Punting on the riverRecorded in the Domesday Book as Grantbridgeshire, after the River Granta, Cambridgeshire was formed from the historic counties of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, the isle of Ely and Petersborough.  For years, much of Cambridgeshire was inaccessible and unused, until Dutch engineers implemented a drainage program which helped transform this once useless Fens into a very rich and fertile farmland.    However, this county, located east of Suffolk, is not much known for the natural beauty of its landscape as much as it is known for the university that it houses, one of the oldest and greatest in the whole world.  However, venture out of this great university town and you will find quiet old towns with equally great architecture, in the form of grand cathedrals in the towns of Ely and Petersborough.  It is also home to the lowest point in the UK, the Holme Fen. 


Peterborough CathedralWith its old city centre long gone and replaced by a pedestrian area, Peterborough (pop 164,000) may not have much to offer in terms of antiquity.  The city, which stands against the River Nene, grew in size when the railway was built here in the 19th century, and hasn’t shown signs of slowing down as an industrial centre.  However, before you dismiss this city, you should know that it is home to one of the most overwhelmingly magnificent structures in England, which has luckily been spared.

Peterborough Cathedral
(Minster Precincts, +44 1733 343342), or its proper name, the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew, is the seat of the Bishop of Peterborough, and in a word, astounds.  It is considered a rare find in England, one of the most significant structures dating from the 12th century that has managed to remain intact, despite numerous restorations and extensions. 

The cathedral has had a long history, being founded in the Anglo-Saxon period as a monastery named Medeshamstede.  Presently, it is known for its Early English Gothic façade, which is what immediately inspires awe with its beauty and magnitude.  From a distance, you would notice that the two towers behind the façade were never finished, but this is rightfully overlooked.  Once you enter, do look up at the magnificent nave, with its 13th century ceiling, a painted timber ceiling that’s managed to retain its original paintwork. 

Catherine of Aragon WikipediaTwo tragic characters in English history were buried here.  One of them is Catherine of Aragon, whose divorce from the king Henry VIII resulted in the Reformation of England.  Her tomb is located by the North Choir aisle.  Mary Queen of Scots was also buried here, but when her son James took over the throne, he immediately took her remains to Westminster Abbey. 

Also, consider the Perpendicular fan vaulting crafter by the man who also worked on another magnificent church, the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, John Wastell. 

et in a Grade II-listed 17th century building, Bull Hotel
(Westgate, +44 1733 561364, £55-135) is a chic boutique hotel that has been recently refurbished, so everything feels brand-new.  The hotel is close to the cathedral, and opposite the Queensgate Shopping Centre, so it’s easy to spot.  The en-suite rooms are spacious, and the signal of the free Wi-Fi is quite strong, so you won’t feel disconnected here at all.

Ely Cathedral flickr Roger SaundersEly (pop.15,100) is a small city northeast of Cambridge, sitting serenely on a mound above the Great River Ouse.  It derived is name from the abundance of eels that the erstwhile island had around the fens that surrounded it, before the fens were drained in the seventeenth century.

Ely is a very small city—the sixth smallest in the United Kingdom, in fact.  Its medieval street plan and footpaths by the river are dominated by the overwhelmingly beautiful cathedral which defines this city.

Because the cathedral is the tallest structure in town (and the one that demands most of your attention and interest), treat it as a landmark.  Ely is a major stop in the railway station, and is directly connected to London.  It is a ten-minute walk from the cathedral, up Straight Road.

UK EAST ENGLAND Ely cathedral

Hailed as one of the seven wonders of the medieval world,
Ely Cathedral (The College, +44 1353 667735, £6) alone was responsible for conferring the status of city on unassuming Ely.  It is properly called the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely.

Built in cruciform with stone and carved with marble, the Ely Cathedral is hard to miss—it was in fact called the “ship of the Fens” because of its massive size dominating the low-lying city that used to be surrounded by marshland. 

You will enter the cathedral through the Galilee Porch, which is an Early English Gothic addition in the 19th century.  Once you enter, you will be astounded by the sheer height of the nave, as well as its length—the longest of its kind in the country. 

One of the cathedral’s special features is the Octagon or the “Lantern Tower”, something that was added in the 1320s to replace the collapsed central tower.  In the cathedral’s presbytery, you will find the remains of St. Etheldreda, who founded the first structure of Christian leanings on the site of the Cathedral.

