Walk 7: Cambridge City Centre Circular Walk: Colleges & Culture

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4 miles (6.44 km)

Time to walk: As this walk takes in the centre of Cambridge it could take a whole day depending on how many colleges, shops, cafes etc you want to visit

Difficulty: All on hard paths apart from one small stretch along ‘The Backs’, but easy going

Parking: Cambridge isn’t really car friendly & the city centre car parks are expensive so it’s best to use a ‘Park & Ride’. There’s quite a few around the city & we chose the Babraham one which is about a 20 minute ride in. It also takes you to the starting point of our walk

Public toilets: Plenty in the cafes, bars etc

Map of the route: 

Best just to follow our directions below

Best just to follow our directions below

So what can we tell you about this walk which we did in early January 2014? Well it’s very much based around the history of the City & the University Colleges which contain so much history & tradition & were formed when a group of Oxford Dons escaped to the area in 1225. Click on this link for a Wikipedia history of the City

As we mention each College we’ve shown their crest, scarf & oar colours

Cambridge is full of little alleyways, passages & doors to peep through so be brave &…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts where the ‘Park & Ride’ bus drops us off in Emmanuel Street. We walk to the end & turn right into one of the City’s main streets, St Andrew’s Street. It’s worth a short detour left at the traffic lights to have a quick look at Emmanuel College which is one of the larger ones


2. Now let’s retrace our steps & continue down St Andrew’s Street…

…ahead on the right lies the towers of Christ’s College which was open today & free to enter so let’s have a peep inside…

And… in a noisy, bustling City you are immediately transported to peace & calm – a feature of all the colleges

Through every doorway lies another 'treasure'

Through every doorway lies another ‘treasure’

3. Back out in the street we take the left fork down Sidney Street, one of the main shopping areas…

4. If you fancy a quick detour then turn left as it’s well worth a visit to Cambridge’s local market which runs 7 days a week & has some great stalls, including butchers & fishmongers

5. Continue back up Sidney Street & keep left when it forks at the Pattisserie below…

Go on…you know you want to

Go on…you know you want to

…& continue until we reach the Round Church. Dating back to about 1130 AD it’s one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge. Unfortunately today it was being renovated

Here's what it should have looked like

Here’s what it should have looked like

If you’ve got a ‘sweet’ tooth you may want to cross the road…Hardy’s Original Sweetshop

6. It’s time to look at some more colleges so let’s turn right down St John’s Street. On the right is St John’s College which was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. We’ll come back to this college via the back door later

7. The next one we come to is Trinity College. Founded by Henry VIII it’s the richest college in the City

The main entrance is particularly impressive with the statue of Henry VIII in the middle. In his hand he holds a table leg instead of the original sword & myths abound as to how the switch was carried out & by whom. Beneath the founder’s statue are the coats of arms of Edward III the founder of King’s Hall, & those of his five sons who survived to maturity, as well as William of Hatfield, whose shield is blank as he died as an infant, before being granted arms

Note the table leg

Note the table leg

Typical Cambridge scene…watch out for them though if you're driving at night as most don't have lights !!!!

Typical Cambridge scene…watch out for them though if you’re driving at night as most don’t have lights !!!!

If you have a look to the right you’ll see a solitary apple tree. The rooms here were once those of Sir Isaac Newton, the famous mathematician & natural philosopher. The apple tree reputes to be descended from the one at his home at Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire.

8. In spite of being the richest college Trinity charges you to walk around its stunning courtyard. So…fancy seeing it for free? Well follow us…

Continue along & turn down Trinity Lane &, on the right, step through the doorway. You’re barred from going into the courtyard, but hey….

Wow..why pay

Wow..why pay

Just peep through the door

Just peep through the door

Love it that the Porters still wear the bowlers

Love it that the Porters still wear the bowlers

9. The alleyways around here are just great…

If you have a look at the photo below you’ll see that most of the ground floor windows have bars on them. This is common in Cambridge as the College doors were locked at night & it was done in an effort to stop students climbing in or out

10. We keep following the road & pass Clare College (another one we’ll come back to later)…


…but now let’s head towards & into one of Cambridge’s most famous buildings…King’s College Chapel.

11. If ever you’ve watched the Xmas Eve Carol Service from Kings then this is where it’s broadcast from. You pay around £7.50 to go in, but it’s so worth it.

