Category Archives: Cambridge Pubs

Cambridge Pubs – Robin Hood and the Red Lion

Robin Hood and the Red Lion

Robin Hood and the Red Lion could be the title of a medieval ballad, “where Robin met his match”, but it’s the name of the last two pubs in Cherry Hinton, a village that got subsumed by Cambridge and is now a suburb within the city boundary.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Originally the Robin Hood and Little John, it was built on land adjoining a pub of the same name which was demolished in 1958, around the same time the Weathervane, now the Med, was built on Perne Road. The old pub had a sign, recorded in The Old Inns of Old England vol.II (C. Harper, 1906) that read:

Ye gentlemen and archers good,
Come in and drink with Robin Hood,
If Robin Hood be not at home,
Then stay and sup with Little John

In the absence of those merry men, I nevertheless stayed for a drink.

Robin Hood

I think I’ve seen this interior several times before, an identikit Greene King eatery, although in this case the layout has several distinct seating areas, with part of the building given over solely to eating – there’s a menu podium facing one entrance, where a young couple wait until they are seated. It’s also remarkably clean, no piles of plates or glasses on the tables, as might be expected after a lunchtime, especially in a pub that caters for families – tellingly the beer garden here is signposted as a “children’s play area”, so I imagine a smoker there might feel that bit more uncomfortable, though there is a smoking area to one side of the pub. There are children in the outdoor play area, and there are families inside, along with three single blokes, of which I am one, the others seated a few tables away to each side of me. I at least have the decency to get my phone out and appear purposeful; they just sit staring into space or at the silent TV, until one of them has a rib eye steak brought to him, and there is at last some animation as he gets up to fetch first a basket of condiments, then sits down and throws his hands in the air as he gets up again to fetch cutlery. There’s a table near the bar where a couple of blokes are in conversation; at one point a child wanders over to their table, the mother quickly retrieving him and apologising for “impeding them”, to which one of the blokes replies “Well, he wasn’t actually ‘impeding’ was he”, in an unnecessarily pedantic way.

On the bar, besides the usual lagers and Guinness, are Greene King Golden Hen, Abbot and IPA, Wadworth George and Dragon, which I should probably have gone for but instead played it safe with a keg beer, in this case GK East Coast IPA, probably the best example of it I’ve had to be fair, not bad in a faint praise kind of way.

Robin Hood

Similarly, ‘not bad’ is how I’d describe the Robin Hood, it’s one of the more handsome pubs of that period, with an octagonal clapperboard extension that overlooks the busy road junction and a pond with no fish in.

Red Lion

Red Lion

Now this is more like it. A lovely old 16th-century timber-framed building (with 18th century additions), complete with large inglenook fireplace, low beamed ceilings, on the walls photos of old Cherry Hinton and a stuffed fish (disappointingly no mention of whether it was caught in the brook), three distinct areas – a lounge, a central bar room and a games room with a pool table – a friendly atmosphere, and locals on stools at the bar.

Red Lion

The two bar staff are the youngest people in here, and are refreshingly generous when a local refers to another local’s indiscretions the previous night – “Well I’m worse than that when I’m drunk”, says the young lad, “and she’s even worse” he says gesturing to the even younger looking girl. “I am” she coyly admits, “I’m terrible when I get drunk”.

The piped volume is at the level where it’s a touch too loud for The Spinners ‘Working My Way Back’, but about right for The Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’. But the sun beckons me to take my excellent pint of TT Landlord out to the seating at the front, where an older couple with a dog are sitting.

Red Lion

Opposite the pub stands the old smithy, one of a few old buildings dotted about amongst the modern housing that has turned this village into a suburb. I glance round just in time to catch a moment of slapstick as the chap gets up for another drink and puts his foot right into the dog’s water bowl. As he hops off indoors, his wife looks at me and we both burst out laughing. “I saw that coming” she says, “But you didn’t move the bowl” I observe. “Well, they’re new boots, he’s just waterproofed them – now he’ll find out if it worked!”

