Scandi Cambridge. An Airbnb adventure a month

I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word.
— A. E. Houseman

We plan to have an AirB&B adventure each month. Not necessarily far away and just a night or two, but regularly, to riffle up our molecules a bit

I am, like all right-minded people, in love, utterly, with Cambridge's Kettle's Yard, (the 20th century art gallery in a Cambridge house), it rivals only The Sainsbury Centre at UEA in my heart. My adoration for it is probably why I've often walked past, but never been to, the much larger Fitzwilliam museum. But dear, dear Kettle's Yard is closed until next year for refurbishment, so we couldn't even be tempted by it. And I'd heard good things about The Fitzwilliam, one friend told us it was as good as the V&A for decorative arts, so September's adventure was Cambridge. 


We are alternating the choice of the actual Airbnb accommodation between us and this month was OH's choice. You'll notice a sudden contrast from last month's gloriously ramshackle riverside cabin. He found himself drawn to a very modern top floor apartment in Chesterton, which is just outside the City centre. I should explain that OH (Derek) went to Cambridge and then stayed and worked there for a decade, before moving his indie music career to Norwich, so he's a good guide to the place.


 Cambridge is famously an odd mix. There's a nucleus of lofty medieval colleges, beautifully, expensively preserved havens of academia, wearing tradition with determined insouciance, interiors swarmed around by, but protectively inaccessible to, a million tourists, There's actually relatively little for the visitors, unless they have a specific purpose to their trip, apart from walking the hard, stone pavements, past the exteriors of the colleges and spending money in the shops (leased from the colleges who own most of the real estate).

Surrounding this is suburbs of yellow bricked terraces (with some inevitably awful 60's and 70s infill, such as The Grafton Centre), at first glance looking surprisingly like any Victorian-grown industrial town. But when you have time to walk past the houses and look properly you notice gorgeously kept front gardens and discrete but expensive extensions. And there's an unmistakable hum of brain power in the air, fuelled by hip and thriving coffee shops and pubs. And everywhere flyers for performances, films, activities and events. You just have to get your eye in to appreciate the Cambridge beyond Jesus Green. It is somewhere you could have fun living in.


Home for the weekend was an Edwardian terrace, owned by a classics professor and his Finnish pianist wife, both lovely and and friendly with a good line in wit. From the outside the house looked fairly small, but inside the house was deep and beautiful. The epitome of an academic's home, lovely paintings, shelves of books and two Steinway pianos in the front room. The attic had been enlarged and converted into a lovely, light and spacious modern studio apartment, scandi styled with a kitchen and shower room, overlooking the gardens of the house and the neighbours. Perfect.

After a cuppa we walked, along the river, past the house boats and Jesus Green Lido into the City.


The Fitzwilliam started as it went on, by exceeding expectations in its cafe. As it's free entry, should you ever be casting about in the city centre for a civilised lunch venue you could certainly do far worse. Well done Fitzwilliam.


A very happy afternoon ensued, wandering amongst world class pottery, paintings and antiquities. I do love a pot, so I was particularly happy. There's a lot of social history in a bowl, as well as beauty. They've also got an excellent Georgian glass collection, which I found exquisite. 



OH was especially taken with the Egyptology, although conflicted by the fact that you do have to try and lay aside your misgivings about the ethics of such treasures ending up in an East Anglian fenland town.

A well-staffed bakery 1950-1985 BC

A well-staffed bakery 1950-1985 BC

Back on the streets we found Cambridge set-dressed in that special pewter-skyed light that comes after a rainstorm.


To escape the crowds, OH exercised his right as an "old member" (just stop that sniggering right now), albeit one who has mislaid his card so had to blag his way in, to rest our over-stimulated brains in Clare College's gardens and peacefully people-watch the punts from the bridge.


To escape another downpour we stood in Jesus College's porch and stared at the Elizabeth Frink horse in its pasture of very special magical mowing.


I'd asked some Cambridge Twitter friends for their food recommendations and, foot-sore that we were, we headed to The Waterman pub for food, very close to the house, which was great. We had so many other ace recommendations that it seems a shame not to share them, so I'll add them at the foot of the page.


The best Sunday mornings always start with leisurely breakfast, so we kicked back and then made our way to the Botanic Gardens. The gardens are 40 acres of academic gorgeousness in the city centre, Kew-like, with glasshouses, specimens, and meticulous landscaping.


Strangely fascinating are the benches, with their fond dedications. There's a short story to be researched and written about every one and I shamelessly want that gig - someone commission me.

Cryptically to Syd Barrett

Cryptically to Syd Barrett

After another surprisingly good cafe lunch in the gardens we drove to Granchester and had a walk along the water meadows. A pretty village, somewhat dominated by the likes of us turning up to enjoy it. Oh, the guilt of a tourist.

Rupert Brooke and village friends. Less flashy than the memorial at Jeffery Archer's house down the road.

Rupert Brooke and village friends. Less flashy than the memorial at Jeffery Archer's house down the road.

The final joy was to head back into Cambridge and have tea and cake with UEA/Norwich friends who live and work in the city and admire their new extension. I've got extension envy now and am eying the back of our cottage. Please buy more pies. ;)

We haven't quite decided what'll be next month's adventure yet. But watch this space...

The eatery suggestions.
Enough for a month. Many thanks Deepa, Pina and Val x


De Luca
Steak and Honour
The Waterman
No 30
The Petersfield
Calverley's Brewery
Backstreet Bistro
The Chop House