Cambridge reveals its its Gardens of Eden

by RODNEY BOLT. Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:16 25 June 2001

On summer weekends, Cambridge seethes with visitors - and with some justification. It's arguably the most beautiful of the university towns.

But sometimes one longs for a little peace and quiet - and it's there for the finding, if you know where to look.

College gardens are havens of repose. Some are open to the public daily, others have set aside Open Days through the summer.

I was lucky to be accompanied by a group of Cambridge friends who were going to get me into gardens not having Open Days during my stay.

First stop was the Fellows' Garden at Clare College - to my mind the best and one that's open all year. Clare stands next to King's College - its grey- stone building overshadowed by the soaring King's College Chapel.

We made our way over the river Cam via a stone bridge - the oldest in Cambridge, built for the Fellows in 1640 to give them a back-door to the countryside, avoiding the plague-ridden city.

We ducked behind walls covered with creepers, admired irises that were almost chest high and lingered by the pond in a sunken garden.

In the sunlight on a bank sloping down to the Cam, we sat watching punts glide past.

We'd made a picnic for our jaunt on a punt, but first we visited the nearby King's Fellows' Garden.

Irregular islands - thick with trees and bordered by shrubs - were surrounded by lawns that had been given a wavy striped effect.

Back at the river, we set off on a lazy punt along the Backs, as the most beautiful stretch of the Cam behind the colleges is called.

After lunch, we set off for the 40-acre University Botanical Garden, which includes a descendant of the apple tree that dropped its fruit on Isaac Newton's head, making him think about gravitation. There was just time for a cream tea - another Cambridge must - before dip-ping into a few more gardens.

At Emmanuel College, students had set up an ad hoc tennis court on the lawns.

The Fellows' Garden was dominated by an enormous oriental plane tree.

St John's had a sunken, fairly formal garden where we were quite alone, and Selwyn College boasted a jollier, irregular Victorian garden, where buttercups grew on the lawn and passion-flower creepers covered the walls.

The grandest was the Fellows' Garden at Christ's College, reached through a wrought-iron gate. Here, past an 18th-century bathing pool is the 400-year-old mulberry tree under which the poet Milton dozed and composed.

Cambridge college gardens make a delightful retreat from a busy city.

If you're still in town in the evening this summer, you can watch the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival performed against the most atmospheric of backdrops.

Travel facts: Clare College Fellows' Garden and the University Botanical Gardens are open daily. Christ's College Fellows' Garden opens Mon-Fri, 10.30am-12.30pm and 2pm-4pm.

The Shakespeare Festival takes place during July and August. Venues include King's College, St John's College and Emmanuel College (indoors). For tickets, tel 01223 357 851. College garden Open Days include Emmanuel (July 1), King's (July 8), and Selwyn (August 19). Charges apply to some gardens.

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