This walk is long and flat and gets better as the day progresses after a somewhat dull morning: the route into Cambridge is lovely, particularly after Grantchester.
Near the start, to lessen the amount of road walking which faces you today, you may take what is now a “Permissive Path” along a farm track besides the River Cam, from Little Shelford to Hauxton Church: you no longer need the farmer’s written permission in advance to walk along this path, as in bygone times.
The route then passes through the village of Hauxton, with its interesting church, then on to Haslingfield for lunch. From there you head to Grantchester and tea in the Orchard tearooms before walking besides the River Cam into Cambridge. Try to conserve enough energy to take the walk’s tour of Cambridge colleges at walk-end.
To avoid the less-than-exciting morning, and spend more time exploring Cambridge, a Cambridge via Granchester Circular walk has been devised (see Walk Options below). Whichever walk you choose, please note your tarmac count today will be high and this is telling on the feet. Consequently you may prefer to wear well cushioned trainers instead of walking boots.
Perhaps Friends of the Earth should employ poets. Writing a famous poem must be as effective a way as any of ensuring that a place is preserved forever. Rupert Brooke’s poem The Old Vicarage – he had rooms as a student at the Orchard, and later at the Old Vicarage, Grantchester – was written in a mood of nostalgia in a Berlin café, in May 1912. The poem celebrates not only Grantchester and the river (‘Laughs the immortal river still/Under the mill, under the mill?’), but the surrounding countryside (‘And sunset still a golden sea /From Haslingfield to Madingley’). Augustus John camped in Grantchester meadows with, as Keynes put it, his “two wives and ten naked children”; Brooke and Virginia Woolf (who dubbed his friends the “Neo-Pagans”) swam naked by moonlight; EM Foster visited the Orchard; Wittgenstein would come there by canoe; AN Whitehead and Bertrand Russell worked on their Principia Mathematica at the Mill House, next to the Old Vicarage. As for the church clock (‘Oh! Yet /Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?’), in Brooke’s first draft at half past three (the actual time it was stuck at for most of 1911).
The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Shelford, was rebuilt at the expense of its rector, Thomas Patesley, in the early fifteenth century. It contains a mural of the last judgement which was painted about then, showing the devils on the left of Christ dragging away the damned in a chain.
St Edmunds Church, Hauxton, is renowned as one of the oldest and most interesting small churches in Cambridgeshire, with Norman windows, doors and chancel arch; a thirteenth-century font bowl; a fifteenth-century pulpit and nave roof. It also contains a rare thirteenth-century fresco of St Thomas à Becket, which survived Henry VIII’s depredations; and, having been previously walled up, this fresco also survived the vandalism of the notorious puritan William Dowsing (who, in 1643, destroyed “three popish pictures” in this church). St Edmund became King of East Anglia in 856 at the age of 15, and was killed 13 years later by the Danes for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
The oldest surviving building in Cambridge is St Bene’t’s Church, which has a Saxon tower. Cambridge University was founded in the early thirteenth century by students and academics fleeing riots in Oxford, where the townsfolk felt imposed on by the academics. Within a couple of centuries, the university dominated the Cambridge townsfolk too: in 1440 Henry VI had a large part of medieval Cambridge demolished to make way for King’s College, intended for students from his new Eton school; in 1496 a twelfth-century nunnery became Jesus College; in 1542 a Benedictine hostel was transformed into Magdalene College; and in 1596 Trinity College was endowed by Henry VIII with funds from the monasteries he had vandalised.
The Orchard Tea Rooms date from 1897, although the orchard’s apple trees were planted eleven years earlier. Soon after opening the tearooms became a favourite up-river café of college students. In the tearoom’s early years the owners took in lodgers to supplement their income, one being Rupert Brooke. Today college students punt up to the Orchard for tea – or a champagne breakfast after May Balls. During Cambridge’s Fringe Festival summer evening performances of Shakespeare are held at the Orchard.
The Travelling Telescope to the west of Cambridge is built on a section of the former Cambridge to Bedford railway line. Owned and operated by Cambridge University, the telescope consists of a number of large aperture synthesis radio telescopes, the original of which date from 1957.
Cambridge University Botanic Garden dates from 1846 and is a 40 acre garden which today contains over 8,000 species of plants from around the world, in a beautifully landscaped setting. Open April to September from 10am to 6pm; February, March and October from 10am to 5pm; and January, November and December from 10am to 4pm. Entrance fee (2020) £ 6.00.
The suggested lunchtime pub is the Little Rose (tel 01223-870 618) in Haslingfield. Open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday only (2020), closed lunchtime weekdays. The pub serves basic pub food with steaks on Saturday and roasts on a Sunday. You should phone ahead to check that the pub is open (it has closed down at least once in recent years, and current opening is “hit and miss”); if not open, you will find a village shop just up the road where you can purchase a good selection of snacks for a picnick lunch to keep you going until Grantchester – and tea at the Orchard Tea Rooms. Should you prefer a late lunch in Grantchester you have a choice of three good pubs, the Rupert Brooke, the Red Lion and the Green Man: all usually serve food all day ( although a snack in Haslingfield, then tea in the Orchard is recommended ).