The King Street Run isn't for the faint-hearted nor the lily-livered.Lorcan Greene

The King Street Run is not for the faint of heart, nor the lily-livered, nor in truth the clear-headed Cambridge student; it’s the kind of stomach-churning trial-by-drink that only a brain soaked in ethanol, exposed to a harsh environment of hazing rituals and drinking-soc-bants, could ever devise or pretend to enjoy. Originating in the 1950s, as the legend goes, from a debate between medical students and a trio from St John’s over average bladder capacity – four pints said the medics, pish posh said the Johnians (I imagine) – the Run quickly became a biannual game with very simple rules: a pint in each of King Street’s seven pubs, rounded off with an eighth back at the first, all without urinating or throwing up.

What wouldn't one do in the name of student journalism?Lorcan Greene

The penalty to be paid for – ahem – ‘leakage’ was another pint, imaginatively enough; the prize for completion an admittedly fetching blue tie. So far, so Grudgebridge bait. But I feel it would be cheap of me to cash in from afar on the recent drinking society bashings – besides, they seem to do a good job of discrediting themselves, with their sheepy pyrotechnics and the like – so here I am, with a team of strangely eager accomplices, nobly sacrificing my sobriety in the spirit of journalistic integrity, and hoping to have a nose around some of Cambridge’s most historic pubs en route. I swear it’s nothing to do with the fact that I’ve finished my exams, and quite fancied a drink.

The penalty to be paid for – ahem – ‘leakage’ was another pint, imaginatively enough; the prize for completion an admittedly fetching blue tie

Just in case my DoS is reading (hi Ingo!), I should clarify that I’m not attempting the proper historical Run on this supervision-eve; for one thing, two of the original seven pubs are now closed, plus for some reason I’ve always considered regurgitation and incontinence to be unwanted side-effects of drinking, though I must admit I’ve never tried. OK, alright – never deliberately tried, as my companions are quick to remind me.

Anywho, our first port of call is the St Radegund, which prides itself on being the smallest pub in town. Regulars know it as the Rad, and it’s not hard to see why: though seating space is limited, the £2 pints offer more than enough cause to be upstanding. Warmly wood-panelled and with zany decoration – a signed photo of Vera Lynn hangs beside one of Pope John Paul II – the endearing legacy of Terry Kavanagh, the place’s recently-passed landlord of 17 years and by all accounts a real character, is writ large here: it’s a pub which brims with spirit, and I’m not just talking about the Gordon’s behind the bar.

The Rad takes pride in its smallnessLorcan Greene

A wrench though it is, we head on now to The King Street Run itself, formerly The Horse and Groom but renamed in honour of the pub crawl, and dating back to the 1830s. This feels like the sort of boozer where anything could happen, raw and authentic, the George’s Cross already proud across the windows in anticipation of the World Cup; when we get there, a shark-tooth necklaced American is vaping with his feet up on the bar, and engages us in conversation. “Do you dig?”, he asks in a Budweiser drawl, correctly assuming that we’re all Classicists – or did somebody tell him? My memory is hazy – and after a moment of confusion it transpires that he’s crossed the pond to supervise a team of archaeologists at the University. There’s certainly something of the Indiana Jones about him, but still I ask why I’ve never seen him around faculty. He laughs and shakes his head: “I work in the field, man.” I’m invited to go dig at his Serbian site, but I tell him that we must press on: one of our pubs closes in 15 minutes, so the drinks are downed, and my archaeological career lies in ruins.

The Champion of the Thames – a home to boat race fameLorcan Greene

Troubled as ever by the exigencies of time, we move to the next pub with haste – at a run, almost. The Champion of the Thames is named after a former occupant of the building, who won a boat race on the eponymous river in the mid-1800s, and thereafter demanded that all letters for him be addressed to ‘The Champion of the Thames, King Street, Cambridge’; it’s yet another pub which revels in its history, pleasingly old-fashioned, but we have little time to appreciate it fully. The only thing slowing us down is the extended pour-time of the Guinness, tipple of choice in honour of my Irish roots: certainly, I’ll only ever attempt the accent once sufficiently heavy with the proteinous stout, much as my friends wish I wouldn’t. Speedily now on to the spacious Cambridge Brew House, and sweatily too: a thick and muggy mist seems to have descended on King Street, though on reflection that might just have been me. Built in the 1970s and striking a fine balance between classic-pub feel and modern-pub decency, the Brew House is another establishment that would merit a less fleeting visit.

D'Arry's refused to serve the reporting team.Lorcan Greene

Finally, breathlessly now to D’Arry’s, on the site of the old Cambridge Arms: a relative newcomer on the street, opened in 2006, it serves lager on tap but prefers to be called a ‘liquor loft’. It’s a swanky joint alright, all polished surfaces and no edge, competing with so many similar round these parts, though in stark contrast to the other pubs on this crawl. We arrive just in time, but the barman refuses to serve us, even as he garnishes a last Old Fashioned with spiralised orange peel, nonplussed when we explain our endeavour: you’ll get a bad write-up in the student press for this, warns one friend, but I remind him that I’m obliged to stay impartial.


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Defeated, we circle back to the Rad for a valedictory night-cap, its small size now more of an issue: my shtep is beginning to shlur, and I think I knock over a stool on the way in. How much has changed since last I was here: suddenly the décor appears to be spinning. As I sink my drink and to the floor, I begin to think that stuporous binging is a peculiar form of celebration, that it might be worrying how much the social sphere here is drawn to orbit by the gravitational pull of the pint, and that I – hang on, what was I saying again? Something about drinking, and friendship, and – oh, forget it: I need to go to the loo.

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