It was difficult choosing which run route should be my first Cambridge-related post on this website, but I went out this morning and did this route, and it was an absolute winner. This was probably my favourite regular run route as a student, as I tried to visit Grantchester Meadows at least once a week.
Starting at the back of St John’s College, going south along Newmarket Road until you get to the back of Queens’ College, is a great warm-up. I tend to stretch once I get to Queens’, at the intersection with Silver Street. This section of Cambridge is known as the ‘backs’, originally titled as it goes past the back of some of the major colleges of the university (St John’s, Trinity, Clare, King’s, and then Queens’). In the summer there are often cows on the fields by King’s, and for much of this bit you can see the River Cam. This road is particularly busy for Cambridge, both in terms of pedestrians and cars, so I tend to avoid running along it during rush-hour. Additionally there is very poor lighting, so unless I have a torch attached to me, I really dislike running along here after dark. This route isn’t ideal after dark anyway, as there is no lighting along the meadows, but it is absolutely beautiful early in the morning (at any time of year).
It is a bit fiddly once you have gone over the junction by Silver Street, the easiest way is to go straight over the roundabout, and just follow the road down the side of the park, until you get to the next intersection. As you can see from the map below, I prefer running through the park (and sometimes will go along the river/Lammas Land – but this can be incredibly muddy), but sticking to the road is best to avoid getting lost! Once you get to the next intersection go straight over, and keep going straight until you get to the south end of Granchester St. Here turn right on Grantchester Meadows, and just keep going straight. The houses soon dissipate, there’s a (usually puddle-filled) car-park, and it opens up onto the meadows. The river is at the bottom of the fields on your left, and the path is parallel with the Cam. The concrete path runs along the length of the meadows, and finishes in the town of Grantchester.
In the summer I like to go right to the end of the path (popping out behind a pub, and in front of a little church), and then loop back going along the path by the river. This path is extremely damp at the best of times, so expect mud, but is extremely pretty. This whole route is very popular with walkers/runners, but it’s big enough that it never feels busy or congested.
If you want a slightly longer route, you can turn left when you reach the church, and follow the road down (for about 2km) until you see a sign for Byron’s Pool. If you cross the road, and head into the little nature reserve on your right the path takes you out to a little weir in the river, which Lord Byron used to frequent during his Cambridge days. It’s an excellent spot for swimming, as is much of the river in Grantchester (as it’s upstream of the town, so significantly cleaner than the stretch the rowers use!).
Grantchester is undoubtedly one of my favourite spots in Cambridge, as it is a welcome change from the claustrophobia of the city centre. Particularly if you visit at weekends the centre is usually packed with tourists, and Grantchester is wonderful place to escape too (without having to go particularly far). Unusually, it is the kind of place that is equally beautiful with grey skies and mist, as on a clear, sunny day. It was foggy and particularly dark when I stepped out this morning, so I knew Grantchester was the best place to run for striking views.
The best part of Grantchester, however, is its history. It was home to the poet Rupert Brooke, who lived in the Old Vicarage (now home to Mary Archer, the acclaimed scientist, and her husband, the novelist, Jeffrey Archer), and there is a fantastic restaurant (called the Rupert Brooke) not far from the meadows, which I highly recommend. The meadows were frequented by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who met whilst studying at the University, and are the setting for Hughes’s poem Chaucer:
‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…’
At the top of your voice, where you swayed on the top of a stile,
Your arms raised – somewhat for balance, somewhat
To hold the reins of the straining attention
Of your imagined audience – you declaimed Chaucer
To a field of cows. And the Spring sky had done it
With its flying laundry, and the new emerald
Of the thorns, the hawthorn, the blackthorn,
And one of those bumpers of champagne
You snatched unpredictably from pure spirit.
Your voice went over the fields towards Granchester.
It must have sounded lost. But the cows
Watched, then approached: they appreciated Chaucer.
You went on and on. Here were reasons
To recite Chaucer. Then came the Wyf of Bath,
Your favourite character in all literature. You were rapt. And the cows were enthralled. (the rest of the poem can be found here)
So if you are in Cambridge (whether you live there, study there, or are just visiting), it is well worth having a go at this route. Any time of the year, this place is sure to make you smile. If the views alone aren’t enough for you, have a go at shouting Chaucer quotations at passing livestock, I guarantee that should do the trick.