale Trails for me. I enjoyed an excellent drop of Timothy Taylor Landlord and a friendly chat with Marie, who was happy to explain the history of the pub and the bees. The landlord Lawrie has been here for thirty years making him the second longest serving landlord in Cambridgeshire. A cosy two room pub with a large beer garden bordering the pub’s own wood! I look forward to visiting again soon, perhaps taking the short train journey from Cambridge to Whittlesford, followed by a 30 minute walk to the pub. Marie said they’d had more people passing through on the Ale Trail than in previous years. It was quiet when I visited during a weekday lunchtime, some companies that used to provide lunchtime trade have recently moved out of the area, so I hope more people discover this gem of a pub.

Tickell Arms, Whittlesford

Tickell Arms

Nearby, the Tickell Arms, formerly the Waggon and Horses from c.1810, is a pub and restaurant that was refurbished and reopend last year. There are usually four real ales on and on May 26th they’ll hold the pub’s first mini beer festival. I enjoyed a Milton Pegasus in the beer garden before cycling further south.

Ickleton Lion

Ickleton Lion

Furthest south of the pubs on the Ale Trails, Ickleton Lion, formerly the Red Lion, is a building thought to date back to the 1700s, with beamed walls and an inglenook fireplace. A pleasant Greene King pub busy with lunchtime diners, I had a rather insipid Old Golden Hen in the beer garden before retracing the route to Duxford.

Plough, Duxford

Plough Duxford

The Plough, a timber framed pub with a thatched roof and porch, also dates back to the 1700s. I liked this pub and had a decent Adnams bitter – also on were Holdens Golden Glow, Bombardier and two from Everards. By this time I was seeking shelter from the sun so only sat in the beer garden briefly.

Three Horseshoes, Stapleford

Three Horseshoes Stalpeford

Here since the early 1800s, the Three Horseshoes reopened in February, and has been steadily getting busier as word has spread. An unfussy pub, recently refurbished, serving a good range of real ales and bottled beers from around the world.

Route map:

Map of all the Ale Trail pubs (from @YvanSeth)

Cambridge CAMRA
Mike Petty – Down Your Way
Roger Protz – Best Pubs in East Anglia
Ted Bruning – Cambridgeshire’s Best Pubs