Last weekend, I visited the beautiful city of Cambridge. Here are my ‘top 5 things to do’ in and around the area.
1. Imperial War Museum – Duxford Air Show (Battle of Britain)
Our prime reason for initially taking this trip was to visit the Duxford Air Show. Having just watched Dunkirk at the cinema, the timing seemed perfect! For me, it was also a chance to widen my knowledge. I never really studied History at school, I took the Science route, and so my knowledge of World War 2 was very limited. Eager to know more about my country’s history, we headed to Duxford, with a copy of the film ‘The Battle of Britain’ to watch the night before!
The air show itself was incredible. It began with a jaw dropping skydiving performance from the RAF Falcons military parachute team demonstrating a range of free-fall and canopy skills. This was followed by appearances from a wide range of aircraft including the much anticipated Spit Fires, Hawker Hurricanes, Heavy Bomber Boeing B-17 flying fortress Sally B, Russian Jet fighters and the Gloster Gladiator.
What I thought was cleverly designed, perfectly executed and brought a real authenticity to the show were the ‘recreation acts.’ They allowed visitors to sneak a glimpse of the scenes that were occurring across Britain almost 80 years ago. As German jets flew in, pyrotechnics were used to simulate bombs on the airbase. Once spotted, Spitfires took to the skies and a battle broke out, with gunshots and flashes going on above, bringing back the reality of the war. Churchill’s speech over the speaker as the Spitfires performed their victory roll made the show even more poignant, and patriotism could be felt amongst the crowd.
Aside from the show itself, the festival included entry to the Imperial War Museum, numerous food and drink stalls and the opportunity to step inside some historic aircraft such as Sally B and Concorde.
It was a great family day out and I would definitely recommend visiting. It brought together Duxford’s finest hour as an important Second World War fighter station, which defended Great Britain from Ariel attack in 1940.
Next Year’s Battle of Britain’s Dates have already been announced and will take place on 22nd and 23rd September 2018. Check this website for ticket release and other air shows that take place throughout the year: Battle of Britain 2018
2. Go Punting
It goes without saying that if you are visiting Cambridge, then you MUST go punting. There is no better place to give this a try than on the River Cam, which runs through the heart of Cambridge.
It was a beautiful sunny day and so we headed to Scudamore’s Boat Hire early afternoon. Surprisingly, they are open 364 days a year, 9am till dusk, meaning you can enjoy punting all year around. For anyone new to punting, ask for the METAL pole. Seriously, the wooden one is super difficult to manoeuvre. You’ll thank me for it!
Although, we chose to rent our punt privately, there are guided tours available. The guides all seemed super friendly and extremely knowledgeable. In fact, every time we passed one, we slowed down to listen to some fun facts about the sights along the way.
This was my favourite:
As you pull away from the dock, Lovers Lane is one of the first things you pass – a lovely little spot under a Willow tree where you can park up your punt and peacefully relax, taking in the surroundings. Further downstream, you approach Kings College – the iconic view from any poster or billboard you’ve seen advertising Punting. The River Bed is a lot harder here, currents are stronger (even more difficult to control with that wooden pole), and it’s also the busiest area of the river so be careful not to crash or fall in!
Moving on, you approach Trinity College, which is equally as stunning and another recognisable landmark, before finally coming to the Bridge of Sighs. Interestingly, the Bridge of Sighs was named after Queen Victoria commented on its similarity to the Venetian Bridge of Sighs, despite the fact she had never visited Venice or seen any paintings of the bridge before. Therefore, it probably comes as no surprise, that in real life the bridges look nothing alike!
Overall, this is definitely a must-do if you’re visiting Cambridge. For more information on Punting, visit this link: Boat Hire
3. Visit one of the colleges
As you probably know, Cambridge University is famous for its colleges. I had the pleasure of visiting both Kings and Trinity College.
For me, Kings is architecturally more striking. Founded in 1441 by Henry VI, it is regarded as one of the greatest examples of Gothic English Architecture. For an admission price of £9 (adults), you have the opportunity to visit both the grounds and chapel. The option for a walking guided tour is also available and lasts approximately 2 hours.
With stunning stain glass windows and the world’s largest fan vault on display, this chapel is definitely worth a visit. The grounds are equally as beautiful with the River Cam running along the back – very jealous of the students living and studying there!
Founded in 1546 by Henry VIII, Trinity is probably the most prestigious college, or at least is definitely the one I had heard the most about. Not only is it the largest of the colleges, but it has hosted students such as Issac Newton, Ernest Rutherford and Neils Bohr to name a few! More recently, Prince William and Prince Charles studied there.
Trinity’s chapel is not nearly as grand as Kings, however what it does have, is a really impressive court – the largest court in Europe with a fascinating tale of its own. It has become a tradition for students on the day of their Matriculation Dinner to attempt to run around the 341m court in the time it takes the clock to strike 12 (24 chimes, 43 seconds). This scene was recreated in the 1981 Chariots of Fire film. Although thousands have attempted to complete the circuit, only 2 people are believed to have ever succeeded, the 1st being Lord Burghley in 1927. I’ll definitely be giving it a try soon!
4. Grab Food at the Eagle
Opening in 1667, the Eagle pub is an architectural treasure steeped in history. Situated on Bene’t Street, this pub has witnessed the incredible discovery of DNA and was home to RAF pilots during and after WW2.
In 1953, in this very pub, Watson and Crick announced the double helix structure for DNA. Working through their lunch break, they drew up a list of the 20 amino acids we know today – a key development in Molecular Biology. To commemorate their discovery, the pub serves its own special ale titled ‘Eagles DNA’. Be sure to have a try!
Additionally, during WW2, the pub was home to RAF pilots and as a result, the ceiling is covered in the graffiti of World War II airmen who burned their names and squadron numbers onto it using cigarette lighters and candles.
Ultimately, the Eagle is a great traditional old English pub serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an incredible Sunday Roast. It is definitely worth a visit.
5. Climb the Clock Tower
One of Cambridge’s oldest buildings, the clock tower has stood for over 800 years. It was the first home of the university back in 1209, hosting its first lectures. The bell has been ringing since 1516 and interestingly, is what inspired Big Bens chimes in Westminster we hear today.
The climb to the top is pretty tight – there is literally zero room for both to go up and down at the same time. At one point, seven of us had to squeeze into a tiny cut out in the wall waiting for people to come down – felt like I was back on the London tube at rush hour! Personally, I didn’t think it was a long way up, I’ve definitely climbed higher towers so I’d rate this relatively easy for those questioning the difficulty of the climb. Once you’re at the top, the view of Cambridge is unsurprisingly beautiful. Views of the colleges and their grounds make up the city and the stunning countryside of Gloucestershire can be seen in the distance.
If anyone knows of any other cool things to do in and around Cambridge, feel free to comment/leave links below 🙂