It may be crammed with boffins and bookworms, but this city of swooning poets and weeping willows appeals to the heart as much as the head, says resident E Jane Dickson. An asylum, in every sense of the word. There is peace in its quiet courts, glad young life on its wide green spaces. On a spring day smelling of lilac, you may be moved to knock out a sonnet or crack quark theory (really, how hard can it be?). And the tea shops aren’t bad, either.
There is no better place than Cambridge to buy books. Unlike Oxford, where town and gown each hold their own, Cambridge is basically a university on connecting streets. Each college has its distinct character. Most of the 31 colleges are fairly relaxed about visitors. The big show-stopper colleges (King’s, Trinity, St John’s) offer official tours for a fee, well worth it if you are interested in their history. In Trinity’s Wren Library, you can pore over Milton’s poems in his own handwriting and the original manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh. King’s College Chapel, where Oliver Cromwell drilled the New Model Army on rainy days, is a world-class wonder. By far the nicest way to enjoy its fantastic detail – spun-sugar vaulting raised on columns slender as reeds – is to attend choral evensong. The answering rhythms of voices and stone are a glory not soon forgotten.
Be fooled by the fantasy. Punting is so fun. From the Silver Street mooring, you can punt, row or kayak through the water-meadows to Grantchester. Kingfishers flash blue fire among the willows and it all looks like a Waterhouse painting (if Ophelia were to come floating by, you wouldn’t be surprised).