Punting in predictable weather: Cambridge, UK
Off to Cambridge, England, I went this weekend to discover the appeal of this well known university town. And whilst the weather was a perfectly predictable example of a British October weekend, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in the Autumn-Winter semester, without hanging onto illusions of a halcyon summer. Enjoy cosy cafes, steaming cups of coffee and there are always blankets and umbrellas…
If you only have 24 hours in Cambridge this coming Winter, here is your concise itinerary:
Get your bearings in town and head straight to Kings College. Check the blackboards outside the main gates to see if the chapel is open to visitors (£7.50) or attend a service (free). Grab a cup of tea in the Agora Cafe directly opposite the college entrance if you have to wait for the variable opening times.
As you exit Kings turn right and walk towards Trumpington Street. Stop in at Fitzbillies Cafe on the way down to the Fitzwilliam Museum. The cafe has a takeaway bakery serving wonderful cakes, or you can sit in the cafe/restaurant out back and enjoy one of their famous sausage rolls (£7.50 with choice of salad or homemade slaw). As I was visiting on my own the friendly waitresses seated me on a large shared bench which was almost situated in the kitchen. This lively table was covered in vases of fresh flowers and fruit and was a great people-watching spot.
Once fed and watered head down to the Fitzwilliam (free) and take in the fantastic exhibits on Egypt, Greece and Rome in particular. Galleries also include European art, Eastern Porcelain and an armoury. Make sure to check if there temporary exhibitions on: I was lucky enough to catch The Night of Longing: Love and Desire and Japanese Prints, a display of erotic Shunga block printing circa 1600 – 1900. There was also an interesting exhibition on the origins of the Afro comb. All for free (donations are welcome).
The Eagle pub is a recommended for its real ales and good food, as well as being the place where Watson and Crick figured out DNA! Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to visit this famed watering hole as our hotel was out of town in the semi-rural area of Stow Cum Quy on the bottom tip of the Fens. After meeting up with the hubby who was playing lacrosse in town, we spent the evening relaxing in the spa pools, sauna and steam room in the converted barns, then tucked into succulent beef burgers and chocolate torte in the bar. A luxurious treat indeed!
After a hearty full English breakfast, and some fresh fruit to balance out the guilt, head down to the river and get on one of those punts that you have been eyeing up curiously! A local guide will take you on a punt up and down ‘the backs’ behind the colleges (around £15pp for 45min tour) and give you a flavour of their history. As soon as we stepped onto the boat, predictably, it started raining buckets! Our hosts were quite prepared however and we wrapped up in woolly blankets and handed a massive golf umbrella. Watch out for angry swans and haphazard visitors trying to steer their own hired punt!
Once back on the cobbled Cambridge streets pop into Trinity College to see the Great Hall, Wren Library and its chapel (£3 or £1 if library is closed). You can also see the residence where Isaac Newton lodged during his time here, and there is an apple tree planted in his honour out front which was seeded from the very tree he later went on to sit under and discover gravity.
After such a big breakfast you might not need to stop for lunch just yet so walk north on Bridge Street and pop into Kettle’s Yard (free). This historic residence is left exactly as the previous owners left it – full of their carefully curated art collection. It is a homely setting where visitors are encouraged to sit on the chairs and ponder the art in a relaxed setting. None of the artworks and installations have labels but there are friendly guardians on hand to answer any questions on the pieces or tell you about the home of Jim and Helen Ede. Ring the bell and have a look around!
After deciding that you really wish you lived at Kettle’s Yard head back into town and enjoy the great British Institute of afternoon tea at Auntie’s Tea Room. Tea, egg and cress sandwiches and jam scones with clotted cream await, whilst you watch locals on bicycles ride past the front windows.
More posts on top places to visit in the UK here.