Red Lion

When I leave via the back entrance where I’ve parked my bicycle, I notice the large beer garden is empty – perhaps the locals know better, judging from several signs which specify just what age you have to be to play in the garden, and how there are definitely no ball games allowed, despite the large grassy space looking perfect for a kickabout – I doubt old wet-leg would be much of a striker anyway.

From the beer garden can be seen the back of the former Unicorn pub, that once served “the best mild in Cambridge” according to the 1984 GBG, now a multi-purpose ‘Coffee House, Eatery, Bakery, Grocery’ called Cofifteen. I’ve no idea if it serves draught beer (if it does, it’ll have to go on the list), but at least the building is still open to custom – other recent closures in Cherry Hinton, the Five Bells and the Rosemary Branch, weren’t so lucky and have been demolished.

The former Unicorn pub in Cherry Hinton

I cycled home alongside the Cherry Hinton Brook, via a pleasant shaded path that emerges at the bottom of Mill Road, near the Brook pub, which I note is still open, with a new manager since my visit earlier in the year. I hope Cofifteen does serve draught beer, so I have an excuse to return to Cherry Hinton and the Red Lion sooner than later.

Cambridge Pubs – Flying Pig

Flying Pig

Once upon a time there were two little brick-built pubs, who went out to seek their fortune.

Presently, along came a wolf who knocked at the door of the first pub, the Osborne Arms, and said
“Little pub, little pub, let me in”
To which the pub answered
“Not by the hair of my Conservation Area protection”

So the wolf huffed, and he puffed, and he demolished the pub in a conservation area without consent, because he claimed he wasn’t aware of the need for consent, which in any case was granted retrospectively.

Osborne Arms

Spot the difference

Then the wolf knocked at the door of the the Flying Pig pub, and said
“Little pig, little pig, let me in”
“Not by the hair of my petition to refuse Conservation Area consent to demolish the Flying Pig public house, signed by almost 7,000 supporters”

So the wolf huffed, and he puffed, and he nevertheless produced plans for the redevelopment with the Flying Pig suspiciously absent…

Pace Investment

The Flying Pig is a cosy, laid back, characterful retreat from the encroaching modern development, candlelit in the evenings, with dark wooden floorboards, rows of bottles on the shelves, the walls and ceiling covered in old posters and yellowed from the years as a smoky bar. It’s one of those places where conversations start effortlessly between anyone that walks in – locals, students, office workers, one man and his dog. After we’d ordered our drinks, a chap sat at a table for two offered us the seats as there were none free, saying “In any case, I’d prefer to stand at the bar so I can chat to someone”. At one point I stood up and the barman pre-emptively grabbed a pint glass and said “what can I get you?”. I was only getting up to go to the gents, but another pint seemed like a good idea. The real ales always include Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, and one from Dark Star – on this occasion a satisfying American Brown – and usually one from Cambridge Moonshine, who brew a special HogHopper beer for the pub.

Flying Pig

One man and his dog

Originally the Engineer, then the Crown Inn from the late 1800s, keeping that name for over a hundred years, in the nineteenth century patrons of this pub and the now demolished neighbouring pub the Osborne Arms probably included workers on the nearby railway and station, opened in 1845, and later those from the cattle market, opened in 1885; a row of cattle pens are shown behind the Osborne Arms on a map from the 1880s. A 1975 pub guide says custom of the Osborne Arms was then mainly drawn from an adjacent bus depot, no longer there, and in 1986 the Flying Pig, at that time still named the Crown, was “often thronged with Radio Cambridgeshire personnel”, but the studios have since moved. The bar billiards table, later a pool table, that used to take up the backroom has been replaced by more seating, but despite these changes it’s still essentially the same pub it has been for years. It’s by no means certain this fairy tale will end happily ever after – the wolf is still at the door. But for now, this little pig still has hairs on its chinny chin chin.

