Not far away, the Black Horse Dry Drayton, which shut last November following bankruptcy of the lessee is finally on the market - the Abu Dhabi- based owners had had to wait until the liquidator released it. The pub is on offer leasehold with favourable terms that reflect the state of the property (the kitchen was ripped out, for instance). Selling agents Fleurets also invite offers for the freehold with a guide price of £295,000. The village has set up an action group so that there's a Plan B if nobody comes forward.
Into Cambridge now and the Jolly Waterman on Mitchams Corner has new tenants, Rui Xue and Shounian Gao. Rui was previously head chef at the Bridge Waterbeach but this is the couple's first pub of their own. They aim to provide good value food, including a lunchtime choice of five dishes at just £2.99. There will be daily specials, using seasonal products plus a Chinese night on Wednesdays. Two regular real ales, Adnams Broadside and Fullers London Pride plus a changing quest.
The British Queen, Histon Road, has had a troubled history over many years - anyone remember its incarnations as Bumpers and Fat Jack's? Anyway, it's now been utterly transformed into The Ranch, so called because the interior design takes inspiration from the urban ranch style of Western Canada. The man in charge is Nathan Higgins who also runs the catering company Chef de la Maison, so food is obviously high on the agenda here. The Orange Room offers a "fine dining restaurant menu" majoring on ethically reared beef, free range chicken and market fresh fish. The large main bar at the front has raised "snugs" in the window alcoves and is smartly appointed with a cream, brown and red ochre colour scheme, glowing fire and chunky furniture. The Ranch is open from 8am (for breakfast) during the week. Particularly good news is that Nathan is keen as his real ales; Oakham JHB and Woodforde's Wherry were on when we visited and he hopes to expand the range.
Wetherspoon's Regal has reduced the price of its guest ales from £2.15 to £2.05. The chain's decision to sell Greene King IPA for 99p a pint created quite a fuss, generating sanctimonious claptrap from some local Councillors. Greene King also objected on the grounds that the price cheapened the image of their flagship beer. It's now been replaced by Ruddles Bitter (also brewed by GK and, in your editor's view a superior brew to IPA) at £1.49 a pint.
Meanwhile, upstairs from the Regal, we find a brand new real ale outlet, the Arts Picturehouse bar. Two handpumps have been installed serving ever- changing ales (Adnams Bitter and a gorgeous Titanic Port and Starboard on our visit); Cambridge Moonshire beers will put in appearances as well. The bar also sells bottled Duvel, the legendary Belgian strong ale. Are there any other examples, we wonder, of a single building containing two entirely separate real ale outlets?
Another Cambridge pub bites the dust. Despite objections from CAMRA at the loss of community facilities, the City Council granted planning consent for change of use of the Duke of Argyle, Argyle Street to form three two-bed dwellings. It's always difficult to resist such applications in urban areas where there will be other pubs not far away but, in the right hands, the Duke could have been a cracking local.
The Duke is owned by Punch Taverns and their asset-stripping behaviour goes on. They have instructed agents to market the Locomotive, Mill Road, Cambridge and the Woolpack Sawston as shops, reckoning they would make "ideal convenience stores" (something Mill Road in particular is hardly short of). Under current planning law, you don't need consent to change a pub into a shop. Although both pubs have had their problems recently, both have been good community locals in the past and, properly run, could be again.
However, companies like Punch are interested only in short-term gain and the pub heritage with which they've been entrusted means nothing to them. The Black Bull Balsham has a new owner, Richard Day, who previously co- owned the Eight Bells, Saffron Walden. We haven't had chance to visit yet but understand that a wide range of real ales awaits us.
A 70-bedroom hotel is to be built in the grounds of the Red Lion, next to Whittlesford station. The pub's co-owner had told the planners that her business was in decline and the hotel would reinvigorate it as a gastropub and fund repairs to the existing building (parts of which date back to the 14th century). Some locals have expressed concern about the visual impact of the new building on the pub and nearby listed Duxford Chapel.
Last year, CAMRA helped villagers and the District Council successfully fight an appeal by the owner of the White Horse West Wickham against the Council's refusal of change of use to residential. We hoped that the owner would throw in the towel and sell the property to one of the several people who want to reopen it as a pub. However, we hear that he plans instead to open an antiques shop there (you don't need planning consent to convert a pub to a shop). We suspect that this is a ruse; the shop will quickly fail followed by another change of use application - in which case we'll press the Council to stand firm.
The long-close of Kings Head at Dullingham reopened recently. Our spy was there just before that event but spied three handpumps through the window. He also got the impression that it is food oriented, which it was before. Greene King are advertising a number of their pubs to let as "Independence Pubs". They appear to be pubs which have had a difficult recent trading history and have proved problematic to shift on the usual terms. The deals being offered are very flexible, including deep discounts on rent and degrees of freedom from tie. In our area, the Bell Bottisham, Grove Cambridge, and Tally Ho Trumpington are available under the scheme.
Which leads on to our customary review of pubs presently on the market. Greene King's list of traditional tenancies up for grabs includes the Bakers Arms Fulbourn, Barley Mow, Histon, Alma Cambridge, White Horse Oakington, White Horse Pampisford and Three Tuns Fen Drayton - the last is being offered, unusually, completely free of tie. Punch Taverns are looking for new governors at the Star Melbourn, Black Bull Sawston, Poacher Elsworth, Green Man Grantchester and Chequers Cottenham (though we believe this has already changed hands). Ominously missing from the list is the Old English Gentleman Harston, which was looking very closed when last passed. Enterprise have only the Greyhound Sawston on their books. Fleutets still have the lease of the Prince Albert Stow-cum-Quy for sale, plus the Rosemary Branch Cherry Hinton and the aforementioned Black Horse Dry Drayton. Both the Carpenters Arms Great Wilbraham and Swan House Fowlmere are "under offer".
Your editor's best-pint-since-the-last-issue was once again the utterly wondrous Oakham Inferno, this time perfectly presented in the Unicorn Trumpington.
By the time you read this, national Cask Ale Week (6-13 April) will have been and gone but several of our local pubs got actively involved. The Portland Arms Cambridge for instance took part in the attempt on 11 April at the World's Biggest Toast in honour of our national drink, real ale. The Portland is always worth a visit anyway for its range of cask ales which includes the rare but delicious Greene King XX Mild.
Our description in the last ALE of the Free Press's interior as a "hugely impressive fake" has apparently caused umbrage in some quarters. We're now researching into exactly how much of what you see today predates the late-1970s alterations and will present a full report in the next issue.
Late news - the Dog and Duck Linton in the latest local pub to shut up shop because of trading difficulties. It was taken over less than two years ago by Chris Varian who attempted to move the food operation further upmarket. The restaurant was named Mallards and "fine dining" was introduced with prices to match. However, it hasn't worked out and Mr Varian has left. Owners Greene King are once again looking for a new tenant.