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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.