Flying Pig

Sign of the swines

Cambridge Pubs – the Mill


When it comes to riverside pubs in Cambridge, the Mill tops the list. Its unofficial beer garden, a patch of common land called Laundress Green, is the best place to sit amongst authentic cowpats and watch the punting pandemonium in summer. The pub just happens to have some of the best beer to be found in the city, and if you can forgive your beer being served in plastics, you can take outside the likes of Northern Monk, Grain, and Adnams alongside the best of the local breweries – Three Blind Mice, Moonshine, Milton, Bexar County and Cambridge Brewing Co from sister pub the Brew House; on that note, the annual Battle of the Brewers competition is currently on at the Mill, where over the course of three weeks customers can vote for the local brewery that gets a permanent place on the bar for the next couple of months.


That commitment to local breweries is why yesterday evening it was awarded the Cambridge CAMRA LocAle Pub of the Year (City), having been runner up last year (the year before that, it was merely Pub of the Year). This is in recognition of the efforts of Lauren, Andy and the team, and follows the news that after 5 years there, Cambridge’s sweariest landlady is leaving the Mill (but will reappear later this year in another Cambridge pub – you have been warned). Lauren tells me the Mill will now be in the hands of Dylan, who’s no stranger to the pub, having worked alongside her at the Mill “forever”. Before forever, he worked at a number of Cambridge pubs – Lauren reels off the list, and then it dawns on us that every one of those she’s just mentioned has now closed. Uh oh.


I’m glad to say I’ve been back several times since (there really are few better places in Cambridge when the sun’s out) and it’s clearly in good hands. Despite its enviable ‘honeypot’ location, outside of the busy season it’s hard to tear yourself away from a bar with a record player spinning the likes of Parallel Lines, Are You Experienced and Let It Be (The Replacements). That said, during the summer months it gets so busy it’s hard to actually get to the bar, but worth the wait. It wasn’t always like this. Despite being in the first printed Good Beer Guide in 1974, one of only six Cambridge pubs to make it in, and regularly appearing throughout the 80s and 90s when it became a Tap & Spile pub, it rapidly went downhill, and after several poor experiences we were reduced to getting pints of Flowers IPA from the nearby Anchor and taking them out to the green. Its fortunes changed when it became the first Cambridge pub to be taken over by City Pub Company, a venture whose team includes David Bruce, founder of the Firkin Pub chain which previously ran the Fresher Firkin brewpub in Cambridge. Leased from owners Cambridge University, it was completely refurbished, reopening in June 2012.

Unknown artist; Bishop's and King's Mill, Cambridge

Unknown artist; Bishop’s and King’s Mill, Cambridge; Cambridge and County Folk Museum (the Mill pub, with dormer window, is in the centre of the image)

A late 18th century pub formerly called the Hazard Arms, named after Henry Hazard, a merchant who leased a malting house by the wharf in the 1800s, the pub no doubt served the workers from Bishop’s Mill and King’s Mill which used to stand on the weir, and barge men stopping for refreshments before transporting the corn downriver to Lynn. By 1974, with the river trade long gone, the GBG described it simply as a “city pub used by graduates”, but these days it is, as the local CAMRA branch described it when it was POTY a couple of years ago, “one of those very rare things, a pub that attracts a very healthy tourist trade but at the same time manages to keep its identity as a typical British pub”.


Cambridge Pubs – Boathouse

Last week the Old Spring, this week just along the road to a pub formerly known as the New Spring, Spring or Spring Hotel, next to which the Spring Brewery operated in the nineteenth century on the site now partly occupied by the former Tivoli pub. After a period as “a dreary affair called the Rob Roy”, presumably named after the town rowing club that once used the pub as its headquarters (oddly, as the club was started by the Church Temperance Society), the pub was refitted and extended in the mid-eighties, emerging as the Boathouse, “probably the best of Cambridge’s riverside pubs” according to Protz in 1989, a debatable accolade even then; at least five riverside pubs had made appearances in the Good Beer Guide by then, but not the Boathouse (to the best of my knowledge). Several riverside pubs have since closed – the Spade and Becket (aka George and Dragon/Rat and Parrot/Waterside) in 2004, the Penny Ferry in 2008, and the neighbouring Tivoli in March 2015 – leaving only seven*; I wouldn’t say the Boathouse topped the list now, if it ever did.