Click on this link for a sample of the Carol Concert

It’s a incredible building, started in 1446 by Henry VI (1421-71) & took over a century to build. It has the largest fan vault in the world & some of the finest medieval stained glass windows. There’s several exhibitions inside, but what you need to appreciate is that the ceiling is just suspended, simply held together by the round lock stones

12. We exit the Chapel into King’s College courtyard.

…& walk through the magnificent arch into King’s Parade

13. Let’s initially turn left & walk along King’s Parade. On the right is a famous University Shop selling all the College Colours…

…& on our left is another view of King’s. The roof of the building below is famous for a student prank

Read the above link for the full story

14. At the end of the Parade is another very famous College…Gonville & Caius. The college is the fourth-oldest college at the University of Cambridge & one of the wealthiest

The statues are the founders...

The statues are the founders…

15. This college also has a link with Northampton as it was where Francis Crick, with his college James Watson, first discovered DNA – we’ll come back to that later, although if you look through the gate you’ll see a floor sculpture commemorating this

16. It’s worth just turning down the small passage between King’s & Caius. If you have a look through the gates on the left you can see the old buildings of King’s & how a grand facade has simply been added on later…

Note the old original building behind the facade

Note the old original building behind the facade

On the opposite side of the lane is the Gate of Honour (sometimes called the Gate of Virtue)

This structure was built around 1575 & is one of the earliest examples of Italian Renaissance style in England.

The Gate of Honour is one of three gates built at the same time within Gonville & Caius College was intended to symbolise the students’ intellectual journey.

The first – The Gate of Humility – is now in the Master’s Garden, but was originally entered from the street. The second, The Gate of Virtue, is between Tree & Caius Court.

Students still pass through the Gate of Honour, in Caius Court, on their way to graduation in the Senate House; marking the final stage of their education

17. Okay let’s retrace our steps back to King’s Parade & head back past King’s College…

Another fine old sweet shop...

Another fine old sweet shop…

…& on the corner to Bene’t Street is the fabulous Corpus Clock. We dare you not to stand & watch the Grasshopper for ages!

18. Let’s head down Bene’t Street as it’s time for a well earned drink & comfort break at one of Cambridge’s most famous pubs. Before we do though on the other side of the road is St Bene’t’s Church which is Anglo-Saxon & the oldest building in Cambridge

19. Right let’s explore this pub…The Eagle

The Eagle Pub is famous for quite a few reasons. Firstly, as the plaque says on the wall, it was where Crick & Watson chose to announce their discovery of DNA

Let’s move through into the courtyard of the pub…

Note the open window above...

Note the open window above…

The second thing this pub is famous for is the open upstairs window & the ghost.

A fire raged through the upstairs bedrooms a few hundred years ago & a young child, unable to open the window, was trapped inside & burnt to death. Ever since, the window has been kept open, & on occasions when it has been closed, it has brought bad luck. The last time the new owners closed it a fire broke out downstairs. It’s even claimed that it is now written into the lease that the window must always remain open & it’s understood it’s now nailed permanently open.

Finally the third thing this pub is famous for is The RAF Bar. The ceiling is covered in the graffiti of British & American WWII pilots who burned their names & squadron numbers there using cigarette lighters, candles & lipstick. These were hidden by decades of smoke & grime until former RAF technician James Chainey painstakingly restored & recorded the inscriptions. These include a naked woman drawn in lipstick, apparently the outline of the pub landlady!

We went back there that night for dinner & can say that the fish, chips & mushy peas are pretty darn good!

20. Suitably refreshed we cross over the road & down Free School Lane

On the left is the original buildings of the Cavendish Laboratory which has since moved. It’s famous as a research institute & was heavily involved in the Atomic Bomb

21. At the end of Free School Lane we emerge onto Pembroke Street & it’s time to have a look inside Pembroke College

Pembroke is like so many of the colleges…on the outside is the hustle & bustle of the city whereas inside is peace & serenity. The Chapel is a must see…

Built after the Civil War by Christopher Wren, the striking marble floor, the intricate plaster roof, & the glowing ancient woodwork make it a jewel-like & truly lovely space. Have a look at the pews & you can see the carvings of past students

The cloisters are also striking in the low January sun…

22. It’s time to go & have a look at the famous Backs so let’s retrace our steps back towards King’s Parade & turn left down Silver Street passing Queen’s College on the right

23. Eventually we come to the river &, on the right, get a view of the Mathematical Bridge

…& over the road is a promise of summer days, Pimms & strawberries!

