Days out in the UK: Cambridge, the city of cycles and college spires

“Cambridge was a joy,” renowned British author Zadie Smith once said. Admittedly she was talking about the world-famous university but the same can be said about this university town.

Above all what puts Cambridge on the world map has to be the reputable  University of Cambridge, which was founded in 1209. The town’s skyline is dominated by several college buildings, along with the spire of the Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church, the chimney of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and St John’s College Chapel tower.

Not exactly the target market for historic architecture or higher education, we were not there to see the majestic buildings though, so down the King’s Parade we went in search pf pastures less scholarly. Having said that, we may have had snuck in a photo or two.

The town offers quaint passages set around the historic market place and colleges and blend of independent shops is mingled with high street brands. The town centre and beyond is dotted with a number of independent eateries too so you’re spoilt for choice should you fancy a culinary break in between sightseeing or shopping.

“Take your time” reads the tagline on the Visit Cambridge website. Sadly, having arrived a little after midday we didn’t have that much time to take, so off it was to the market square. But, not before, speaking of time of course, checking out the Corpus Clock.

Corpus Clock as modelled by the bride-to-be


Conceived and funded by John C. Taylor, an old member of the Corpus Christi college, it was officially unveiled to the public on 19 September 2008 by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. It was was one of Time’s Best Inventions of 2008.

The dominating visual feature of the clock is a grim-looking metal sculpture of an insectoid which Taylor calls the Chronophage (literally “time eater”, from the Greek χρόνος [chronos] time, and εφάγον [ephagon] I ate). It moves its mouth, appearing to “eat up” the seconds as they pass, and occasionally it “blinks” in seeming satisfaction. The creature’s constant motion produces an eerie grinding sound that suits its task.

The market square is one of the most bustling spots in the city. People sitting on sidewalks, columns and monuments dining al fresco, fresh goods from fruits to olives to coffee, bargain hunters weaving around the stalls.

Trust me to hunt for a bargain or two. And of course I had to walk away with a new summer hat.

Speaking of bargains, if you walk down the little alleyways leading from the market square to Kings Parade, you are in for a treat of the aptly scholarly kind – there are quite a few second hand bookshops in Cambridge and if like me you’re a bookworm, you won’t come back empty-handed.

Cambridge is also truly the city of cycles. There may just be more bicycles than people. A census in 2004 counted 972 bikes at the train station alone. Jim Chisholm, a Cambridge Cycling Campaign spokesperson believes this is due to the city skipping on the motor revolution many cities underwent in the ’60s and ’70s.

Another interesting detail about Cambridge is just how smart and stylish the people are whether they are the locals, the students or the tourists. On the Saturday we visited the streets of the city resembled a fashion catwalk.

After a brisk walk around the alleyways and cobbled streets in search of independent shops, we had to go down to the riverbank of course. When in Cambridge, you have got to, surely?

We headed for The Backs named so as several colleges of the University of Cambridge back on to the River Cam, their grounds covering both banks of the river.

The scene unfolding before us was a painterly pastoral scene. Lush green grounds of the colleges beyond, the waters of River Cam shimmering in that magical mid-afternoon light in June and boats small and big skilfully steered by the young punters.

It was not only us admiring the views across the river though. We had plenty of company and quite a few people taking photos to make it last just that bit longer.

With the daylight waning on a balmy summer’s evening, we decided to take a quick coffee break, sitting outside Agora Restaurant whose owner turned out to be Turkish. It was only coffee for me and a Sprite for Mr O but seeing the menu which offers some all time favourite Turkish and Greek meze and dishes, I know we have another reason to come back to Cambridge.

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