The best feature of the pub is the south-facing, multi-level outdoor terrace overlooking the river, which catches the sun most of the day. The 80s pub extension leading to the terrace is also light and airy, while shade-lovers can find plenty in the main part of the pub facing Chesterton Road. It’s quite a large, multi-levelled pub, opened out but with a booth style seat in the main bar offering the closest thing to a snug. There’s also a large adjoining function room with its own bar.

The beer choice is as bog standard as it gets, even for a Greene King pub; on keg only the usual lagers and Guinness – even £6 won’t get a Punk IPA here – while the real ales were GK IPA, London Glory and Abbot, with Evan Evans Britannia a guest. For penance I had a GK IPA, as dull and far from cold as I’d dreaded, and a £4 bottle of Greene King’s latest attempt at ‘craft’, from their ‘Craft Academy’, which offers apprentices the opportunity to learn from the “experienced mentors” at the Westgate brewery. On this evidence, Over Easy, a drinkable session IPA amusingly described as having “rotating hops”, the “fresh talent” have made the best attempt yet to “channel creativity” into the brewery, and maybe given more control they could let the beer speak for itself for once.


As the best seats by the river fell into shade late in the afternoon, the group there made for a table at the upper terrace where we were still enjoying the sun. Most people were smoking (no vaping, I note), one woman frantically patting the back pockets of her jeans and exclaiming “my tobacco’s dropped out – thirteen quid that cost me!”, before her middle-aged daughter offered her a pacifying cigarette. As some people asked those with phones tuned to the radio for updates on the Grand National, there was suddenly more horseplay when three ponies and traps arrived in the car park, one of the travellers running into the pub for bottles of beer. After much neighing and shouting, they trotted off in the direction of Fen Road. Calm restored, we sat looking at the roofless, boarded up, burnt out shell of the former Tivoli cinema, latterly a Wetherspoon pub, one whose future they’ve gone shamefully quiet about since the fire two years ago. Luckily the flames didn’t spread to the Boathouse, but sadly neither did its much better beer offering. Ach well, as Rob Roy might have said.

Boathouse and Tivoli

The neighbouring building, the roofless, burnt out shell of the former Tivoli pub

* I’m defining ‘riverside pub’ as somewhere you can sit outside and see the river, which rules out the Pickerel (although you can just about see the river from inside, there isn’t a clear view of the river from the outdoor yard), but does include the Anchor, Boathouse, Fort St George, Granta, Green Dragon, Mill, and Punt Yard (just about).

Protz, R. (1989) The Best Pubs in East Anglia

Cambridge Pubs – Carpenters Arms

Carpenters Arms

The Carpenters Arms on Victoria Road was nearly lost to development in 2011, when Punch Taverns sold what had become a run-down, rough-hewn boozer to a property developer, and plans were submitted to convert it into seven apartments. Fortunately those plans were refused, and a local resident and pub manager refurbished and reopened the much-improved pub after a two year closure. The development was refused partly on the grounds that it “would lead to the loss of a public house, which is a valued community facility helping to meet day-to-day needs”. Like the need for a drink, which is what brought me here, and appears to be what brought a group of lads in their 20s, several women, their kids playing in the courtyard, a young couple (the girl’s deep toned, resigned voice suggests she’s quite drunk but also quite familiar with that state), and a few single blokes, the most elderly of whom wisely chose to sit at the front in direct sun – I only notice this as I’m leaving. Nobody is fulfilling the day-to-day need of eating; I’ve eaten here before and had good pizza, although that was a couple of years ago, I’ve no idea what it’s like now.