The footpath to ‘The Backs’ lies below…

24. So what are ‘The Backs’? It’s an area where several colleges back on to the river. The name ‘The Backs’ refers to the backs of the colleges. Historically, much of the land was used by the colleges for livestock or growing fruit. The river was also an important commercial access to the mill at Silver Street.

In 1995 English Heritage listed ‘The Backs’ as a Grade 1 historic park

Another world away...

Another world away…

25. Working our way along ‘The Backs’ we come to the back gate to King’s College…

Even the back entrance is impressive & guarded by a man wearing a bowler!!

Even the back entrance is impressive & guarded by a man wearing a bowler!!

The view across ‘The Backs’ to King’s is one of the most famous in Cambridge…

…but we keep moving along for about another 100 yards until we reach the gates to Clare College – remember we saw the front of that earlier? Clare is very accessible.

26. Passing through the gates we soon come to the bridge over the Cam & there’s great views

After crossing the bridge we enter the beautiful courtyards of Clare College

Just keep heading straight & we emerge out of the front of Clare College close to King’s Chapel again

27. Now we turn left after coming out of the front of Clare & then take the first street left into Garret Hostel Lane, heading back towards the river

Another great little Cambridge back street

Another great little Cambridge back street

We need to cross the bridge…

Be careful!!

Be careful!!

…& head out on ‘The Backs’ again, turning right

28. Okay, it’s now time to be sneaky…

We’re looking for ‘The Back’s gate to St John’s College – remember they were charging to go through the front one? Here it is…

Sneaky, sneaky...

Sneaky, sneaky…

29. So now we’re inside relax & let’s enjoy the views as we pass along the path heading straight towards the river again



On reaching the river we turn left as we need to cross the bridge below…

Stunning…look at that reflection & The Bridge of Sighs is behind

Stunning…look at that reflection & The Bridge of Sighs is behind

As we cross the bridge on our left is St John’s College’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’

It’s a covered bridge built in 1831, the architect being Henry Hutchinson

It is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice although they have little architecturally in common beyond the fact that they are both covered. The bridge is one of Cambridge’s main tourist attractions & Queen Victoria is said to have thought it her favourite place in the city.

A common myth states that it was the students who named this bridge “Bridge of Sighs,” as the context of its existing within the college grounds means that the “sighs” are those of pre-exam students. Students are rumoured for their sighs on proceeding from their quarters on the Backs to the tutor’s offices in the main college quadrangle.

30. After crossing the bridge we turn sharp left & then right into the inner courtyard & keep straight on doffing your cap to the man on the front gate taking the money from the people coming in the front gate

We emerge again onto St John’s Street, turning left with The Round Church ahead. On reaching the junction turn left down Bridge Street…

…& cross the river again – we’ll come back here but that’s Magdalene College on the right

31. Be careful heading straight over the busy crossroads & head up the hill past Kettle’s Yard

…until we reach the The Castle Inn on the right

32. Just past this we turn immediately right into the car park where we come across Castle Mound

…& if it’s there you just have to climb it. Stick to the steps to reach the summit & you’ll be rewarded with great views over the city

33. Now we retrace our steps back down the hill & over the bridge, turning straight left along the boardwalk along the river where there are several chain restaurants

At the end of the boardwalk we emerge into Jesus Green…

Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?

34. Our next part of this walk follows the river path…

The end of a Sunday morning's rowing

The end of a Sunday morning’s rowing

35. We’re now in Midsummer Common. Opposite the Cambridge University Boat Club (there’s only one mission on their minds) also known as The Goldie we need to take the right hand path across the common…

…& head towards the futuristic toilets (an armadillo?)

36. Turning left along Victoria Avenue we cross straight over past Wesley Methodist Church on the right…

…before crossing over the zebra crossing into the park

37. Now we simply head straight across the diagonal path through the park back to the bus station in Emmanuel Street

Blossom in January?

Blossom in January?

Well that’s the end of our walk around Cambridge & we’ve only just touched the surface.

We actually did this walk over 2 days combining it with college visits & shops, cafes & bars etc. The best recommendation we can give you though is just go, take your time & explore…especially the back streets

Go Walk!


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