Directly opposite is the Punter, formerly the Sino Tap, formerly the Rope and Twine, formerly the Town and Gown, Formerly the Rose and Crown – you may have gathered that the pub had had a varied history in recent times. It does though seem to have settled don nicely into its present incarnation as a self-proclaimed gastro-pub and I'm told the food is excellent. As with the Chop House, just-drinkers are happily accommodated and can choose between Adnams Bitter and Broadside. Creating the Punter involved the original two-bar layout giving way to a single space, something we objected to at the time. However, it must be said that the new layout, with its varying levels and nooks/crannies, works well. Outside are a courtyard and a converted barn which includes a plushly appointed private hire room.
We now turn right from the front door, follow Pound Hill round the corner and, via a passageway, find ourselves on Castle Hill with the County Arms on our immediate left. This is one of a handful of pubs in our area owned by the Leicester brewers, Everards. Since 2009 the licensee has been John Dean who also runs the excellent Tram Depot, leaving day to day management of the County in the capable hands of Joey McGillvary. The bank of handpulls dispenses Everards Beacon, Tiger, Original and seasonal beer plus a changing guest which is reliably interesting. A refurbishment last year left the Mock-Tudor exterior looking fabulous and also added at the back a patio with an attractive shelter. The original two-bar layout was opened out many moons ago but the oak panelling in the former lounge can still be seen and has been replicated elsewhere. Good freshly-cooked food is served every session except Sunday evening.
Directly opposite is another regional brewery owned pub, the Castle Inn, which is by far the most westerly of the 70 pubs owned by Adnams of Southwold. Back in ALE 346 I sung the praises of this superb pub in our “Not Taken for Granted” series. Suffice to say, it remains one of the city's top real ale outlets, selling the full range of Adnams own ales alongside a rich variety of guests. On my last visit, no less than seven different Adnams beers were on sale, including a glorious American-Style IPA, alongside Mill Green Green Goose and Tim Taylor Landlord. Licensee John Halsey has been here 16 years now and son Mat is also heavily involved on the real ale side (which accounts for 75% of the beer sold, despite three of the lagers being genuine continental imports rather than the usual ersatz British stuff). The Castle is also very popular for is tasty, reasonably priced food – try the Castle Burger and you'll never want a Big Mac again (if you ever did).
The shortest route to our next pub requires negotiation of the Shire Hall campus, locating its back entrance and wiggling your way through to Victoria Road – or go up Castle Hill to the lights and turn right. Our goal is the Carpenters Arms, a large former Whitbread pub which made an unsuccessful attempt to go upmarket a few years back but has now settled back into being a friendly community local. Adnams Bitter and Broadside are on the pumps and always in good nick. I've never investigated the food but it looks good value. The interior is essentially two-bar though opening out has created more of a U-shaped layout. My abiding memory of the pub in its Whitbread days (apart from the crapness of the beer) was a giant plastic model of Concorde, complete with flashing lights, which hung above the bar – should have had a preservation order on it.
Back up Victoria Road now then right into Histon Road and the Grapes. This pleasantly appointed open-plan Greene King pub sells IPA, Speckled Hen and Abbott on handpump. A recent innovation here is the serving of real ale direct from a cask stillaged behind the bar – York Yorkshire Terrier last time we called. The layout means you may have to run the gamut of pool players as you enter. There's also a Northamptonshire Skittles table though I don't know if it sees use. On the food side the offerings include an all-day breakfast at £2.99 and served from 8am.
Our final stop, further up Histon Road, is the Ranch. Previously the rather down at heel British Queen (and, for a spell, the dismal Fat Jack's) it was transformed in early 2009 with the interior design taking inspiration from the urban ranch style of Western Canada, hence the name. It began by offering a “fine dining restaurant menu” but its gastropub aspirations seem to have been scaled back somewhat. After a period when both licensing hours and real ale availability were restricted, its now open most sessions with one or two changing beers such as Fullers London Pride or Woodforde's Wherry.
That just about completes my rounds in the city – next issue we'll take a trip to some of my rural delivery drops.