Whilst rummaging through the archives recently, I came across Real Beer in Cambridgeshire, the first ever local real ale guide, published by CAMRA in 1975 (cover price - 20p!). It makes for salutary reading. Firstly, in the Cambridge Branch area, only 70 pubs are listed as selling the real thing - about 20% of the then pub stock. Of these 35 belonged to Greene King, 24 to Tolly Cobbold (the long-gone Ipswich brewer), 4 to Charles Wells, 1 to James Paine (a St Neots brewery which closed yonks ago) and 6 were free houses.

What's even more noticeable is the restricted range of beers available - just 15 different ales, several of which had only a single outlet. Even back then, Greene King IPA was a dominant presence along with the likes of Abbot and Tolly Bitter. What's especially interesting is that more than half the pubs - 37 - sold a Mild (even Charles Wells brewed one back then). The pub offering the greatest choice of beers was one of the few free houses, the Golden Ball Boxworth. Here you could select from Adnams Bitter, Greene King IPA and Abbot, Ruddles County (a very different beer in those days) and Wells Eagle. In Cambridge itself, it was all Greene King and Tolly apart from two Wells pubs.

A depressing aspect of the Guide is that of the 70 real ale pubs, 15 are now no more. They include such fondly-remembered watering holes as the Royal Oak Swaffham Bulbeck ("Blind Bob's"), the old Ancient Druids in Cambridge, (pulled down to make way for the Grafton Centre) and the Three Horseshoes Lode (a village which had three pubs in those days, if you include the Sun and Gate, Long Meadow - now it has none).

I reckon that on any given day you could now easily find over 100 different real ales on sale in Cambridge alone. There are beers from all over the country whereas in 1975 all were from East Anglia apart from a couple of London brews. Only a tiny handful of our pubs don't offer at least one real ale. We may have lost some great pubs but we still have loads of cracking boozers and have even gained a few new ones. You could, in fact, argue that we're in a golden age for the real ale drinker and that we've never had it so good. What do you think?

Paul Ainsworth