I’m not sure I’ve spent this much time in Cambridgeshire since my youngest son was born, which inconsiderately reduced my ticking time for a week or so.
A shorter walk on Saturday with Mrs RM around the horse-breeding villages was a bit flat, but did give us a chance to take in the just-crowned Crown in Ashley, Cambridge & District Pub of the Year for 2016.
The award may come as a surprise, with the pub not in the current Beer Guide and seeming a contrast with the city’s specialist beer houses. But the survival of the Crown is a success story as important as that of the return of pubs to Queen Edith and Romsey.
It’s on the very eastern edge of the county, in one of a number of villages south of Newmarket that are almost inaccessible by public transport. At least, inaccessible when pubs no longer open at lunchtime. The Crown has better hours than the Reindeer, at least.
We used to come out here occasionally when it just sold a very good Greene King IPA, attracted by large plastic dinosaurs in the children’s play area. It was a part of a small branch of pub design called “very basic“.
The new Crown is much “improved“, but remains a drinkers pub for a tiny village that somehow manages to support a separate restaurant down the lane.
It’s a bit plain, which suits me fine. The bar area has traditional seating, there’s a smarter area at the back (top) for families, and a garden now shorn of plastic dinosaurs. This being a village pub, half the pub (six folk) sit at the bar though. The Crown had managed to get a real cross-section of village life out of their sofas and down the pub.
Simon Everitt has better hearing than me and would have been able to make sense of the minor chaos caused by simultaneous sound of racing on the TV, news on the local radio station, and rolling football scores from the customers I-Pad. In contrast the dogs were very quiet. More dogs than humans came and went while we were there.
Our canine chums became animated as we cruelly ate our gastro scratchings in front of them. We’re very partial to snacks out of glass containers, and they were the highlight of our trip. The food menu is ideal anti-NannyState ; pasties, pork pies, chips and pizza. The simple grub offer probably mean the Crown relies heavily on local trade though, rather than gastro hunters from Cheveley.
The beer range was also well-chosen, with the 3.5% Mighty Oak accompanied by Nethergate and Charnwood, and two flavoured ciders. Three real ales seems right in a village local where wine and lager still seemed the drink of choice.
All the beers were Guide standard (NBSS 3), though I hope the POTY award will encourage a few more locals, as well as occasional visitors to try the beers; turnover is vital to consistent quality.
It’s good to see a pub thriving without traditional food custom; the Crown is a real old-school survivor. Use it or lose it.`