The Emperor at Christmas and the Flying Pig

On our way to see a band at the Junction we called into a couple of pubs on Hills Road– the Emperor and the Flying Pig, two very different pubs with different atmospheres. They have one thing in common – they both serve good beer.

When we arrived at the Emperor we couldn’t really miss the fact that it was decorated for the festive season. Not with just a few fairy lights, oh no; this is, indeed, the sister pub to the Empress, and we all know how Christmassy that pub becomes at this time of year. So it was great to see that they have applied the same principle to their Hills Road establishment and gone the whole hog – Christmas paper plastered all over the ceiling, red and blue fairy lights dangling everywhere, giant soft Santa, Rudolph and penguin toys in every orifice imaginable, and tinsel surrounding every window. You can’t get more Christmassy than this. Except, of course, at the Empress.

The pub was set up for a comedy night with chairs laid out in rows and a few (occupied) tables at the back. We took a seat on the back row and enjoyed some Buntingford Crow’s Nest, 3.9%, a light amber citrusy beer with caramel malty flavours served straight from the cask behind the bar. Also on offer on draft were Buntingford Aramis – very sweet and floral – Oakham JHB, and Timothy Taylor Landlord.

The next stop was the Flying Pig at the top of Station Road. This lovely pub was dimly lit and busy with every table taken. With its dark wood, walls and ceiling covered in pictures and posters, friendly locals, and candles on tables, it’s one of the most atmospheric pubs in Cambridge. And it always serves great beer, including on this visit Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, Cambridge Moonshine Red Watch (a tasty blueberry flavoured ale – there are always good Moonshine beers on in this pub) and Black Sheep Bitter. All hand pumps have plastic pig heads sitting on the top of them. Very cute.

But on a more serious note, this pub is under threat of demolition– it’s in the area where this big CB1 development is taking place, and is surrounded by modern office blocks and apartments. And a lovely pub like this, in the eyes of the developers, is just in the way and not in character with their soulless new-builds. The Osborne Arms, which was next to the Pig, has just been demolished without Conservation Area Consent, and there is now a big empty space where it once stood.  The Pig is a pub that simply should not be demolished just to create more space for redevelopment – the modern, bland area needs unique, individual places like the Pig to inject a bit of soul into it. The developers say they would build a new Flying Pig in one of their units, but this defeats the object – the pub is full of atmosphere and character which just cannot be recaptured in a contemporary space. That’s what makes it so special and irreplaceable.

It wasn’t possible to obtain listed building status for the Flying Pig, although English Heritage did say ‘The Flying Pig makes a significant contribution to the character of the Conservation Area and to the local streetscape’ so hopefully that counts for something. There’s a petition circulating at the moment for Cambridge City Council to refuse Conservation Area Consent to demolish the Flying Pig; to sign it, click herethe more signatures the better.

Fingers crossed that they do the right thing with regards to the Flying Pig. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and there’s no getting it back.

Published in: on November 23, 2012 at 11:09 am  Comments (1)  
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The Emperor and its beach beer garden, Cambridge

The Emperor

The Emperor

The Emperor is a relatively new addition to Cambridge and has moved into the building where the old Globe Ale House was situated on Hills Road, Cambridge. It was stripped, redecorated, and reopened about a year ago. The pub is run by Dave and Enas who run The Empress on Thoday Street, off Mill Road in Romsey Town, and they have already brought their popular beer festivals, quizzes, and unique touch to this pub. There are generally about 4 real ales on tap, regulars being St Austell Tribute, Oakham JHB and Sharps Doom Bar. On my last visit Tydd Steam Roadhouse Bitter was also on draft, a great beer from a great brewery.

