We get off to a cracking start by calling at the Branch's Pub of the Year for 2009, the White Horse, Swavesey, which occupies a fine old building in the village's former market square. The public bar is a true classic with its polished floor tiles, beamed ceiling, wood-panelling and elevated fireplace; look out also for the vintage pin-ball machine. The large lounge is in what was once a separate property and the pool and function rooms behind the public are also later additions. Beyond them is a big garden with play equipment.

Will and Pat Wright have been here some twelve years now and have created a true community pub, fully in tune with village life and their customers' needs. Will is very proud of his real ales. Woodforde's Wherry is permanent and guests are on the other two pumps though Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Marstons Pedigree are regular sights. The latter was on last time I called alongside Black Sheep Golden Sheep. There's also a vast selection of Malt Whiskies. Home-made food lunch and evenings.

Now we head south-west, passing, at the A14 junction, the long-shut Trinity Foot where Sheba Investments have been inviting offers for ages. A mercifully short drive down the county's most notorious road brings us to the Bar Hill turn and in that modern village we find the Fox. This spacious open-plan affair opened about ten years ago and represents an improvement on its Elizebethan (circa 1965) predecessor, a not-too-tragic victim of Tesco expansionism. Owned by Orchid Inns, it sports the rather anonymous pseudo-domestic décor currently favoured by pub-chain designers – lots of light wood, framed prints, non-operational fireplaces etc. The beer garden has an outdoor pool table, lighting and jumbrella heaters. Grub here is especially good value with various offers such as two meals for £10. Interesting beers are occasionally spotted but the selection is generally rather pedestrian e.g. Courage Best Bitter and Greene King Abbot on a recent visit.

Back again, briefly, onto the A14 before we take the next tuning for Dry Drayton, home to the excellent Black Horse. Since the turn of the year this attractive free house has been in the hand of Gary and Denise who moved up here from the bustle of North London. Gary freely admits he knew nothing about real ale when he arrived but, with sound advice from the locals, he's increased sales to the point that a fourth pump has been added. Milton Pegasus and Adnams Bitter and Broadside are the regulars accompanied by a changing ale from the likes of Brandon and Buntingford. A redecoration of the interior has achieved a warmer, more intimate feel suited to the low ceilings and period features. The food trade has also developed well, with good value deals at lunchtimes and more gastro offerings in the evening. Congratulations, incidentally, to Gary and Denise on their recent nuptials.

Onwards to Madingley and the Three Horseshoes. The thatched 18th century building, opposite imposing Madingley Hall, is renowned locally and indeed nationally for its fine dining. Chef-owner Richard Stokes presents a menu which is “a fusion of modern Mediterranean, Asian and traditional British food” and most of the interior, including the conservatory extension, is given over to noshing. However, to the right of the front entrance is a small bar area where just-drinkers are made entirely welcome. Adnams Bitter is the permanent ale with the other pump dispensing beers from breweries such as Nethergate, Fellows, Oakham and Oldershaws (whose Regal Blonde provided me with a lovely drop when I last popped in). A good selection of bottled beers includes Meantime, Little Creatures and Gladiator Spelt. As you'd expect, neither the food nor the beer comes cheap here.

Our final call on this round is another pub happy to wear its gastro heart on its sleeve, the Blue Lion at Hardwick. It, too, is a lovely thatched building, a century or so older than the Horseshoes, and perhaps the oldest building in the village after the church. The main bar is on two levels and has stone-flagged floors, abundant beams and fireplaces at each end. The contemporary décor works surprisingly well in such an ancient building. Dining areas lie beyond and another conservatory extension can be found. The guys in charge here were previously at the Plough Coton and Old Spring Cambridge, both pubs where food tops the agenda, so it's not surprising that the Blue Lion majors on its “classic British dishes”. These include Haddock and Chips, Corned Beef Hash and Sirloin of Beef at prices in the £8.95 to £15.50 range which sounds pretty reasonable considering. The tie to Greene King means IPA is inevitable on one pump, the other offering a guest or seasonal from the GK list. The pub's own publicity mentions that Prince Albert supped here in his student days but that was Prince Albert Victor rather than Victoria's husband.

Next time's final round takes us to Over itself and villages to the north and west.