The Secret Pubs of Cambridge: Champion of the Thames

Julia Stanyard and Sian Avery 24 October 2014

Those who have never ventured further along King Street than the infamous swap-site Clowns might be forgiven for passing the ‘Champion of the Thames’ without noticing its existence. With the pub’s charming back-story of a successful London oarsman who moved to Cambridge and insisted on all correspondences being addressed to him as the “champion” of the Thames lending it this name, the building itself feels encased in local history.

Occupying two small rooms, the pub did not suffer from the poky closeness of last week’s establishment, despite its size. Similarly wood-panelled, the atmosphere was certainly friendlier as most tables were filled from the early evening until closing time, lending a perfect level of background noise without being intrusive.

Proudly a Greene King establishment, it was no surprise to find in prime position on tap both Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale, popular but nonetheless welcome staples. The Scottish (Greene King owned) Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA was a very light but thirst-quenching dry addition, slightly too bitter to Julia’s taste, who preferred the fruity – and similarly northern – Punk IPA. All in all, there was a decent variety of beer on tap (with plenty of big-brand lagers also available for those so inclined); however, being a pub with such a history it was somewhat disappointing not to find more local brews. The ciders on offer failed to tempt Julia this week, as the Aspall’s and the Stowford Press were standard choices, and so failed to draw attention away from the beer.

Julia will have to stick to beer due to lack of tempting cider choices. Image Credit: Julia Stanyard and Sian Avery 

Admittedly, even were we to add our ages together as a sum total, we probably wouldn’t reach the average age of the many inhabitants of the pub- one of whom sported the most impressive French moustache ever seen in Cambridge. This didn’t feel like a problem however, as far from being shunned as irritating youths, those at the bar were welcoming, if a little surprised by our presence. Instead, the pub was filled with groups relaxing after work, as well as a few individuals who looked conspicuously like Cambridge academics, leading us to wonder if we have unearthed their quiet after-hours sanctuary.

Sian loving her time at Champion of the Thames. Image Credit: Julia Stanyard and Sian Avery 

Overall, in spite of the poor collection of ciders, the ‘Champion of the Thames’ wins the place of our favourite pub so far (though we hesitate to diverge this, in the fear of never being able to get one of their limited tables again). Unfortunately, we would struggle to stretch to award it the label of housing our perfect pint, preoccupied as it is extensively (naturally) with Greene King beers at the expense of local ones. Nonetheless, the ‘Champion of the Thames’ is an undervalued watering hole on the Cambridge map; not only is it charming and friendly, but geographically central, leaving us perplexed as to why there were so few students inside. We would certainly recommend it as a pleasant place to come with a small group of friends to soak up not only the beer, but the atmosphere too.