The Emperor's Beach Beer Garden

The Emperor’s Beach Beer Garden

One of the things that makes this pub unique is the fact that its beer garden is decked out as a beach. The garden is full of real sand, brightly painted picnic benches, deckchairs, parasols, buckets and spades, seaside paraphernalia such as ropes, netting and buoys, and seagulls flying around. (OK, they are plastic birds suspended by ropes, but it’s a nice touch – they are also hiding away in corners, even on neighbouring buildings). There is an outside window opening to the bar, painted to look like an ice cream van, so you don’t even need to leave the beach to get a beer. All the fences have been painted with beach scenes – they have made a real effort; it looks great. It is slightly surreal being on a beach in the middle of a city, particularly after a few drinks, but it’s great fun – especially when you have to shake out the sand from your shoes at the end of your visit. You really feel that you have been to the seaside.

Beach toys

Beach toys

The pub itself attracts a mixed clientele – students, locals, visitors to the city – with its big screens, round pool table and regular events such as quizzes, discos, poetry, food events, comedy, beer festivals (the last of which was held on the beach a few weeks ago), barbeques, and even beach volleyball tournaments!  It also has a live music license so hosts a variety of gigs plus a popular open mic event every week. All in all, it’s a very cool pub and I wish them all the best.

With the summer well and truly here now, I have a feeling that this beach beer garden is going to get very busy…

Update, May 2013: The Emperor has sadly decided not to have a beach beer garden this year or in the near future – however, it still has a very nice beer garden with pot plants, hanging baskets, and a covered area.

My Favourite Beer Gardens

My Favourite Beer Gardens

I was reading an article in the Observer recently about great beer gardens. This gave me the inspiration to create a list of my particular favourites, so after a bit of thought and some serious photography (you can’t talk about beer gardens without a few photos to show how good they are, can you?)  I came up with my own version. This is an ongoing project and is by no means the finished article – there are always new pubs and gardens to discover – so I will keep adding to it as I find more. Watch this space!


The Sloop Inn, St Ives

The Sloop Inn, St Ives

This cobbled beer terrace at the front of the wonderful old 14th century Sloop Inn overlooking St Ives harbour is a fantastic spot to sip on a pint of Doom Bar whilst watching the sunset over the sea as the boats come in at the end of the day. It’s also a great location to people watch, as the lively harbour front is a popular place for a stroll with its many bars and restaurants.

The harbour, back to the Sloop

St Ives harbour, the view from the Sloop

The Engine Inn, Cripplesease, (nr St Ives)

The beer garden at the rear of the typically Cornish stone built pub (which serves excellent pizzas and had well kept Betty Stogs on tap when I was last there) looks out across the Penwith moors, making you feel like you are miles from civilisation – there are some great walks around here and dozens of ancient sites and tin mines littering the area. I love it. The Engine Inn is well worth a drive out to if you are staying down the road in St Ives or Penzance.

The Napoleon Inn (“The Nap”), Boscastle

You can see the sea from the garden of this ancient pub, which was used as a recruiting office for the Napoleonic wars. This is reputedly Boscastle’s oldest pub. The Nap, as it is fondly known,  is located at the top of the town up a very steep hill, but it’s worth the climb; beer is served straight from the cask (lots of St Austell ales available) and the food is great.

The Golden Lion, Port Isaac

Port Isaac harbour, the Golden Lion to the left

The Golden Lion doesn’t really have a beer garden, it’s pretty much just a large balcony, but it’s the views that make it so great – it’s a beautiful sight, looking out over the harbour of Port Isaac with its little fishing boats bobbing up and down.


The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

A pub in the middle of a stone circle – you don’t come across those very often! The terrace of The Red Lion is a great place to sit with a beer and admire the gigantic stones of Avebury, one of the largest stone circles of Western Europe, which surrounds the village. The Red Lion is a 400 year old thatched pub which is said to be haunted by a girl who was thrown down the well, which is inside the dining area of the pub and now covered with glass. It’s a GK pub which means all the usual beers are on offer – I had a nondescript IPA on my last visit – but the location more than makes up for that.