Carpenters Arms

The keg Ghost Ship wasn’t on at the time, instead I enjoyed a very good pint of the aptly named Carpenter’s Cask, from the Crafty Brewery at Great Wilbraham, which is on permanently, joined by guests Milton Minotaur, and Cottage Revolution. There’s an assortment of seating including some Chesterfield armchairs and bench seats, but I took a seat on a high stool near a window, quickly deciding it was a shame to be inside when the sun had its hat on (well, more a balaclava, the sun peaking out of holes in the clouds), so took my pint outside. The “delightful outdoor space for al fresco dining” hadn’t yet emerged from its winter hibernation and was understandably caught snoozing by the first sign of the sun in six months, much of the outdoor furniture still stacked up in a corner, a broken freezer standing like a sentry by the rear entrance.

Carpenters Arms

A 19th century pub – in 1855 Peter Fulcher is listed as a beer retailer on Victoria Road, and by 1869 he’s listed as a carpenter and publican of the Carpenter’s Arms, so it’s possible he gave the pub its name – it stands on the corner of Frenchs Road, and over time has incorporated one of the adjoining terraced cottages on Victoria Road. In the late 19th century it was owned by the Albion Brewery, one of the largest of Cambridge’s former breweries, which was acquired by Lacons in 1897 – set into the wall above the front door is an old plaque showing the impressive Lacons falcon. In 1965 it was taken over by Whitbreads. A 1975 pub guide described the pub as “bright and cheerful”, but by 1979 it was apparently “dark and spooky”. It definitely leans more toward the former these days, but it’s four years since it was “extensively refurbished”, and still advertising itself as that reminds me of a conversation I overheard in a pub the other day – a man in his late thirties perhaps, met a slightly younger looking woman, obviously a blind date, and his opening line was “You’ll notice I’ve put on weight since that photo of me was taken”!

Cambridge Pubs – Old Spring

If I remember one thing about each pub I’ve visited in Cambridge this year, then my memory of the Old Spring will be reduced to three words – six pound Punk. It cost £6 for a pint of Brewdog Punk IPA, the most I’ve been charged for it in Cambridge or anywhere (other Greene King pubs in Cambridge have it for between £4.50 and £5.25). But then it was after noon on April Fool’s Day, so the joke was clearly on me, especially as I almost went for the TT Landlord but the allure of cold keg on a warm(‘ish) day was too tempting, regretfully.

Old Spring

There were 7 pumps featuring the inevitable Greene King IPA, Abbot and a presumably GK house bitter, along with a couple of guests including the TT Landlord, with Punk IPA and Camden Hells on keg, and one of those Hoegaarden white draught fonts that were everywhere for a time but I don’t seem to see so much these days.

The roughly T-shaped interior is painted mostly beige, with low ceilings, wooden floorboards, and an open fire and a wood stove which clearly get some use in the colder months – theres a good store of wood outside. A conservatory extension with a tiled floor leads to a large, decked outdoor seating area by the car park at the rear, which was busy and had some fairly loud chatter coming mostly from a large group of Americans (I wish I’d asked how they ended up at this pub – it’s a question I’ve often wished I’d asked of various people during these pub visits, how people choose or end up at one pub or bar over the other 90 or so, I’m always curious to know). There’s an assortment of seating and tables; this pub is primarily focussed on food – I’ve had lunch here several times with work colleagues and although it’s expensive, it’s always been good and served swiftly.

