Our starter last time was a case in point as the Grapevine Comberton became an antiques shop some five years ago. John and I had eschewed the village’s other pub, the Three Horseshoes, because it was then a below-average Whitbread house. Nowadays, it’s not to be missed, especially on a warm summer evening when you can sit in the glorious garden. With its flower-filled borders, tubs of hostas and giant weeping willow it’s good enough to feature in the National Garden Scheme’s Yellow Book. On the real ale front, the choice was Greene King IPA, Sharps Doom Bar and Oldershaw Newton’s Drop and my half of the last was excellent. A very good start to the evening.

Soon we were crossing into the western hemisphere (the Greenwich meridian lies just west of Comberton) and entering Toft. In 1989 we had enjoyed Nethergate Bitter at the Red Lion; now it’s a Chinese restaurant. The village does however have a real ale-friendly Social Club which holds a beer festival each September.

The next stop on our previous journey was Orwell which meant that for some reason we had driven past both the Hoops Great Eversden and Wheatsheaf Harlton. The former was then a top-class Charles Wells pub but is now yet another oriental restaurant. The latter (which is actually much closer to Little Eversden than Harton) used to be a boring Greene King roadhouse; a few years back in was bought by the Di Simone family who developed La Pergola restaurant on the site whilst retaining a very pubby bar still known as the Wheatshef. Landlord Tony has the advantage of being free of tie so the regular Woodforde’s Wherry is complemented by a changing guest. Batemans XB had just finished and was about to be replaced by a Springhead beer. Incidentally, the place now closes Sunday evening instead of Tuesday. Off to Orwell then.

A few years ago Cambridge Branch adjusted its boundaries with our neighbours in Huntingdonshire resulting in Orwell becoming “theirs” – hence my not having visited the Chequers for ages. It has an L-shaped main bar with half-timbered walls and floors part carpeted and part parquet; this leads into a dining area whose big windows look into a sheltered garden. There’s also a public bar at the back. Real ales were Greene King IPA, Fullers London Pride and Wherry. Sadly, whereas the example of the last which I’d had at the Wheatsheaf was spot on, this was in the not-bad-enough-to-take-back, not-good-enough-to-enjoy category. I suspect the end of the barrel was approaching.

Staying in the transferred area we headed for Arrington and the Hardwicke Arms. Back in 1989 I described it as having a “gentile hotel atmosphere” (proof reading wasn’t our strongest suit) and this fine old hotel hadn’t noticeably changed since those days, except that the beer range was more interesting. Greene King IPA was still there (inevitably) but instead of Abbot and Rayments we could choose from Everards Sunchaser and Warwickshire Beer Company F fiagra (with suitably saucy pump clip). The last was a bit on the warm side though still very tasty. There was some kind of trad jazz happening in the Function Room and the bar itself was well populated with folk eating though the rest of the place was decidedly (and delightfully) somnolent. I was pleased to see that Quiz Nights still happen as in 1989 the tranquillity had been disturbed by Cambridge CAMRA member Bob Moss’s team battling it out with the locals.

On then to Longstowe where we’d previously visited the Golden Miller, a free house in the heart of the village selling Adnams and Batemans. Sadly both it and the Fox (on the corner of the main road and B1046) have since been converted to private houses. We’d have sailed past the Red House, on the main road south of the village, as it was then keg-only. Nowadays it generally has a fine selection of beers, usually including locally-brewed ones. However, when we dropped in, it was evidently beset by some temporary difficulties as just one ale (Adnams Bitter) was being served and no food was available (that normally being a strong feature here). No doubt it will by now have returned to its usual excellence.

Our final stop in 1989 had been the Golden Lion Bourn but, as mentioned in Pub News, this is presently closed, having been extensively refashioned on gastro lines just a couple of years back. We hope it will soon be back in action especially as the village’s other pub, the Duke of Wellington, has become (you guessed it) an Indian restaurant.

The saddest aspect of this trip, obviously, was driving past so many once-thriving pubs which are now houses or eateries – a tragic sign of the times. Several of the pubs we did visit (albeit on a Tuesday night) were disturbingly quiet. The message to our western drinkers must be use them or lose even more of them.