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet

I love The Barge Inn – it’s the centre of the crop circle phenomena, with photos of crop circles all over the walls in one of the bars (quite a few appear in the area). You can sit outside the pub right on the edge of the Kennet and Avon canal and watch the barges go by whilst admiring the white horse of Alton Barnes on the hillside ahead. Wonderful on a summer’s day. It also has a large campsite and holds various music events throughout the year.


The Bridge, Waterbeach

The Bridge, Waterbeach

I have mentioned The Bridge before in a previous post, but it has to join the list of wonderful pub gardens. The pub is right next to the River Cam and has a pretty outside patio area for dining and a lovely garden for sitting with your beer watching the action on the river. The interior is dark wood with beams a-plenty, so my kind of place. Good guest ales too.

The Green Man, Grantchester

The Green Man is in the village of Grantchester, only 2 miles from Cambridge. Grantchester is a lovely village and is famous for its beautiful meadows that the meandering River Cam winds through, Rupert Brooke the poet, and the romantic Orchard Tea Gardens.

The Green Man

The Green Man

The Green Man is one of 4 pubs in the village, and is a typically pretty village pub which was closed for a while, quite worryingly, but now has new owners who have recently refurbished it, very nicely in fact. It still maintains its dark wood interior and has kept its soul, unlike the Rupert Brooke down the road (although that does also have a couple of nice beers on tap still, despite now being more of a restaurant than a pub). The Green Man generally has a few real ales on tap; it had Skull Candy by Brew Dog (3.7%) on my last visit which was a pleasant surprise.. There are a few tables out the front and a grassy long and narrow back garden, but I prefer to sit out the front where you can watch the world go by; it’s a lovely place to sit, but if it’s a sunny day you have to get there early to get a seat as everyone has the same idea!

The Blue Ball, Grantchester

Again, this pub in Grantchester has a front and back seating area, and although the back garden is cute (it even has a cricket-style pavilion to sit in if you want some shade, with cricket memorabilia dotted around) I prefer to sit out front. There are only a few tables out the front, but that’s where the regulars gather. And the view across the road onto the meadows is very pretty too; there are quite often cows grazing. The pub is dark, old, tiny, with a piano in the corner, and has a good atmosphere. It serves Adnams ales and guest beers. This is a proper drinking pub, it’s the locals’ pub in the village, and that’s why I love it.

Outside the Blue Ball, Grantchester

The Old Riverview Inn, Earith

Driving through Earith before I have always wanted to stop off here at the Old Riverview Inn. So the other day we made an effort to do just that. It was quite a windy day, but sitting on a bench by the river with a beer watching the boats and barges go by was lovely. The other pub down the road, The Crown, is owned by the same people, and it also has a riverside beer garden. They picked their properties well! The pub has rooms, but you can even pitch a tent there in the garden!

The Riverside beer garden, Earith

The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge

I have mentioned the Blue in a previous post, but the garden is one of the biggest and bestest in town, and sitting with a pint of Dew Drop (their house beer) in the sun in the garden makes for a pleasant afternoon. The beers are great, and they also hold beer festivals and set up a big marquee in the garden as an extra bar for the occasion.

Cambridge Blue beer garden, as seen from the cemetery

They have just actually revamped their garden, and have concreted much of the main seating area where there was some grass before, but they have laid some astro turf at the far end with some benches, plants and trellis, and it looks great. There are even some steps up to the space over the wall to the cemetery that everyone uses as a short cut to the beer garden, and they left a space in the trellis especially for it! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Blue).

The Eagle, Cambridge

The Eagle is a Cambridge legend, being the pub where the discovery of the structure of DNA was first announced, and having a bar where Second World War RAF officers burnt their signatures into the ceiling with their lighters  (still preserved). The patio area is heated and lively although it can get crowded – get there early to bag a seat!