The cathedral also has three chantry chapels, but what catches the attention is the Lady Chapel, which you can go to via the north transept.  This separate structure is the biggest in the country.  It’s collection of sculptures of martyrs and saints have long been gone, ransacked during the English Civil War.  However, the carvings on the fan vaulting still remain—authentic Gothic beauties that are this chapel’s claim to fame.

South of the long nave you will find the Stained Glass Museum (+44 1353 662062, £3.50), which houses an enviable collection of both religious and secular pieces of stained glass artworks from the 13th century to the present.

Oliver Cromwell StatueOliver Cromwell’s House (St. Mary’s Street, +44 1353 662062, £4.50).   Before Oliver Cromwell became the Protector of England, he lived in Ely for ten years as a humble tithe collector.  He lived in this timber-framed residence, which among the only two existing former abodes of Cromwell.  It now more popularly the city’s tourist office, but while there you can also look at the curious reconstruction of the house the way the Cromwells lived in it.

Ely Museum (Market Street, +44 1353 666655, £3.50) has a great display detailing the city’s history housed in the town’s Old Gaol.  For something more forward and contemporary, head to the Babylon Gallery (Waterside, +44 1353 616993, free) which houses many interesting temporary exhibitions in an old brewery.  While at Waterside, you might want to score a few bargains at the Waterside Antiques Centre (The Wharf, +44 1353 667066), the largest centre in Ely for antiques.

Killiney House (18 Barkhams Lane, Littleport, +44 1353 860404, £70)
has only two en-suite rooms, but these two rooms are serviced well.  Because there are only two rooms, customer service is highly personalized for the guests.  It also has a charming garden for a relaxing afternoon tea as well.

Very close the Ely Cathedral,
Cathedral House (17 St. Mary’s Street, +44 1353 662124, £80) is a Grade II-listed Georgian structure.  There are also two suits, both decorated in varied period styles.  Book here if you prefer to interact with your fellow guests, as you will be eating breakfast with them on a farmhouse table.

Cambridge puntingA quiet university town compared to its longtime rival, Oxford, Cambridge (pop.130,000) is rendered more visually stunning from “the Backs” which is literally a green expanse covering both banks of the River Cam.  From the Backs, a Grade I historic park, you will be provided with a unique point of view of several colleges.  Most of the older colleges in Cambridge that can be viewed from the Backs dominate that town centre, and the older among them date back from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Once you enter the university through the main gate, you will be greeted by a series of well-manicured courts that are surrounded by either college residences or administrations. 

The university has thirty-one colleges in all, and each is independent from each other.  Though no longer exclusive for boys from upper class British families, they still form a healthy part of the demographic.  The university is particularly popular with visitors during high summer, when they probably outnumber the students, so it’s good to avoid the university at this season, as the popular colleges tend to shorten their opening times because of this.  Also, avoid visiting during exam seasons (late April to early June), just out of respect for students.  Many colleges also do not allow visitors to go inside, and some that do tend to change their opening times, so check with tourist offices before going. 


In early 1200, Cambridge was a thriving commercial town.  By chance, the university of Cambridge was founded here in 1209 by a group of Oxford intellectuals who grew dissatisfied with the great divide between the townsfolk of Oxford and its brainy elite.  So they transformed the former Saxon settlement area of Cambridge into what became their former alma mater’s rival.  Originally, the students in Cambridge did not have their own structures to hold lectures in.  They used the parish churches around, and lived in the hostels.  In the late fourteenth century, the university began acquiring its own land.  It was then that Peterhouse, the first Cambridge college, was founded in 1284.  Until now, both universities, dubbed “Oxbridge” utilize the collegiate system that allows tutors and students to live in a community together.

Since then, royalties and nobilities, as well as town guilds founded their own colleges.  In 1972, they slowly started admitting women as students.  It has a long enviable list of alumni, ranging from rebel poets to Nobel Prize winners.  In its 800 years, it remains one of the greatest universities in the whole world, upon which many universities have been modeled.


Cambridge is a pretty compact town, and a walk through the various colleges may only take a day, or two if you’re planning to be more comprehensive.  The centre of the town is dominated pretty much by the university and its numerous colleges.  Before walking around, you must check with the Cambridge tourist office located on Wheeler Street, where you can get a guide to help you maximize your stay.  While you shouldn’t have to use the buses, you can easily rent bikes as this town is quite biker-friendly.


