WISBECH & A FENLAND BEER DESERT

It’s snowdrop time, as you’ve probably noticed, and Dad wanted to buy some to plant.  Wisbech in the Cambridgeshire fens is pretty much the centre of the horticultural world, famed for its splendidly old-fashioned plant auctions.

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The auction rooms were actually a real disappointment, but we had a great time exploring the majesty of the Fens.

We took the winding road through the Wash villages of Welney and Upwell, and Dad was able to tell me which pubs have closed without reference to WhatPub.

Wisbech itself has plenty of care-worn looking pubs, some attractive Georgian buildings along North Brink, and a lot of discarded cans of Polish lager. The eastern European influx accounts for about a third of the town’s 30,000 population, which otherwise would have been in terminal decline.

This used to be a rich agricultural port, and the stretch of Georgian buildings along North Brink remains attractive, though not what it was.  Peckover House (NT) and Elgoods Brewery are the town’s attractions, but of course both are shut doing our arctic winter.

 

The only pub in the Beer Guide, in fact for miles around, is Elgoods Red Lion, probably the most attractive in town and at least picking up a bit of trade from National Trust members.

Elgoods may have modernised their beer range a bit recently, with some interesting keg beers in surprising places, but their pub estate remains stuck in the 1970s, which isn’t the worst place to be.

The small Wetherspoons is busy serving Carling and breakfasts to a mainly male crowd, and offers very little of interest in design or beer (Wayland Smithy NBSS 2.5)

Opposite the Wheatsheaf is a particularly elegant square that mirrors Warrington’s Palmyra Square (cultural quarter) in miniature, and includes one of the best small museums I’ve been to recently, packed with antiquities and curios in the style of Sir John Soanes museum. Particularly recommended for fans of death masks and custard powder.

Wonderful museum apart, the town centre remains a bit grim, though Shopfront Elegy would have a field day round here.

In need of some crisps on the way back, we stopped at one of the most isolated pubs in the Fens.  The Dun Cow in Christchurch is an hours walk from the next pub.

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Just as well it’s unexpectedly OK then.  Homely and welcoming, the only beer is a decent London Pride (NBSS 2.5), both Elgoods pumps sadly reversed. Country & Western nights, Sunday Lunch, a backwards clock and red carpets complete the picture. Nicely done.

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This is the first trip I’ve had to do in this part of the Fens for 5 years.  There are no Beer Guide pubs, and in fact few pubs, in the fifty odd square miles between Chatteris , Wisbech and Littleport.  Count your blessings.

 

7 thoughts on “WISBECH & A FENLAND BEER DESERT

  1. The last time I was in Wisbech was on the Sunday following the death of Princess Diana, when I was travelling down to the one and only short break I’ve had in Cambridge. There was a very strange atmosphere that whole week.

    I had a pint in what I think was the Rose Tavern , but I don’t remember much about it. In a different part of the country Wisbech would be a massive tourist draw.

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    1. I reckon you’ve travelled more widely than at least 99% of the population Mudge ! Many people in Cambridge have never been to Wisbech.

      The Rose Tavern is still there near Elgoods but quality must have slipped since its Beer Guide days; possibly seven real ales isn’t the secret to success there ! (more than Spoons had).

      Wisbech reminds me a bit of Rossendale in Lancs, another slightly run-down area with some good architecture and a great museum.

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  2. Rossendale has a kind of understated prosperity that isn’t immediately obvious. Also a Tory-held constituency with a majority over 5,000, which you might not guess to look at it.

    If you walk down the main street in Ramsbottom (which OK is just off to the south) you will find plenty of little boutiques and craft shops.

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  3. I’ve been to Wisbech twice. The first time was about 40 years ago, when I was just passing through. I managed to stop off at an Elgoods pub though (Rose Tavern?), for a quick “wet”. That was probably my first taste of Elgood’s beer. Around 20 years later, I returned for a tour of the brewery – organised by MMK CAMRA.

    We called in at the Red Lion, before the tour began. It was a baking hot June day, but a strong easterly wind was blowing across the Fens (no surprise there, and no wonder the brewery is called North Brink!). The lovely gardens behind the brewery, which were in the process of being restored, provided a welcome respite from the wind, and seemed to have their own micro-climate.

    It was an interesting trip, and we were shown round the brewery by Belinda Elgood. The gardens though, for me, were the highlight of the tour.

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