With a large student and academic population, I figured out that this could be the goal of a day trip from London – focused on beer, but not exclusively so. So the plan was to catch a few pubs and sample a few rare beers as well as taking in the more famous sights. The ordeal of navigating the London Tube in the morning rush hour was compensated by a very pleasant direct train connection from King's Cross. The ticket was cheap and the direct train took only 45 minutes. I strolled into the city centre from the railway station, and was just in time for a splendid two hour guided walk along with a dozen other tourists. We got to see quite a lot, including the chapel of King's College and the impressive library at Trinity. These walks take place daily throughout the year and with expanded options during the summer – google for Cambridge tourist to find the details. After walking around for several hours in rather cold winter weather, a pint of Black Sheep Bitter and a steak and kidney pudding was just the thing to get some warmth back in my bones. I had lunch at a pub called the Mitre - with slightly warmer weather I would probably have looked around a bit longer. Both the food and the beer were perfectly all right, if not outstanding.
This is an area dominated by the Geene King brewery, but at least some of their pubs stock guest beers from other brewers in addition to their own range. Caldeonian 80 shillings was the Scottish ale available at the Champion of the Thames, an unspoilt pub a few minutes away from the city centre. I won't bore you with my shopping round, but after that I went to the Castle, another Greene King pub. It was very quiet in the afternoon, despite being located on a busy street. It seems like the drinkers here are stuck to the tradition of drinking at lunchtime and in the evening, and not in between. That explains why so many pubs still close for a few hours between sessions.
The real gem of my day in Cambridge was the Live and Let Live. A real local, and a real free house, too, not being tied to a brewery or pub chain. They had seven real ales and a real cider on tap. I had a pint of Greedy Pike, a splendid bitter from the Nethergate Brewery. Rich nutty taste, very well hopped, with the hops leaving a pleasant dry aftertaste. No blaring music here, just peaceful conversation. This is the English pub we all would want tucked away down at the end of our road. I have to add that I would never have found this without the help of the CAMRA guide to the pubs in the Cambridge area, available from the beer-inn print mail order shop.
I finished off with a Damson porter with a vedge of Stilton. This is fairy light for a porter. It looks almost pitch black, but when you study it closer you have the purple plum colour shining through a bit. It is the same with the taste of the plums, they are there in the background to make this a really pleasant brew. This porter, from the Burton Bridge brewery, wherever that might be, ought to be bottled and given a wider distribution.