King's College chapel King’s College (King’s Parade, +44 1223331100, £5) was founded in 1441 by Henry VI, who had such grandiose and ambitious ideas for a college that by the time he died in 1471, little of his plans had been accomplished or even started, including the Great Court.  In fact, the site for the Great Court remained vacant for the next three hundred years.  The Great Court would only be built in the 1820s, following a design by William Wilkins in the Neo-Gothic persuasion. 

The most awe-inspiring structure this side of King’s Parade (and the rest of the university) is the King’s College Chapel.  Nothing will prepare you for the site of this majestic chapel, with its long stretch of nave, its four turrets jutting out into the sky—it is one of the greatest examples of the late Gothic Perpendicular style.  The interiors are just as amazing—its stained glass windows commissioned by Henry VIII were done by Flemish craftsmen and feature depictions of the Old and New Testament.   The choir screen also features elaborate woodwork Italian Renaissance-style, and a fitting stage for the world-famous boys’ choir.

King’s College was one of the first colleges to accept women as students in 1972, and thus is considered one of the most progressive.  Some of its most famous alumni include author E.M. Forster and economist John Maynard Keynes.

King’s College and Chapel are not hard to miss – they dominate King’s Parade, the town’s former High Street.

Great St. Mary
(St. Mary’s Passage, +44 1223 462914), located north of King’s Parade, is the church of the university that goes back to the fifteenth century.  For an amazing view of the surrounding colleges, climb the tower of the church which was only added in the 1600s. 

Senate House is not open for visitors, but you can appreciate it for its central role in the university.  This is, after all, where some of the best minds in the world gather for their graduation rites.  Senate House, designed in the Neo-Classicist tradition by James Gibbs, was originally part of a quadrangle plan, though it was never finished.

Gonville and Caius College (Trinity St., +44 1223 332400) is more popularly known among students as Caius (pronounced as “keys” after one of its founders, John Keys, who had his name Latinized—a common practice among the intellectual elite in those days).  Caius was a notorious educator, who insisted on discriminating against students who were partially disabled.  This tradition did not hold for long, though.

However, that is not only Caius’s contribution to the college.  His more lasting legacy includes the three gates for which the college is most famous for.  These three gates symbolize different paths to scholarly enlightenment.  The first one is called The Gate of Humility, which is the entrance to the college.  The Gate of Virtue features the female figures of Fame and Wealth, marking the entrance to Caius Court.  The last one, the Gate of Honour, leads to the Senate House, where students graduate.

Great Court, Trinity College Trinity College (St. John’s St., +44 1223 338400, £1) abounds in superlatives—it is the largest of all the Cambridge colleges in terms of student number, and the largest courtyard to accommodate this number.  It also is deemed the most aristocratic among colleges, as it had many royalties under its wing.  It also has a long enviable list of intellectuals and creative thinkers such as writers Dryden, Byron, Tennyson, Nabokov and Thackeray, philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russel, and Isaac Newton, who calculated the speed of sound in the college’s Neville’s Court.

Wren Library, Trinity CollegeEntering Trinity College, you will find a statue of the founder, Henry VIII.  It looks majestic, until you notice that in his right hand he is holding a leg of a table.  Apparently it is a prank by one of the university students—it gives a playful introduction to the brilliant minds that gather here.

As you pass through the Great Gate and unto the Great Court, you will be stunned simply by its magnitude, and then slowly you will get to appreciate the grand Tudor buildings that surround the court. 

You will also find the Wren Library within Trinity College grounds.  West of Neville’s Court, Wren Library is one of the most famous buildings in the university, and one of its unique features is the fact that from the outside, you will never guess how big it actually is.  This is all thanks to Christopher Wren’s clever device of concealing the floor level.  Wren Library contains many important manuscripts, including manuscripts by AA Milne (another alumna), letters by Isaac Newton, and some of Shakespeare’s First Folios.  Students all have a privilege of viewing these while inside the library lit by natural lighting that complement the dark wood interiors quite well.

St John's CollegeSt. John’s College (Bridge St., +44 1223 338600).  The second biggest college in the university was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VIII.  Her coat of arms is displayed prominently on the Great Gate.  Though one of the most picturesque structures, it is also quite “gloomy” according to one of its former residents, William Wordsworth.  Further along the Third Court you will find the Bridge of Sighs, which links the older part of the college to the New Court.

