I was lucky enough to be able to spend the summer of 2020 in my hometown. Despite the weirdness, stress, and restrictions of Covid-19 times, I was able to relax a little, and keep up social distancing while enjoying beach life!
However, it hasn’t been easy for me to be indoors in the UK for a long time. Before the second lockdown this autumn/winter, my partner and I decided to escape to Cambridge for a weekend, to get a last breath of fresh air and a little taste of the countryside before the cold arrived and we shut ourselves away again.
I’m not a planner by nature. I don’t tend to like to plan my free time too intensely, usually because my time is pretty limited, and I like to live life as spontaneously as possible! Also, it just feels suspiciously like ‘work’ to have to figure out what time I can be somewhere or how much time I need to spend in one place, when I can just go with the flow and enjoy everything that presents itself.
That said, I do like to research places I’m going to visit, usually by reading other people’s blogs, and pin all the recommended places on my Google Maps. This gives me a bit of structure, a few ideas that I can keep in mind, and a general direction for how my trip is going to look.
This mindset worked perfectly for me…until this year’s pandemic. Suddenly, just going with the flow just wouldn’t work anymore. Almost everything has to be booked in advance and bought online, to allow for the new limitations and to keep numbers down. Sadly I hadn’t thought about this in advance, and by the time I came to plan my Cambridge trip, all the tickets for the best attractions there had sold out!
I had made a 48-hour itinerary for a weekend in Cambridge, but it was made essentially useless while we were there. That said, I’m glad with how things worked out as we had an amazing time, and wouldn’t have had half as much fun if we’d stuck to the big names and major tourist attractions.
We drove up to Cambridge from London, and checked into the Acorn Guest House where we were staying. We chose it as it was reasonably priced, and close enough to the city centre to walk into town. We had breakfast at a cafe called Fitzbillies which had been highly recommended by a bunch of bloggers I read. We had a great breakfast there, and I would recommend it too.
Punting is a quintessential Cambridge experience, and you can’t really visit the town without trying it. We went to Scudamore College for our punting trip along the Cam, and we got really lucky with our guide. He was a student there (as most of them are) and had featured in a BBC documentary about punting just a few days ago!
During our 45 minutes on the river we got the chance to see the beautiful colleges from outside, as well as passing under the famous Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.
Once we’d finished punting, we spent the rest of the day strolling around the centre. One of the things that makes Cambridge such a great place to visit is that everywhere is walking distance. We passed by the Round Church, and decided to pop into Heffers Bookshop…and what a treat it was! We ended up spending so much time in this charming, old-fashioned little place, just browsing the shelves and enjoying the smell and the feel of the books. It is so sad that the last few years have seen so many independent bookshops close down, but in Cambridge they are still surviving. I guess because of the number of students here there is still a market for real books. The last time I was in a bookshop this size was in Barnes and Noble in New York, around ten years ago! To support Heffers we bought a board game, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip!
Just opposite Heffers are Trinity College and St John’s College, but sadly they were both closed. I had wanted to see the Wren Library at Trinity College, designed by Christopher Wren in 1676, and home to books like Isaac Newton’s notebook and the manuscript of Winnie the Pooh. I had also wanted to wander around in St John’s famously beautiful grounds, where the film The Theory of Everything was filmed (despite Stephen Hawking actually studying at Trinity!).
One college that was open was King’s…but unfortunately here I paid the price for my lack of advance planning. The only way to buy tickets was online, and they had already sold out. King’s is famous for its Gothic Chapel, with a rare fan-vaulted ceiling and huge stained glass windows. It is also, apparently, the best way to see Cambridge, with it’s rooftop views equaling those from the Varsity Hotel and Great St Mary’s Church. I also wanted to see the Rood Screen that Henry VIII had given Anne Boleyn as a gift (considered one of the best examples of Italian wood carving in the UK), and the stone carvings of animals and flowers that adorn the walls. But sadly this was not to be.
We were, however, lucky enough to find tickets still available for Great St Mary’s Church, and there wasn’t a queue. I guess it is not easy for everyone to climb 123 steps of a tower up an 800 year-old church! The views were absolutely worth the climb though.
After drinking in the beautiful views of Cambridge, we grabbed some coffee from Benets and wandered along the King’s Parade. We walked around Market Square, browsing the food and souvenir stalls. We then headed down Trumpington Street to take a look at the Corpus Clock. This is an extraordinary sight – a uniquely designed, handless timepeace on the corner of Benet Street and Trumpington Street, it was built by the inventor John Taylor, and features an insect named Chronophage or ‘Time Eater’.
Having had quite enough sightseeing for the day, we poked our heads into the Cambridge Chop House, as we’d heard amazing things about their steak. Sadly all the tables were reserved until 9pm, and with the new rules meaning they had to close at 10pm there was no time for us. We tried our luck at the Michael House Cafe, housed in a converted medieval church, but to no avail. We eventually found ourselves at a tiny little table at The Mitre where we decided to play our new board game. This took up most of the table, but we had such fun that we stayed there playing all night long!
The plan for the next day was to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum. The Fitzwilliam is full to the brim with treasures from the ancient world, as well as tons of works of art. There are sketches by Da Vinci, paintings by Rembrant, and a fascinating collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The building itself is a sight to behold too, a gorgeous setting for such wondrous treasures. We were assured beforehand that it was free to enter, with no booking required. But when we arrived the next morning, we were told that we wouldn’t be able to visit the museum until 2pm, so we skipped this museum. Queen’s College and the Botanic Garden of Cambridge University were also closed, so we skipped them too.
I was quite sad to miss the Botanical Gardens, as they sound like the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon. There are over 8,000 plant species from around the world, the Woodland Garden and Lake, and the Glasshouse Range, a series of buildings with themed environments like deserts and tropical rainforests! I’d also read about the Winter and Autumn gardens, seasonal glasshouses that are especially colourful during the right months.
Despite being so close to The Backs, a beautiful spot where some of the city’s most picturesque colleges are situated, backing onto the stretch of river between Magdalen Bridge and Silver Street Bridge, we skipped this attraction too!
Instead of exploring the beautiful colleges, we found ourselves having too much fun at Sheep’s Green and Coe Fen, making friends with the local cows and taking selfies with them. We took a long walk through the stunningly beautiful willow trees, which was just the ticket on this really beautiful autumn day. We ended our trip with some refreshments at the Granta Pub near the Mill Pond, and headed back to London before the sun went down, and lockdown began again.