I’m going to be spending a lot of Thursdays in St.Neots for the foreseeable future. This bit of Huntingdonshire/East Bedfordshire is still flat, but does have some decent walks along the Ouse and enough urban development to pass a couple of hours.
In Potteries style, St Neots is a collection of villages either side of the River Ouse, which appears to have spared the town a complete flooding recently. The town has invested in its waterside over the years, with a particularly good country park and skatepark close to the centre.
Despite it’s status as a commuter town (Cambridge 30 minutes, London an hour), it’s actually quite a mixed town, and a lot of new housing will further reduce the average age.
In the past it struck me as a dying town, with a very run down market square given over to parking, a shabby Beefeater as the riverside pub, and dull shops for a town the size of Glossop. Only the glorious parish church and ever-present bird song stood out.
It’s still not a place you’d go to in preference to, say, Bedford, but feels a lot more liveable now. Depending on your viewpoint, it’s either benefitted or borne of the brunt of a major housebuilding programme, gaining the chain places on a manageable scale. The street art below is for the old-fashioned department store though.
I can’t see much sign of the gastronomy the broadsheets have written about, particularly since Harry Ramsden moved out; names like Betty Bumbles and the Snooty Tavern tell their own tale.
Certainly the pubs look to be defiantly anti-Gastro. They’re solid at best, as these photos suggest. I’m sure most of them have been in the Beer Guide at one point, but left little impression. These three are on the Old A1, the Great North Road, which explains their size. I used to use the Highwayman (Brewers Fayre) when my children were young enough to be terrified by Brewster the Bear. Even that does real ale now.
The beer scene has traditionally revolved around the Booze on the Ouse festival (17 March) and some workaday Greene King and Wells houses. The very basic Pig & Falcon (with sister pub Hog & Partridge) offer the choice and some atmosphere, along with those important CAMRA discounts.
I’ve had good beer and cider in the Pig (Dancing Duck Ay Up was NBSS 3), and it’s a decent place to sit and waste time, though it might make The Olde Vic in Stockport look smart. Pleasingly, the alleyway below takes you directly to the Waitrose deli counter.
I’ve saved the Wetherspoons for next week. Can’t wait.
The best thing about the town is that it used a £1m bequest from the philanthropist Peter Rowley to get a Cineworld in the town, complete with its own arts venue. A lesson in giving the people what they want.