Modeled after the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,
Round Church (Bridge St., £2) (which also goes by the name Holy Sepulchre) was built in the twelfth century, and is one of only four structures of its kind in England.  It is also a Grade I listed structure.  It is a little odd-looking, because of the medieval extensions added belatedly in its rear years after it was built. 

Originally a Benedictine hostel,
Magdalene College (Magdalene St., +44 1223 332100) became a college in the 1540s, and is most well-known for being the last college in Cambridge to admit women in 1988.  Its best feature is the Pepys Library, which was donated by Samuel Pepys, most famous for his diary that was only discovered in the nineteenth century. It is located in the college’s second courtyard.

The grounds that
Jesus College (Jesus Ln, +44 1223 339339) now stands on used to be a Benedictine nunnery, hence its cloister-like atmosphere.  However, its cloister-like atmosphere did not stop many of the nuns from gaining a notorious reputation in the university, which forced the founder Bishop Alcock to chase them out and turn the nunnery into a college.

The nuns weren’t the only notorious former residents of Jesus College.  Years later, the college would know a student by the name of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was infamous for his unconventional opinions and general misbehaving, and who would later be kicked out.

Despite all this misbehaving, Jesus College is still pretty.  Its Cloister Court is indeed one of the prettiest in the entire university.  The college itself, restored in the nineteenth century, used ceilings designed by William Morris, and stained glasses dating back from the Pre-Raphaelite days.

UK EAST ENGLAND CAMBRIDGE Corpus Christi College Cambridge UniversitySitting on King’s Parade is
Corpus Christi College (St. Andrew’s St., +44 1223 338000), founded by two town guides in 1352.  It admits the least number of students in Cambridge, due to its small size, but it is also one of the wealthiest ones in the university.  One of its most famous alumni is Christopher Marlowe, who purportedly wrote Tamburlaine in the college’s Old Court. 

This small college may indeed be small, but it contains within its quarters many important documents.  In the college library, there are a great number of significant Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, while in St. Bene’t’s Church, you will find the priced Thomas Hobson’s Bible, encased in glass.  The tower of St. Bene’t’s Church, built in the Anglo-Saxon era, is also the oldest building in the university.

Founded by two queens in 1448 and 1465 (first by Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI, then by Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV),
Queens’ College (Silver St., +44 1223 335511) is one of the two colleges occupying both banks of the River Cam.  Its two courtyards, Old Court and Cloister Court, are what attract many prospective students to the college, for its ivy-laced beauty.  Queens’ College also has the last remaining half-timbered building in Cambridge: the Long Gallery of the President’s Lodge.

Adjoining the college on the side of the river is the Mathematical Bridge, which was copied from the original mid-18th century one, which, as fable has it, was built without nuts and bolts by Isaac Newton.  This story is simply fictional, though, as it was built long after Newton died.

UK EAST ENGLAND CAMBRIDGE MATHEMATICAL BRIDGEFitzwilliam Museum (Trumpington St., +44 1223 332900).  Deemed the best museum in the university, the Fitz, as it is called by the locals, was built to house the massive collection donated by the Viscount Fitzwilliam.  Its building is a grandiose hodgepodge of different architectural influences.  Following the donation given by the Viscount Fitzwilliam, many soon followed, thus the tradition of donating private collections began.  At best, the museum reflects the changing trends among the British upper class.  It is also one of the first public museums in the country.

In the lower galleries, you will find many antediluvian collections from different ancient civilizations.  The upper galleries concentrate mostly on paintings and sculptures sourced from European artists of the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Scott Polar Research Institute
(Lensfield Rd., +44 1223 336540) houses great exhibits detailing epic journeys to the Arctic.  It is named in the honor of explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a naval officer who led two expeditions to the Polar regions, only to die on the way back from the second one.  There are displays dedicated to his brave expeditions to the Polar regions, including the last letters he and his crew sent out to their families.  The institute also has exhibitions on the native cultures of the Arctic. 

Covering over forty acres of land and containing more than eight thousand plant species, the
University Botanic Gardens (1 Brookside, +44 1223 336265, £4) was founded in 1760 by John Henslow.  The outdoor beds are curiously arranged in natural order, but there is also a series arranged according to when they were first introduced to Britain.  The garden also has a magnificent collection of tropical houses.

