Westwards now, crossing that peaceful country lane known as the A14, and on to Conington where the White Swan stands in a semi-isolated position at the settlement's northern edge. The sturdy 18th century brick building is fronted by an impressive sward with facilities for outside drinking and amusing children ( I recall many years ago taking part in Dwyle Flonking here – is that “game” played any more?) You enter the main bar which has a tiled floor and handsome brick fireplace. To the left, the public has a yellow brick floor and now sports a striking but effective red colour scheme. Traditional pub games abound with darts, bar billiards, ring-the-bull, shut-the-box a nine men's morris all to be played. More yellow brick flooring in the annexe to the right which leads to a separate restaurant. Kevin and Liz Elstub have been here since the end of last year and have expanded the range of ales. As well as Greene King IPA and (from the barrel) Abbot, there are usually four guest beers with Kevin taking maximum advantage of GK's increasingly interesting range of offerings from other breweries. Food is served every session except Sunday evening and combines quality with value.
A short hop next to Elsworth and the Poacher where Neil and Caroline Humphreys took over last May. They've done a great job sprucing up the interior of the delightful thatched pub, sanding and varnishing the floorboards, exposing beams, painting the walls and installing attractively chunky furniture. The area to the left of the front entrance is the more pubby, the other portion having tables set for food. The well-kept real ales are Woodforde's Wherry, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Wychwood Hobgoblin. Unusually for a small country pub, it's open all day – as Neil and Caroline say, they live there so might as well be in the bar as anywhere else. The other pub in the village, the George & Dragon, functions primarily as a restaurant though it does sell real ales from Greene King.
We head westwards again to the new settlement of Cambourne which, somewhat belatedly, received its first pub, the Monkfield Arms, in 2006. It's a rambling, open-plan affair with several areas largely given over to food but has what's effectively a public bar at one end. This is the only pub in our area owned by Marstons (formerly Wolverhampton & Dudley) and the beer prices are noticeably low for round here. Up to five real ales are on the pumps with Marstons Pedigree and Wychwood Hobgoblin the fixtures. Like Greene King, Marstons have bought several other breweries in recent years but unlike GK they've kept them open so the guest beers could be from Jennings, Ringwood, Wychwood or Banks as well as Marstons itself. The good value extends to the food with main meals from £3.95. On Wednesday, a £5.75 curry comes with a pint (other drinks apparently available)
The return to Over takes us back through Elsworth and into Boxworth for the Golden Ball. A major renovation a few years ago transformed what had been, internally at least, a rather characterless place into something really smart and attractive. A pitched roof replaced the flat one in the bar area removing the claustrophobic feel of old. The roof space is draped with big tapestries covered in Latin script. A small conservatory extension leads onto a patio and the lovely garden. There's also a large restaurant where an extensive and interesting menu is on offer (and most people come to the pub to eat) A small hotel sits next door. Further change came when Charles Wells bought the pub and Wells & Youngs Eagle and Bombardier are the regulars along with a changing guest. Be warned though that the beer is on the pricey side.
Next time's trip takes in Over itself and villages to the south.