The frequency of visits has increased over the years, and although they have been scaled back somewhat in more recent times, I’ve completely lost count of the number of occasions I’ve driven up and down the M11 and the A11. I feel that I know every inch of both roads, and whilst on a good run, I can accomplish the journey in just over two and a half hours, it is still a tiring and rather monotonous trip.
One way to break up the journey is to stop off at a decent country pub, and I have started doing this as and when my schedule allows. Wherever possible I have selected pubs which feature on CAMRA’s Pub Heritage Website of Historic Pub Interiors, and finding my way to some of these historic gems has been made easier by the purchase of a sat-nav for the car.
to keep one eye on the map and both eyes on the road! I succumbed a couple of birthdays ago, and can now safely navigate to the most remote and tucked away places, without risking life and limb.
On last weekend’s trip to East Anglia, I selected a pub called the Blue Ball Inn, from the Heritage Pub website for a lunchtime stop. The pub is situated in the village of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, and is just a short hop from the M11.
I won’t dwell on the village’s connections with the well-known poem, “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”, by Rupert Brooke, (“Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?”), but I will make special mention of the latter day writer, and musician Roger Waters, who wrote and performed the song “Grantchester Meadows” which appears on the classic Pink Floyd album, Ummagumma.
According to CAMRA’s WhatPub, there are four pubs in Grantchester, but the Blue Ball is the only one to feature on the Heritage Pub list, by virtue of it having a historic pub interior of regional importance. The pub retains its original two-bar layout along with many old fittings; and with no TV or gaming machines, good beer and good conversation are very much the order of the day.
The current owner is a former regular, who purchased it from a Pub Company, and then carried out some essential repairs and sympathetic redecoration which manages to retain the pub's charm. Bed and breakfast accommodation and new toilets, have been added, along with a modest expansion of the bar area, achieved by opening up a room behind the serving area. The garden has also been extended, but I didn’t venture outside, owing to the unseasonably cold weather.
Blue Ball shortly after 3pm; my journey having been delayed by at least half an hour due to slow moving traffic on the approach to the Dartford Crossing. I managed to pull in and park on the road directly outside the pub; there being no separate car-park as such. Apart from the landlord who was tapping away on his laptop in the smaller right-hand bar, I was the only customer. There was a choice of either Adnam’s Southwold or Woodforde’s Wherry. I opted for the former, and it was in superb condition, rating a score of 4 on the NBSS. Looking back, I possibly underscored it, as with hindsight it deserved a 4.5!
That was a couple of weeks ago, and on Friday it was anything but warm. The landlord remarked that he was tempted to light the fire, but as the pub’s stock of logs had been exhausted, he would have to use coal. I must admit to feeling quite envious of the barmaid’s ability to hop on a plane and jet off somewhere exotic, with hardly a moment’s notice, and with just a couple of years left on the mortgage, I trust it won’t be too long before I am following her example.
I was sorry to be departing from such a fine old pub, and I’m sure that if I lived locally, I would almost certainly be a regular there. A pub doesn’t need to offer a vast range of beers to make it a place I would wish to drink in; neither does it need to offer something totally obscure. The choice of the two, well-kept, locally brewed beers, would be enough to encourage my custom; as would the pleasant décor and unspoilt surroundings of a traditional village boozer, such as this.
I learned from the barmaid that I had arrived during a traditionally quiet period, and that come five o’clock, the pub would soon be filling up. If you find yourself heading in the direction of Cambridge or, like me, you are just passing through, then I can thoroughly recommend calling in at the Blue Ball, as I promise you will not be disappointed.