A punt and a pint

· What to do in Cambridge, England ·

A group punts past the iconic King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, UK. By Andrew Dunn (http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Ah, summer! As the warmer days (hopefully) continue to descend upon us, there is no better weekend destination than Cambridge. This university city dates to before the Roman Empire and has continued to grow ever since. With a bevy of pubs and restaurants, picturesque parks and fields, and beautiful historic colleges along the River Cam, there’s plenty to do in the small city.

Cambridge is, of course, known for its prestigious university. Though there has been a settlement at Cambridge since the Bronze Age, it wasn’t until 1209 that the university was founded by Oxford scholars who fled from a hostile atmosphere in their home city. The university continued to grow as more and more colleges were founded by aristocrats and royalty over the years. As the university grew, so did its reputation and it is still one of the most prestigious and highly respected universities in the world.

Today, the colleges continue to be a focal point for visitors. Indeed, the beautiful Gothic, Medieval, and Georgian buildings play an integral part of the town’s culture and aesthetic. But there’s more to Cambridge than just the university. A growing tech hub and a thriving medical community, along with the university, make the city a vibrant, educated and growing town. With trains from London starting as low as £7, with some taking as little as 45 minutes, it’s the perfect city break. Check out these things to do on your visit!

Where to go: King’s College Chapel

A view of the impressive fan-vaulted ceiling in King’s College Chapel.

Henry VI founded King’s College and laid the first stone of the famous King’s College Chapel in 1446. However, the Wars of the Roses held up progress on the construction. It wasn’t until Henry VI’s nephew, Henry VII, took the throne and visited the half-finished chapel that work began in earnest again. In 1508, Henry VII provided funds for its construction and stipulated in his will that funds should continue to be provided after his death. This was lucky as he died a year later. Henry VIII continued work on the chapel despite the crisis of faith that took place during his reign. By the time he died in 1547, 101 years after the first stone was laid, the chapel was finally completed.

King’s College Chapel is one of the most impressive chapels in the world and a quick, self-guided tour around it is a must while in Cambridge. The fan-vaulted ceiling is a marvel; it’s the largest fan vault in the world. The impressive details of the Tudor Rose and other symbolism scattered throughout the decoration remind you of who finished the chapel. Be sure to look for Henry VIII’s initials intertwined with Anne Boleyn’s: the rood screen (the screen separating the nave from the altar) was added in honor of his new wife.

A view of the organ and choir. The rood screen sits below the organ and still displays Henry VIII’s initials intertwined with Anne Boelyn’s. I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 What to do: Punt

The so-called “Bridge of Sighs,” named after the Venetian bridge, as seen from a punt.

A classic Cambridge pastime, punting is the perfect way to pass a sunny day. These flat boats are steered by a long metal pole that’s placed into the shallow river as the punter pushes off the bottom to propel the boat forward. On a sunny day, the River Cam is a traffic jam of punts as people enjoy the sights of Cambridge from the water. Indeed, the water is the best place to see the historic colleges as many are backed up against the river (the area including and on either side of the river is referred to as “The Backs”) and the grounds are off-limits to non-students. You’ll pass under several well-known and picturesque bridges, as well!

Punting may look easy, but it takes strength and can be frustrating to steer. To avoid this, grab a pint at The Mill and head over to get a guided punt. Not only does everyone in your party get to enjoy the ride, but the knowledgeable punters will tell you all about the colleges as you punt past. That being said, if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s always fun to watch your friends attempting to punt, especially while drinking, so either option is a good one. Extra points if you see someone fall in the water!

Mathematical Bridge, seen from a punt, on a busy day for punting on the River Cam.

Where to drink: The Eagle

The_Eagle_pub_ceiling (1)
Inside The Eagle pub’s “RAF Bar” where RAF and American Air Force airmen burned their squadron numbers and names onto the ceiling during World War II. By Cmglee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The Eagle Pub has seen a lot. It dates back to the 17th century and still has an authentic pub feel, with one table even situated inside an old brick fireplace. However, its big claims to fame come in the twentieth century. First, during World War II, it became a popular haunt for both RAF and American Air Force airmen while they were stationed near Cambridge. This history is on full display as the airmen burned their squadrons and names onto the ceiling with candles. To this day, it is common for airmen to leave their squadron’s patches as stickers on the wall in the so-called RAF bar.

The pub’s second historic association was aided by its proximity to the university. The pub sits just a few steps from King’s College and is surrounded by the university’s colleges. It became a popular place for scientists to stop by for a pint, and, in 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson chose it to celebrate a new discovery. They announced to the other pub-goers that they had found “the secret of life.” This, of course, marking the discovery of DNA, a scientific finding that would change our understanding of the world.

Aside from the historic associations, this is a classic, lively pub that is always full of people. If it gets to be too much, head down the street to the Pint Shop for a wide range of craft beers. It’s much more modern but equally fun!

Where to eat: Six Cambridge

Six Panoramic Bar and Restaurant overlooking Cambridge. Via Six Cambridge

If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, head to The Varsity Hotel & Spa off a quiet street along the river. Once there, head up to the sixth floor where the aptly-named Six Panoramic Bar and Restaurant is housed. Head there for a cocktail or dinner and watch the sunset from the panoramic windows or out on the terrace. Situated to overlook most of the surrounding buildings, you get a full view of the city center. There is another bar up the stairs on the rooftop, but the atmosphere at Six is friendlier, and, because it’s enclosed, you can enjoy the view even if it’s not very warm!

Clare College, University of Cambridge

If you’re looking for a fun weekend out of the Big Smoke, or want to see something different on a holiday to London, Cambridge is the perfect weekend (or day) break in the summer. A day trip is doable, but there are also Airbnb and hotel options available. In the end, it’s a city not to miss as nothing beats a pint and a punt in the sunshine!

Ready to book your trip? Check out what to wear on your trip to Cambridge!

References: http://www.thevarsityhotel.co.uk/six-restaurant.php https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g186225-d2243439-Reviews-The_Mill-Cambridge_Cambridgeshire_England.html http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-eagle http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/cambridgeshire/az/cambridge/punting.htm http://www.localhistories.org/cambridge.html https://www.cam.ac.uk/about-the-university/history/timeline http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/chapel/history.html

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