Heritage Pubs – Kings Arms, Blakeney

Wherever we go, we try and find some pubs with historic interiors to visit, especially as many are now marked as permanently closed, or “the interior has been ruined”. Planning a trip to North Norfolk, we were alarmed to find a pub with an historic interior we’ve previously visited, the Three Horseshoes at Warham, closed for refurbishment – though we’ve since been told this will be some TLC rather than a complete refurb, and the pub will reopen in July, operating in a similar manner as previously.

Blakeney Kings Arms

So to the Kings Arms in Blakeney, a large, white-washed flint building, with six separate areas inside pointing to its origins as three fisherman’s cottages, the public and lounge bars the most interesting. Apparently the building is much older than the 1760 date, which refers to the year the roof was replaced and possibly when it became an inn.

The bar fittings appear to be those installed following the 1953 flood. The public bar on the left has a red quarry tiled floor, a 1950s style lapped wood counter… the large brick fireplace could have some 50s changes as it contains both hand made and machine-made bricks, but the dado panelling is much older as could be the two long benches. To the right the lounge bar has another lapped wood counter.
(From CAMRA Pub Heritage)

Blakeney Kings Arms

The pub was packed, too busy to get decent photos of the interior, which in any case wouldn’t have been better than those on the CARMA website. Of the beers, two were served by gravity from casks behind the bar – Bullards Pale and Woodfordes Nelsons Revenge (replacing Wherry), both excellent – as was the food, served on a dish larger than Alan Partridge’s big plate. A couple came in to the pub looking for a table and spotted an old man perched on the edge of his seat, readying himself to try and stand up. “I think he’s on his way out” said the husband. “Not literally I hope” replied his wife, at which everyone within earshot burst out laughing, to her surprise. The old man survived long enough to get up and leave the room, that much I can happily confirm.

Ship and White Horse, Blakeney

Former Ship Inn (middle) next to the White Horse (right)

Besides two hotels, there is another pub in Blakeney, the Adnams owned White Horse. A picture in the bar shows it once had another pub as its neighbour, the Ship Inn, which traded as a public house until 1967 and is now a holiday cottage. Opposite the White Horse stood another pub, the Anchor. Pub crawls were easy back then.

Audit Ale in the Red Lion, Histon – Pub of the Year and a once-a-year beer

Red Lion

Photo from 2013

The Red Lion in Histon is a fitting place for Lacons brewery to hold a talk and tutored tasting of their Audit ale, led by beer writer Roger Protz. This 1830s beer house was acquired by Lacons in the 1890s, becoming an inn with “well-aired beds” according to the painted signs on the building’s exterior. After a time as a Whitbread house from the 1960s to the 80s, it was eventually purchased as a free house by current landlord Mark Donachy in 1994, and is now a regular in the Good Beer Guide, edited by the venerable Roger Protz. The guide describes the bars “adorned with breweriana and historic photos”, with nine handpumps of which three have Lacons beers for the occasion, and it’s these ingredients which helped it win branch Pub of the Year 2017.

Red Lion

Roger gave a brief history of Audit ale, one that has its origins as a strong ale specially brewed in October for the annual Audit Feast in January or February, following the inspection of the accounts at Oxbridge colleges, where the Fellows handed it around in a large silver drinking cup. According to the short history of Audit ale, from at least the sixteenth century onwards some colleges brewed their own audit ale, but it was mostly produced by commercial breweries, including Dale’s of Cambridge.

Dales Audit Ale

By the 1920s Lacons won the contract to supply audit ale to the Cambridge colleges, and it’s this recipe that Lacons sought to recreate. Head Brewer Wil Wood talked about the challenges of recreating historic recipes, sourcing authentic ingredients such as Bramling Cross and Cluster hops, and trying to arrive at a beer of the right strength, colour and flavour – they even raided the brewery museum and cracked open a bottle of the ale from the 1960s just to check, and noted how the ale had darkened over the years of cellaring.

Roger Protz and Wil Wood

Roger discovers how quickly Audit Ale goes to the head

We were all generously given a tasting, with Roger talking through the berry fruit flavours the Bramling Cross hops impart, and the sweet, butterscotch of the Maris Otter barley – there were plenty of comments around the room about the beer going down far too easy and belying its strength.

Lacons Old Nogg

But it was a beer not sampled on the evening that stole the show. Wil talked with excitement about Old Nogg, another from the heritage range, an old ale he first brewed last year and which from the first tasting became current favourite of his beers. A warming ale, hopped with Sorachi Ace and aged over three months, this is another beer Wil believes will improve from cellaring, so I’m looking forward to trying the bottle he kindly gave me, and which he agreed would be a good one to bring out on Christmas Day, if I have the willpower to leave it that long…

Roger Protz and Wil Wood

Wil learns what Roger meant when he said he’d give him a hand behind the bar

Sources:
Compton-Davey, J., A Short History of Audit Ale, Brewery History Society
Histon and Impington Village Society (2013), The History of the Pubs of Hinton and Impington

Pubs in Milton

Milton, a village sliced away from Cambridge by the A14, is home to four pubs (one currently closed), and has had at least two breweries; most recently Milton Brewery, who had to move to bigger premises in nearby Waterbeach when they needed to expand their trophy cabinet. The pubs are all close together, about a 300 metre walk to visit all of them, so last night we had a pint or more in each of the open ones* and lamented the closed Waggon and Horses.

