Guide To Holidaying In Cambridgeshire
A guide by Julia Buckley
Hear the word Cambridgeshire and you'll automatically think of jaw-achingly beautiful colleges, punts drifting down the river, and students in archaic academic dress.
Of course, there's far more to the area than the settlement whose name it bears; but there's no denying Cambridge itself is the first place visitors flock to in this beautiful county.
It's hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a fairytale town than that of Cambridge. Clutches of colleges lie draped on the banks of the river Cam, meticulously pruned gardens linking the buildings and the water. Leave the car on the Backs - the water side - and walk over Clare Bridge into Clare College, one of the most beautiful of the colleges, but not as crammed with tourists as some of the others.
Coming out, turn left and make your way to Trinity and its Great Court, where students have an annual competition to race round the four sides before the clock finishes striking midday. Carry on along the river and you'll reach St John's with its famous Bridge of Sighs, modelled on its Venetian predecessor. Back in the other direction you'll hit the under-appreciated Queens with its Mathematical Bridge - the original was supposedly built with no nuts and bolts to hold it in place - and Kings, perhaps the most famous college with its fan-vaulted chapel and Rubens altarpiece.
Cambridge is crammed full of cafes and tea rooms, so recharge your batteries before paying a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum. One of the best regional museums in the country, it recently hit the headlines when a hapless visitor smashed three priceless Ming vases - so keep those shoelaces tied!
Cambridgeshire suffers from being thought of as flat; and it's fair to say that if you like rolling hills, the Fens, drained by man over the centuries, probably won't be your idea of perfection. South Cambridgeshire, however, does have hills; and nearby towns include Grantchester, home of the poet Rupert Brooke.
Even the most ardent hillock-lover, though, will appreciate what the Fens have to offer - some of the most fertile land in the country, a network of waterways and a fair proportion of Britain's most important nature reserves. Fenland sunsets are unforgettable - especially when viewed from somewhere like the Paxton Pitts Nature Reserve near ancient market town St Neots. The reserve is home to England's second largest breeding cormorant colony. The Fens Cycle Way, which starts at Ely, is the perfect way of getting to know the area for more active travellers.
But it's the cities rising up from the flats that really stun the visitor. The Norman cathedral at Peterborough is a superb example of Romanesque architecture, with a 13th-century painted nave ceiling and the tomb of Catherine of Aragon. Ely, meanwhile, boasts an imposing cathedral on the banks of the river Ouse, as well as a museum dedicated to its former resident Oliver Cromwell, situated in his childhood house. Huntingdon also has a Cromwell
Museum - this one is situated in his old school, where Samuel Pepys was also a pupil.
With so many historical connections, a Cambridgeshire holiday will never get boring. Now's the time to try it out.
Cambridgeshire hotspot: Ely
You don't get much more historic than Ely. Dating back to the Iron Age, it was founded as a cathedral city in AD673 when Princess (later Saint) Etheldreda adopted Christianity and established a convent, it has a prestigious past. Over the centuries, it's been visited by the likes of King Canute, William the Conquerer and Oliver Cromwell - so there's no excuse not to join them.
Did You Know?
Hemingford Grey Manor, near Huntingdon, is not only the oldest continuously inhabited house in England, but also the former home of Lucy M Boston, who wrote the Green Knowe series of children's books.
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