The Kingston Arms, Cambridge

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms is just round the corner from the Blue, located on Kingston Street, off Mill Rd. The beers are numerous and fantastic (JHB, Summer Lightning and Landlord on tap as regulars, and about 5 or 6 other taps) plus they hold monthly beer festivals with even more ales to sample. The garden is out the back of the pub and is secluded, so much so that it’s hard to imagine you are in the city – and not only that, it has sofas under a large canopy, and fairy lights all around, not to mention the pretty plants and trellis. Lovely. You can also get free wifi access there.

The Empress, Cambridge

The Empress, over the bridge on Mill Road, has just won an award for the Cambridge Pub of the Year 2010. It has a patio beer garden, and when I was last there it was holding a beer festival in the garden. I like this pub and garden; it’s welcoming to kids with some toys for them to play with, but the main draw are the 3 pub pigs, housed in a little pen, as well as rabbits running around under your feet – it’s like having a beer in a little zoo. Good on ’em! It’s a really private garden too, so you can forget you are in the middle of the city. Nice beer too! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Empress).

The Emperor, Cambridge

The Emperor on Hills Road, Cambridge, has an unusual beer garden – it’s filled with sand. That’s right; it’s a beach. In the middle of the city.The tables are painted bright colours and there are also deck chairs, buckets and spades, seagulls and parasols. The pub holds many events, some of the most recent being a beer festival and beach volleyball! This is the sister pub to the Empress, and also serves about 4 real ales, regulars being St Austell Tribute, Oakham JHB and Sharps Doom Bar. Check out my Emperor post to read more about this pub and its garden.

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The Anchor, Cambridge

The Anchor, from the River Cam

The Anchor is an institution. Fronting the river in one of the prettiest parts of the city, the Anchor is in an ideal location and popular with the students. It’s a GK pub, but then again, most pubs in the city centre are. Grab a beer and sit on the outdoor terrace to watch tourists falling off their punts into the mill pond and listen to the punt touts on the bridge trying to come up with inventive ways to hook in more trade. An idyllic location – but unfortunately Cambridge University wants to redevelop the whole of this area which may involve a change of use of the pub (probably into an upmarket restaurant), so if you haven’t been there already, go now in case it disappears.

The Granta, Cambridge

The Granta

Round the corner from the Anchor, The Granta is another pub with a riverside setting but it’s set higher up from the river than the Anchor and is tucked away round the corner from the main tourist area and overlooking another mill pond which is just as pretty. Another GK pub, but decent enough Abbot Ale.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

This pub used to have much more character before Greene King refurbished it recently and ripped some of the character out. But the garden terrace of the Fort St George is beautiful, being right next to the Cam and with plenty of seating so you can watch the rowers go by, or turn the other way for a view over Midsummer Common and the cows! A lovely location.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Elm Tree, Cambridge

The Elm Tree outside drinking area is tucked down the alley, behind all the drinkers!

I can only say good things about the Elm Tree. It has about 10 ever-changing hand pumps, lovely landlords, morris dancing outside in the summer, and it has a real village atmosphere even though it’s in the middle of the city. The outside seating to the side of the pub makes for a tranquil spot to have a fine ale (Banks & Taylors Dragon Slayer is a good one that is regularly on tap).

The Royal Oak, Barrington

The Royl Oak in pretty Barrington is a beautiful old thatched pub dating back to the 13th century. Barrington has one of the largest village greens in the country – you have to see it to believe it.  The pub serves good food and beer (there are usually Potton or Adnams ales on tap) and the garden at the front faces the green (where they hold cricket matches). It’s a fantastic place to relax if you want to get away from city life for a while.


The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

A lot of my pubs seem to be riverside ones – and this is no exception. Watching the barges go by from outside The Boat in the little village of Stoke Bruerne is a lovely sight. It’s an old free house with several bars, one with Northamptonshire skittles which is always great fun to play. I had some great beer from the local Frog Island brewery when I was last there.

Some of the beers!

Some of the beers!

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