A weekend in Cambridge

History oozing from every paving stone, scholars and academics walking shoulder to shoulder down cobbled streets and exquisite architecture - I had high expectations for this quintessential British university town and the unseasonably pleasant weekend I spent in Cambridge in February did not disappoint.

Countless prime ministers, scientists and other high achievers have strolled and cycled down the hallowed lanes of Cambridge and I felt lucky to be hours away from doing the same as I drove down from Manchester one Friday evening. Tip: watch out for the speed cameras on the A14, they are super-sneaky and heavily concentrated.

Cambridge, Friends and Family

The old saying goes that it's good to have friends in high places - this is true, but it's also good to have friends that live in extremely beautiful places. We are lucky enough to know three people that live in this picturesque town - my cousin Andrew who is reading Economics at Jesus College and two friends from our Durham days, Mike and Becky, who were kind enough to let us stay with them for the weekend.

The pair live just outside of Cambridge in a place called Chesterton, which handily for us, had space for the car - a rarity in this neck of the woods. After a good old catch-up over a few glasses of wine we headed to bed, full of anticipation for the next day when we would get to explore the city.

Cambridge bicycle

Cousins, Colleges and The Cam

After fuelling up with some bacon butties courtesy of the couple, we headed into town the next morning on the bus. Looking out of the window on the short 15-minute journey, I was astounded at the number of bikes - I knew Cambridge was a bike-friendly city due to the flatness of its terrain, but I'd never seen so many velocipedes or cyclists back home in Manchester. Marvellous.

The bus dropped us off right outside leafy Jesus Common and after a leisurely stroll across its vast grassy verges we met up with my cousin Andrew who kindly offered to act as our tour guide. First up was Jesus College - it already has a huge common that shares its name on the doorstep, but step inside and there is an abundance of green space waiting to greet you. The main entrance is formed by a quaint walled passage and is nicknamed 'The Chimney'; derived from the Middle French 'chemin', denoting a path or way.

Jesus College Cambridge

Jesus College boasts many notable alumni, including Prince Edward, 'plebgate' Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and the perhaps more popular members of Clean Bandit, the British electronic band whose catchy 2013 single 'Rather be' I have had stuck in my head for a while now.

A stone's throw away, we walked passed the
ADC Theatre, home to the famous Cambridge Footlights where Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Olivia Colman and The Inbetweeners' Simon Bird have all trodden the boards. They're just a few of my favourites but you can see how many actors, actresses, writers and directors have graced this stage here.

Punting on The Cam Cambridge

Meandering closer into the centre of town we did see a handful of stalwart punters accompanying tourists out on The Cam but not too many as it is unsurprisingly more of a summer activity. We passed by hundreds of tourists gathered outside stunning Kings College and I thought how surreal it must be to be a student here. I studied in Durham, where we had our fair share of tourists near the Cathedral, Castle and Palace Green, but not to this extent. Stepping out of your college and having to battle your way though the masses just to get to your morning lecture must become tiresome after a while. But don't feel too sorry for them because they do get to study their socks off in the most picturesque surroundings imaginable.

Happily, we managed to avoid the tourist touts because we obviously blended in and looked like students. Yeah, that's definitely the reason. Or perhaps it was our guide. He's probably going to kill me for posting this, but my cousin was walking us round with the biggest black eye and set of stitches I've seen for a while - received by an ill-timed attempt at a header in a football match the previous week. I'm not saying he looked unapproachable, but it obviously worked and I'm not complaining!

Andrew Jacott Cambridge

Cambridge Pub Crawl

Mid-afternoon, we headed back out to Chesterton to await the arrival of another friend who was coming over to visit from Brentwood, Essex. Tom, or 'German Tom' as he was known at Durham, shared a house with Mike and I in second year, but I spent loads of time with him as we both studied Politics - I remember us getting reprimanded a few times for consistent giggling in lectures. You know how that works - cue more giggling like schoolgirls. Which of course was extremely immature of us and neither of us have ever engaged in such childish behaviour since.

Tom was turning 21 again on Monday so the five of us decided that a Cambridge pub crawl was just the way to celebrate. First up was The Haymakers with its traditional exposed beams - we struggled to find seats due to a rather large reunion of the Cambridge Rock Soc. Although, I was happy to see a woman in a Sale Sharks rugby shirt (my local team) in the corner. I debated going over and yelling 'I'm from Stockport, I love the fact you're wearing a Sale shirt' but decided the poor woman hadn't done anything to deserve that so left her in peace.
The Haymakers pub Cambridge
Image credit: individualpubs.co.uk

Next was The Boathouse - the back of the pub opens out onto The Cam via a lovely terrace - we didn't venture out into the chilly February air ourselves but there were a few die-hard smokers braving the cold. This pub is situated next door to Cambridge institution The Tivoli, housed inside a former cinema, which sadly burnt down in March.

Image credit: User Afreebing, Tripadvisor

With our bellies rumbling, we stopped at The Castle to sate our appetites. We can heartily recommend the steak and ale pie and bison burger and the boys inform me that the selection of real ale is also excellent.

Image credit: cambridgespots.co.uk
Our final stop was Jesus College Bar where we were keen to relive our Durham student days, see my cousin and take advantage of the student prices. The prices certainly did not disappoint, though as experts on our college bars due to our time in Durham we felt we could only rate it a 6/10 overall as it reminded us of Hatfield College bar, Durham. I'm being mean. Overall it was great, thanks to my cousin for getting us in and apart from a regrettable incident which involved him spilling the best part of a pint of beer over my Michael Kors coat, it was a lovely end to a lovely evening.

Jesus College Bar Cambridge
My cousin and I

Bacon and Goodbyes

There was just time for some more bacon sandwiches the next morning before we all said our goodbyes and set off home. It was so lovely to see the three of them - it’s so satisfying to see people you've not seen for ages and realising that nothing's changed and you're catapulted straight back into the good old days. Not so long between seeing each other next time you three!

Thanks for letting us stay Mike and Becky - we'll have to return in the summer for strawberries, Pimms and punting on The Cam. I'm even considering scheduling a trip to Brentwood, home of The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). We all know you’re a closet fan of the show really Tom!

On the drive back up north, we thought about how much we are looking forward to our next visit to an academic town, but this time one a bit further away. We are off to Cambridge, Massachusetts to visit my best friend Katy who is studying at Harvard, the clever clogs. Watch this space for Cambridge UK vs. Cambridge USA.


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