Car-free days out from Stortford – Cambridge: A five-mile café crawl between its stations taking in churches, colleges, markets, museums and meadows
In an occasional series, Phoebe Taplin writes about getting away from Bishop's Stortford for a day out – without taking the car. First up, she visits Cambridge...
Leaving the car behind can make a day out more of an adventure as well as helping the environment.
Cambridge has always been good for car-free outings from Bishop's Stortford. A five-mile café crawl between the city's two railway stations is packed with interesting sights to choose from: churches, colleges, markets, museums and willow-bordered meadows.
And Cambridge North railway station, opened in 2017, is a great starting point for walks that follow the River Cam, heading to Waterbeach station, four miles away, or south through the city for an unforgettable stroll.
Exit from Cambridge North station – where new statue 'Hercules Meets Galatea', by Matthew Darbyshire, was unveiled last summer – and turn left past the bike racks, following signs for the city centre.
Turn right onto Fen Road, left after house No 46 and then left again along the towpath, under the railway, and the Abbey-Chesterton footbridge.
Cross over this smart new footbridge and turn right back along the River Cam. Just keep going – on paths, roads and, eventually, a boardwalk – for two miles with the water always on your right.
After about three-quarters of a mile you reach the tall-chimneyed Museum of Technology, a riverside Victorian pumping station full of industrial heritage like steam-powered engines and boilers (£3/£5 for kids/adults, see www.museumoftechnology.com). It is mostly open at weekends, but riverside café Kerb Kollective is open every day so you can stop off for vegan focaccia or a peanut butter cookie (www.facebook.com/kerbkollective).
Walking beside grassy Midsummer Common and Jesus Green, with swans on the water and boathouses lining the far bank, you'll pass the Fort St George pub, the lido and lock.
Finally, turn left at Magdalen Bridge onto Bridge Street. You could detour right here 250 metres over the bridge to visit the Kettle's Yard gallery (free, but book ahead at www.kettlesyard.co.uk) and, next to it, little St Peter's, the oldest church in Cambridge.
Just before the distinctive Round Church, turn right into St John's Street. You might want to look inside the church first to admire the Norman arches and wooden angels in a building that predates the university (£1/£3.50 for teens/adults, under-13s free, see roundchurchcambridge.org).
Follow St John's Street past the colleges – St John's has fantastical beasts over the door and Trinity has Henry VIII – to Michaelhouse Café, set in a converted chapel. Eat the likes of lentil salad with ginger dressing or squash and gruyère bake under stained glass and gothic arches (www.michaelhousecafe.com).
Before you turn right into little Trinity Lane, you could climb the tower of Great St Mary's for views across the city. The tower is generally open afternoons and costs £6 (www.greatstmarys.org).
Follow Trinity Lane left, turn right into Garrett Hostel Lane and cross the footbridge. Turn left and follow the path over the grassy area known as the backs, which has impressive views of colleges, including King's. There are carpets of aconites in the college grounds in spring.
When you reach Silver Street, turn left over the Cam to see the wooden Mathematical Bridge. The Fitzwilliam Museum, filled with suits of armour and mummy cases, paintings and porcelain, is about 10 minutes round the corner (free, but book ahead at www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk). The neoclassical museum building is on Trumpington Road, which provides a short cut to Bateman Street.
For a slightly longer but beautifully rural route, turn right past the Anchor pub, right over a footbridge and left beside the river with the water on your left. Cross Fen Causeway into a field and keep going. Turn left over a green footbridge and follow the tarmac path ahead, with a stream on your right. At a signed junction, fork left (signed to the station) beside a wall. Turn left along Trumpington Road and right along Bateman Street past an entrance to the Botanic Garden (free/£7.50 for kids/adults, see www.botanic.cam.ac.uk).
The garden, with its hothouses, scented winter walk and carpets of February snowdrops, is definitely worth a look if you have time. If not, it makes a great outing in its own right, being only five minutes from Cambridge station.
Walk along Bateman Street and right, or exit from the garden near Station Road. Vegan Stem and Glory is on the right just before the railway station, offering kimchi pancakes, barbecue cauliflower wings and raw chocolate marble cake (www.stemandglory.uk/cambridge).