In the next in our series of escapes from London we’re off to Cambridge where cows graze on the water meadows and lazy afternoons are whiled away punting along The Cam. With fewer tourists this summer it makes the perfect break, just under an hour on the train from Kings Cross.
Things to Do
A visit to the university town demands a look in a college or two. Pre-book a timed slot to visit Kings College where a wildflower meadow now covers a large swathe of the back lawn. The project aims to create an ecosystem rich in biodiversity and flowers from May to July before being harvested in September. A booking also grants entry to the Chapel with the world’s largest fan vaulted ceiling and the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens. From there walk along to Jesus College (below) where the cows graze on Midsummer Common opposite.
Pick up a punt and float down The Cam either under your own stead or with a guide thanks to the Cambridge Punt Company. Keep your eyes peeled for The Punt & Pole, a floating bar on a punt that sells Prosecco and Pimms to passers by.
Back on dry land, the enormous Fitzwilliam Museum is a must-visit with an art collection that encompasses the antiquities through to the 20th century. Our favourite though, is Kettle’s Yard where the former home of collector John Ede and his wife Helen is now open to the public. Gifted to the university in 1966 it is the most atmospheric space to see Modern art, and the collection includes the work of Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. This summer a new exhibition, Untitled: art on the conditions of our time (10 July – 3 October 2021) will show the work of 10 British African diaspora artists including new commissions by Barby Asante, Appau Junior and Boakye-Yiadom.
We made a pilgrimage to Cambridge Imprint, who don’t have their own shop but do have a large space in the stairwell at Heffers Bookshop. Find racks of wrapping paper, cards, notebooks and more. Nearby the Cambridge Satchel Company has all shades of leather book bags. And there are some great charity shops on Mill Road.
Eating and Drinking
Picking up a Chelsea bun and a coffee from Fitzbillies (below) is a must (it’s worth knowing that these can also now be posted anywhere in the UK). For lunch it’s hard to beat the toasted ciabatta sandwiches at Bread & Meat with fillings like porchetta, salsa verde and crackling. Next door join the queue for Jack’s Gelato for proper ice cream.
The Old Bicycle Shop – once the oldest in town – is now a quirky and fun restaurant where all appetites including veggies and vegans are catered for. If you fancy a walk and a pub lunch you could set off down the river to Grantchester to the thatched Red Lion.
Where to Stay
We’re always partial to a hotel that leaves a chocolate on the pillow. At the University Arms you get a whole chunky bar of it wrapped in Cambridge blue paper, just one of the finer details that this newly revamped hotel gets right. Then there’s the library, curated by Mayfair’s Heywood Hill and full of beautiful new hardback books to read in front of a roaring fire or to take up to your room. Here you’ll find thick carpets, huge comfy beds and Dr Harris bath salts in earthenware pots waiting to be sprinkled in free-standing baths with shiny brass taps.
The quintessentially English style is thanks to an £80m transformation from architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki (of The Ivy and Annabel’s). Unlike lots of new hotels the University Arms doesn’t try to be cool – breakfast is more likely to be a Full English than bee pollen granola – and instead the feel is luxurious and collegiate, with playful details that nod to Cambridge’s intellectual alumni. There are 192 rooms including 12 suites, and yet for the scale of the hotel the staff are incredibly friendly. Once you’ve checked into your room borrow a free bicycle and pedal off into town, following the illustrated map of Cambridge by artist Adam Dant that’s provided for guests and comes filled with restaurant recommendations, historic places and literary locations to visit along the way.
In the evening return to the bar for drinks where the marble wallpaper nods to the endpapers of antique books and the cocktail list includes the Blushing Byron (while an undergraduate Lord Byron was known to take late night baths in the Trinity College Fountain) and The 1848 (the year the Cambridge Rules were drafted by gowns men playing football). Dinner at Parker’s Tavern is a treat: try the brown buttered sole with Norfolk shrimp and mashed potato, finished off with rice pudding souffle and raspberry ripple ice cream. Rooms from £159 per night, suites from £419. universityarms.com