Kettle’s Yard (Castle St., +44 1223 748100) stands on Castle St., the former home of Jim and Helen Ede.  Jim Ede was a former assistant keeper at the Tate Modern, and was a great believer in the arts.  Over the years, he collected many paintings because of his connections to the art world, and eventually opened his house to young artists. He eventually gave the house and its collections to the university.

Punting:  No one goes to Cambridge without doing (or attempting) a little punting on the River Cam.  But if you keep falling off, then it is perhaps a better option to swallow your pride and opt for chauffeured punting.


Finches Bed and Breakfast (144 Thornton Road, +44 1223 276653, £55-70).  Located in a peaceful residential area but near to must-see sights such as the Fitzwilliam Museum,  Finches Bed and Breakfast has clean and comfortable rooms, and a great English breakfast served by owners Jane and Nigel with a smile.

Varsity Hotel and Spa (Thomson’s Lane, +44 1223 306030, £155).  An unassuming building from the outside, the Varsity Hotel and Spa has forty-eight rooms that reflect its Cambridge legacy.  The hotel is located in a quiet residential area, so it might be easy to miss, but the peace and quiet, plus the comfort and luxury of each room are not to be missed.  The top rooms have a great view of the university town.

Set in an unassuming house run by a family,
Carolina Guest House (138 Perne Road, +44 1223 247015, £60) has been in the business for ten years, and offer great accommodations.  The rooms are clean and comfortable, and if you don’t want to walk all the way to the city centre, there is a bus stop nearby that will take you there.

Leverton House (732 Newmarket Road, +44 1223 292094, £50-70) rooms  have been recently refurbished so you can be sure that any of the en-suite rooms you book will be clean, cozy, and well-decorated.  The hostess Wendy also offers a great welcome.

Most of the hotels in the centre of Cambridge cost an arm and a leg, so Regent Hotel (41 Regent St., +44 1223 351470, £109) is considered great value for money in this case.  Some of its rooms can use a little refurbishing, though they are all spacious and offer a great view of the nearby sights.

Set in a Victorian house, Alexander Bed and Breakfast (56 St. Barnabas Road, +44 1223 525725, £75) is very near the train and coach stations, as well as the town centre.  Their rooms are all spacious as well, though a minimum of two days is required for your stay.  For visitors planning a long term stay, this is a perfect b&b to consider, as they will do your laundry for no charge at all.

Hotel du Vin (15-19 Trumpington St., +44 1223 227330, £135)
is known for its luxury boutique hotel line, and it’s easy to see why in this Cambridge branch.  The hotel is housed in a medieval structure, and the reconstruction has managed to incorporate the many quirks of the original building.  The showers can be a little small, though, because of the old structure.  The location is unparalleled as it is at the heart of the town.

For such a small, humble village off the River Cam, Grantchester (pop. 552) surely makes quite an impression.  It supposedly has the most number of Nobel Prize winners as residents, and the people who have come to hang out range from Rupert Brooke, to Virginia Woolf.  It’s an essential side trip from Cambridge, and you can easily reach it by punting on the River Cam.

Grantchester meadows Wikipedia Ian Howard

A short trip to Granchester is not complete without sipping tea under fruit trees in the Orchard House (45-47 Mill Way, +44 1223 551125).  The Orchard House was not originally a tea house—it was simply an orchard where students would sometimes go to.  But one day, these students requested Mrs. Stevenson to serve them tea under the trees—when she said yes, they began a tradition, and eventually a place that attracted people like the Bloomsbury Group of Writers.

Rupert Brooke, who wrote “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester” was a former lodger at the Orchard House, when he was still a student at the King’s College.  He is the village’s most beloved former resident.


Imperial War Museum, Bomber nose flickr exfordy

Based on the site where the Duxford Aerodrome was located, the Imperial War Museum Duxford [Lambeth Road, +44 20 7416 5320] is the biggest museum dedicated to aviation in Europe.  A few miles south of Cambridge, Duxford displays close to two hundred waxed aircraft and other military vehicles and paraphernalia. 

Duxford played an important role in both the two World Wars, and was even operated by the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force for some time.  Nowadays, the exhibits mimic the old layout of Duxford, using well-preserved original buildings. 

You can also find in this branch of the Imperial War Museum, the American Air Museum.  This contains the biggest collection of American aircraft, both civil and military, outside of the United States.  The structure was designed by architect Norman Foster.

Aside from the permanent displays, the Imperial War Museum Duxford has regular air shows.