With a week to fill between our month in Deal and our next commitment in London, we were lucky enough to book a house sit for 5 nights in Waterbeach, a bedroom community just outside of Cambridge. That left us with only 1 night on either end of the sit for which to arrange accommodation.
One evening in Cambridge
We stayed at the Ibis Hotel Cambridge, which is located right at the Cambridge train station. We had expected to arrive in the evening, stay at the hotel, and then head back out in the morning for the final short train trip to Waterbeach. After checking out the Waterbeach area more closely, we realized that we would be better off with a rental car (there were no grocery stores of any size within walking distance). So we forfeited the train tickets between Waterbeach and Cambridge (£1.70 each, each way) and booked a car. This gave us a bit of freedom to pick up groceries and explore a little of the area (what we could fit in around a work day and without leaving our charge for more than 4 or 5 hours).
We had never stayed in an Ibis. It was different to walk into a coffee shop entrance with no obvious reception desk. Instead, staff in red T-shirts and jeans, armed with smartphones, hovered just inside the door, ready to serve anyone who looked like they might be checking into the hotel on the next floors up. Check-in was quick and simple, and off we went to our room. Though it was fully accessible (not sure if they all are?) the room appeared to be designed for a young clientele (this is Cambridge, after all), and we felt a little like we were hanging out on campus.
Settled in our hotel, we headed out to a now-familiar Cambridge. We stopped for dinner at an Italian restaurant near market square, urged in by the outdoor seating and the live jazz duo entertaining the patrons.
We cabbed to the rental car agency, picked up our car, and drove it the short distance to Waterbeach. There, we met our new homeowners, Richard and Kathryn, their 3-year-old daughter Irma, and our charge for 6 days, a Jack Russel/Shih Tzu cross named Elsie. Their home had a lovely back garden (yard) where Ken and Elsie liked to play.
Kathryn had left us maps and good notes for lovely riverside walks which we, and Elsie, appreciated very much.
Chilford Hall Vineyard
While researching things to do in the area, we discovered that there was a wine industry in this part of the world, and that Chilford Hall Vineyard, about 33km from Waterbeach, was the place to visit. We booked a tour and tasting. Our tour included a walk into the fields to chat among the many varieties growing on a south-facing slope, a visit to the production area, and a 5-sample guided tasting.
The grounds of Chilford Hall are beautiful and contain many oddities like antique columns and carved slabs from old buildings (purchased by the owner 50 or so years ago when they were no longer needed in their original locations), and sculptures.
Our guide, Ged Bell, was entertaining and explained the realities of being a wine producer in England (for example, producing wines that do not require ripe grapes since unripe grapes are very common in the short season here).
Having been in Italy and Croatia in the winter when the vines were bare, it was cheering to see the spring growth of leaves and grapes on the Chilford vines.
We set aside one day to return to Cambridge. Even though we had a car, we took Kathryn’s advice and drove the few minutes to the park and ride lot and caught the bus into town. We had done the same thing (at a different one of the 5 official park and ride lots that skirt Cambridge) and knew it would work well for us. Once in town, we walked to Fitzbillies, a coffee shop we had read about (world-famous Chelsea buns anyone?) that was near the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Energized with a cappuccino (but not that impressed with the Chelsea bun), we walked over to the museum for a quick peek. We read that admission was free and, though we weren’t planning to spend a lot of time there, we thought it would be worth a look. Since we had already explored Cambridge on our previous visit and the night before, we weren’t anxious to see anything in particular in this city. It was a good thing, as we spent most of our allotted time wandering the rooms of this museum (more of an art gallery to me), and only had time to grab a quick lunch before catching the bus back to our car.
After the museum, we took a quick wander down to the river, considered (and rejected) a punting trip (riverboat ride), and then walked back to catch our park and ride bus toward our Waterbeach home.
- Chilford Hall Standard Tour & Tasting: £15 each ($27 CAD)
- Rental car Cambridge: 6 days (5 days with morning pick up and afternoon return), Europcar booked through Opodo, £114.66 ($206 CAD)
- Cab from hotel/station to rental car agency: £5 ($9 CAD)
- Park and ride to Cambridge: Free parking, £3 each for return bus fare