White Horse

White Horse

The local CAMRA branch’s Community Pub of the Year in 2016, and in this year’s Good Beer Guide, where in 1985 it was described as a “fine old village pub, interesting lounge fireplace”, then serving Tolly Mild, Bitter, Original and Strong. A pub since at least the 1760s apparently, owned by the “old established and extensive brewery of Messrs Steward, Cotton and Co” from Cambridge in the early 1800s. There’s a large garden, I think used to be a bowling green, with a children’s play area including the aforenamed white horse.

White Horse

The pub was bustling, plenty of people and chatter in both bars, a womens darts match in progress in the public bar, and beer good enough to merit the GBG entry – the Ghost Ship and Nobby’s Plum Porter in fine form, and when I asked to try a half of the Theakston Hogshead I was poured a pint anyway – no half measures here! Apart from the guest beers, there was also a terrific guest pub dog who knew his way around the place and wowed us by jumping up at the back door and letting himself out to drop a stone at the feet of the smokers so they’d throw it for him to retrieve. I was more stunned than wowed when I went to the gents and in burst guest pub dog, just happy to be hanging out with the lads – I half expected he’d cock a leg up and join us!

White Horse

Guest pub dog in a rare moment of calm

Lion and Lamb

Lion and Lamb

Another lovely old pub doing lively trade, plenty of locals at the bar and early starters for the Ladies Gin Night. Open by 1841, a 17th-century house, where the Turnpike Keeper’s cottage was located according to the local history society, with low beamed ceilings and inglenook hearth. We sat in the snug-like area and enjoyed the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale we were surprised to see on keg, alongside Fuller’s Frontier Lager, with cask Pride, Adnams Lighthouse and Gales Seafarer.

Lion and Lamb

The quiet lounge, everyone preferring the busy public bar

No pub dog in the gents here but the BRIGHTEST, CLEANEST TOILETS EVER – I’d have taken a photo if that wouldn’t have seemed weird in the company of strangers. Tidy beer garden too.

Lion and Lamb

Jolly Brewers

Jolly Brewers

Just off the High Street and Fen Lane, a late seventeenth century timber-framed inn, which had a brewery from at least the 1830s, William Essex the brewer and publican, his son Thomas taking over in the 1870s and continuing to c.1925. In the 1991 GBG for its Tolly Bitter and Original, now a freehouse, I had a pint of Milton Minerva (when in Milton…); also on Church End Vicar’s Ruin, TT Boltmaker, Elgoods Cambridge Bitter, and Greene King IPA served ‘North or South’ – I haven’t seen that dispense in years, I didn’t know it was still a thing.

Greene King IPA

There was even a bottle of gluten-free GK IPA available for celiacs, tickers and masochists. Noticeably quieter in here than the other pubs, but a handful of locals at the bar, a few people eating in the lounge, with a pleasant interior including old photos of Milton on the wall, some exposed timber frames, two brick hearths and a snug like area in the lounge.

Jolly Brewers

Closed for a couple of years but reopened in 2012 by a consortium of locals, I’d seen the Jolly Brewers was on the market again recently so asked if it was still for sale. “Erm, no… not anymore” I was told, in a “nothing to see here, move along” kind of way. Well, I’m pleased to hear it’s not about to close again, and note there is a 5th Birthday Bash on 9th June.

Waggon and Horses

Waggon and Horses

A ‘brewer’s tudor’ pub, built in the early 1930s, replacing an older pub of the same name which burnt down. It appeared in the GBG as far back as the 70s, and in 1990 was described as having an “incredible ever-changing selection of guest beers” (which I imagine might not seem so incredible in the ‘craft’ age) alongside Nethergate Bitter. Elgoods owned since 1999 when it was taken on by Nick and Mandy Winnington, formerly of the Cambridge Blue, picking up branch PotY in 2007, and fondly remembered for the display of the eccentric landlord’s hat collection, and a great beer garden which appears to have gone to seed. In 2014 it was turned into an Italian restaurant called Osteria that still served cask Elgoods Cambridge Bitter. After a particularly bland vegetarian pasta dish there, I nevertheless asked if I could return for a drink, and was told in no uncertain terms drinkers weren’t welcome. That venture didn’t last and it’s currently closed and seeking tenants – hopefully it will return to being a decent pub, if the village can still sustain four of them.

The local history society says that Queen Anne Lodge on Fen Road, across the road from the Jolly Brewers, was once a pub called the Greyhound.

Former Greyhound

There’s plenty of pargeting on the building, including an attractive likeness of the good Queen herself.

Former Greyhound

There was apparently another inn, the Three Tuns, established by 1765, closed after 1910, but I couldn’t locate it.

Still, that’s enough pubs for one night. Definitely worth a trip from Cambridge to the Milton Pubs, even if the bus service is lousy and it required a taxi home, though when I consider how my night was spent** that was probably for the best.

* For a more candid account of the same pubs in February this year, read Milton – Paradise via West Berkshire
** Inevitable literary Milton reference

Dates for the diary:
May 25th – 29th: Lion and Lamb 6th Annual Beer Festival
June 9th: Jolly Brewers 5th Birthday Bash
July 5th – 9th: White Horse Beer Festival

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

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.

Mill

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.

Mill

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”.

Mill

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.

Boathouse

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.

Boathouse

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).

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