Veteran travellers searching for something a bit new and yet rewarding would be very pleased to spend a few days in historic Cambridge in England. I would without hesitation recommend the Garden House Hotel – a Hilton Doubletree Hotel.
The hotel has its own car park which is highly unusual for any site in central Cambridge, much less one along the river.
It may be a bit of a shock to find a very modern hotel sitting on an enviable spot on the banks of the Cam River. However, the modernity of the hotel is exactly what makes this a rewarding spot for the traveller. Olde English charm is saved for the wonderful City of Cambridge itself. Comfort and reliability with a certain charm are the order of the day in this hotel.
I highly recommend a river-front room, simply for the view and ambience.
The hotel has a lovely garden which sits along the river banks and where you can enjoy the beautiful English Summer at its height – tea or Pimms being served deliciously. And there is the unending pleasure of watching the punters – lovely, fresh as the English Rose young ladies skilfully polling the flat-bottomed boats along as their very earnest young men, seated comfortably, read to them from the romantic poets – or Harry Potter? These post-card perfect scenes are interspersed with the comic antics of more mundane tourists trying to control the vessels. Fortified with tea (or something stronger) you may wish to try your hand at a punt? The boat rental – ‘Scudders’ – is literally next door to the hotel and one can choose the city side of the river with the glories of the Mathematical Bridge – King’s College Chapel, Trinity’s Christopher Wren library and the Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s – altogether unforgettable – or you may choose the wilder, more bucolic end of the river towards Grantchester, past Coe Fen and the cattle munching on Queen Anne’s Lace – or “Cow Parsley” to the locals.
One can also hike the mile or two from the hotel to Grantchester along the lovely Grantchester Meadows where the Cambridge students picnic and to the village that was home to the poet Rupert Brooke. He has a memorial in the lovely medieval church.
In Cambridge itself, the sites are almost too numerous to mention, but the collections in the FitzWilliam Museum are excellent. There is a medieval Round Church of the Templars, the great and small colleges – especially Trinity with it’s wonderful courts and the aforementioned Library designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Inside are many priceless manuscripts but the most popular are the stories of “Winnie the Pooh” in Milne’s own hand with the original sketches by Ernest Shepard for the books. Jesus College Chapel is the oldest in Cambridge and was a medieval monastic church.
The glory of Cambridge though is the magnificent King’s College Chapel in the center of the town. This building is as important to western civilization as the Parthenon. It is without doubt the final culmination of Gothic architecture in the van vaulting and the miraculously preserved stained glass. However, the living building and the spirit of Cambridge itself is only fully apparent at Evensong in the Chapel when the world-famous choir sings the service. The unearthly beauty of the well trained boy trebles and the men is unmatched. After that late afternoon experience it is best to return to the Garden House terrace for another Pimms and some quiet contemplation.
I would be quite remiss if I did not acknowledge that within a city-block of King’s there is another choir in another college chapel that is certainly the equal to the prowess of King’s – Saint John’s Cambridge. Evensong here is equally moving if in a rather more intimate and Victorian setting. Quite the best of all world’s is to be in Cambridge in late July when the two choirs get together for one Broadcast Evensong on the BBC. Admission is by ticket – but free so check the website’s for information as to the date.
Musically and spiritually there is nothing like this anywhere but in Cambridge.
One could perhaps go on forever about the shops – particularly the book stores (naturally!) – the restaurants – the fascinating street market and simply the people watching. There are rewarding and not strenuous day trips to wonderful country houses and villages, to Ely with its vast cathedral and the amazing Octagon and the Fens and Royal Norfolk or the wild coast of Suffolk are not far away and there is the promise of a comfortable welcome and return to the Garden House as a base.
I strongly recommend this as an opportunity to enjoy the “real” England beyond the fever of London.