Old Spring

The pub was built on Ferry Path in 1868 – prior to that the present No. 4 had been a beerhouse and was later occupied by the Northfields, first landlords of the Old Spring (Heron, 1974). It was the Old Spring Inn by the early 1890s when the publican was Henry Curtis, still there in 1913 when it was the “Headquarters of the New Chesterton Cycle and Motor Social Club”. It sounds like it had an identity crisis in the 1970s, with the Public Bar’s formica-topped tables and electric blue wallpaper reminiscent of a cafeteria, the spacious Lounge like an airport departure lounge, the decor completed with Scottish tea-towels and tartan drapery courtesy of the Scottish proprietors (it was leased to Scottish & Newcastle breweries at one point too). By the early 80s attempts had been made to return a more traditional character to the pub, the 1984 Good Beer Guide describing it as an “extensively de-modernised pub, complete with sawdust on the floor”, with gas lighting, and cobwebs sprayed on from aerosol apparently, although they’d been removed by the late 80s when it’s Victorian look interior was described as “essentially a fake, but an exceptionally good one” (Protz, 1989). At the time there were casks behind the bar, with Abbot served under gravity. Had I visited then, the three words I’d have remembered the pub by might have been “Abbot under gravity”, or “spit and sawdust” even, but as it is, it’ll now be “six pound Punk”.

Old Spring

Hanson, N. ed., (1984) Good Beer Guide
Heron, M., (1974) Ferry Path
Protz, R., (1989) The Best Pubs in East Anglia

Cambridge Pubs – the Laughing Gull

Claiming to be the oldest pub in Cambridge, or even older, dating back to the days when Cambridge had a church for every ‘Pub of the Year’, it was originally called Ye Olde Tessco Expresse. Legend has it that Jesus of Nasareth (near Caernarfon) himself drank here when he met Oliver Cromwell and Dick Turpin to plan the defeat of Henry VIII at the battle for the bridge over the river at Quy.

Laughing Gull

I enter and make my way past tables covered with the detritus of the day’s trade – empty glassware, including a yard of ale, ‘multipack not to be sold separately’ crisp packets, a copy of CAMRA newsletter ‘Talk on the Mild Side’ and one from a craft splinter group called ‘The Joy of Kegs’. The walls of the pub are covered with old adverts, photos of the locals, breweriana and some horse brasses which were polished in 1983 so the pub could announce a ‘refurbishment’. I get a few suspicious looks, probably on account of being the only one in here that wasn’t also in yesterday and every day before that, and make my way tentatively to the bar, above which the dartboard has been thoughtfully placed.

Laughing Gull

There are 26 real ales on, which a sign proudly declares are “changed weekly – even when they don’t need it”. To make ordering easier, they’ve each been assigned a word from the phonetic alphabet. To the uninitiated this can be confusing, but errors are forgiven with a friendly tut and shake of the head. One of the locals, a master of the system, orders before me:

“Hello Charlie, I’ll have half a Alpha, a pint of Whisky, one of those Yankee Indias, and Mike wants a Tango. How’s Papa?”
“Fine thanks Victor, he’s having a round of Golf with Juliet before he goes for his X-ray”

A tray of drinks is produced.

I order a pint of ‘Old Wet Dog’ (by pointing to the clip), which comes served in a dimpled drinking horn and is so tired I can hear a deep snoring sound coming from the cellar. I politely comment on it:

“This tastes a bit off”
“Well nobody else has complained”
“Well nobody else is drinking it”
“Of course they’re not – it’s gone off”

An elderly man in the corner keeps nodding off, his angry looking terrier taking the opportunities to get his paws on the table and lap up beer from his glass. I offer the dog a sip of mine but he turns his nose up at it. I sit back and catch up on the latest brewery news.


Having gone to the beer garden to politely pour the beer away, I leave and consider popping into neighbouring pub the Tooth ‘n’ Ale, but can see the draught line-up in there reads like a verse from Born Slippy – there’s a lager, a lager, another lager, and two more lagers. A couple of youths suddenly fall out onto the pavement fighting – this has been awarded the local CAMRA branch’s Fighting Pub of the Year annually since 1977 on account of it being the only nominee, and owing to threats from a succession of landlords.

Rumour has it that these pubs, along with every house in the street, have been taken over by Metropolis Pubco, who plan to quietly turn every building into a gastro-pub before anyone notices.