Friday, 28 April 2017
Ely - the main event
It’s always difficult arranging to meet people when you don’t know what they look like, so not having seen any photos of Retired Martin or his good lady wife, I was at a bit of a loss as the agreed hour of our rendezvous approached. I had taken refuge in the saloon bar of the Red Lion at Stretham, as it was much quieter, and less crowded, than the adjoining main bar.
As luck would have it, it was Martin who recognised me – probably from a photo on my blog, so after a quick introduction I followed him through into the other bar, where Mrs RM had managed to find a table, and was also waiting to meet me. The Marstons Pedigree was on good form, but as the pub's of Ely beckoned we drank up fairly quickly before getting into the car and driving the short distance into Ely.
We parked in the large and free central municipal car park, and then walked the short distance to the heart of the town. Before going any further, I must say I am impressed with the free parking, which seems to be a feature of many East Anglian towns. Dereham, where my sister lives, offers the same facilities, and I just wish our cash-strapped councils in the south east would take note. Offering free parking not only attracts more visitors to a town, but also encourages them to stay longer. (End of rant!)
It was a pleasant evening; albeit a little chilly, but with the light still holding, it was ideal for a walk down through the park next to cathedral and down towards the River Ouse. Having admired the various narrow boats and other floating attractions, we headed back towards the city centre, walking back up the hill towards the High Street.
Here we stopped for first pint of the evening in the excellent Drayman’s Son. Converted from a former hardware store, the Drayman's is definitely one of best micro pubs I've been in. Reasonably spacious and bright and airy, the pub is on two levels; just take care on the steps back down from the serving area! The latter is situated at the rear of the pub, close to the temperature controlled room at the back, where the beer and ciders are kept. As I discovered, after ordering and paying at the bar, the beer is brought over to you.at your table; how about that for service?
I have mixed feelings about micro's, and indeed share some of the concerns raised by the Pub Curmudgeon on his recent post, but rather than being packed full of middle-aged blokes, there was a good mix of clientele in the pub, which included a healthy number of young people and women. I, of course, am now starting to fall into the older male category, but I am still very young at heart.
There was a good range of beer, both cask and craft, on tap, along with ciders and wines. I also understand that the Drayman's stocks the local artisan Ely Gin. Mrs RM and I enjoyed a half of Hell Hound Brewery, Lil Devil IPA; described as "blonde and heavily hopped". At 5.9%, it certainly fitted the bill. I can't remember what Martin had, but it must have been something with a much lower gravity, as he was driving.
I really liked the Drayman's and it is definitely the sort of place I would like to return to, but there were other pubs to visit, so we took our leave and walked up the hill, passing both the marketplace and the cathedral, which was now on our left hand side. We were making for the Prince Albert, which is one of Ely's current GBG entries. It is a traditional town-centre pub, with the two areas at the front given over to drinking, and a more comfortable section, which includes a restaurant, at the rear.
The Prince Albert is owned by Greene King, but also offers a good range of guest beers; some of which were a little on the pricey side. Martin went for the XX Mild, which he said was excellent, whilst I opted for a beer from Milton Brewery. It may have been Sparta, but unfortunately I didn't make a note of it. What I do remember was the £4.00 a pint price tag. Milton are based in nearby Waterbeach, but according to Martin struggle to get their beers into local pubs, because they can't compete with the discounts offered by some of the bigger boys.
Our final stop of the evening was the Fountain; a solid looking 19th Century, brick-built, corner pub. The Fountain is close to the Porta Gatehouse, which we had walked through earlier, and I recall Martin saying something about a nearby college as well. Inside the pub is nicely laid out, with good beer, and with no noisy jukebox, offers good conversation plus a good atmosphere.
No longer in the Guide, the beer range at the Fountain was rather more limited, but the Adnam’s Southwold was in excellent form as I gather, so was the Ghost Ship. Poor Martin had switched to water by this time, so it seemed a little unfair to start enthusing about the beer. We noticed the pub's clientele was young and mainly female in nature, which might have had something to do with the nearby college.
The evening was drawing to a close, so we left the Fountain and headed back to the car, passing on the way the attractive half-timbered house which once belonged to the Lord Protector of England - Oliver Cromwell. Martin and his wife then drove me back to Stretham and dropped me off at the Red Lion.
It had been an excellent evening and I really enjoyed their company. I can safely say we all got on well, which is always a bonus when people meet for the first time. We exchanged notes about our respective families, and it seems we have much in common with each other, but there was one thing I particularly wanted to ask Martin and it was how did he find the time to output such a prolific number of posts?
He told me that it was mainly by working late. I had visions of him carrying a laptop or tablet on his travels, but it turns out that he takes notes on his phone, and then writes everything up when he gets home. As he said to me, tapping stuff out on a phone is far less conspicuous, and attracts far less attention than sitting there scribbling away in a notebook. I certainly intend to follow his tip, especially as I have received some strange looks when I've been spotted taking notes in a pub.
It was really good to meet up with Martin and his wife, and we have arranged a return match in Tonbridge, for when Fuggles opens in the town. This should be sometime in June, and I am pleased to report that work is continuing apace to transform the former flooring shop at the north end of the High Street, into a much needed decent watering hole for the town.
The following morning I drove back into Ely, parked up and took a more leisurely look round the city. I also managed to photograph the Prince Albert and the Fountain in daylight. I visited the excellent market selling all sorts of goodies, and saw that the artisan gin shop, which was closed the previous evening, was now open. I didn’t peak inside, but I did take a quick peak in the cathedral.
Afterwards it was time to hit the road and head off towards Dereham, stopping briefly en route at Beers of Europe to pick up some bottles for my "smoke beer" fix.