B&B And Beyond: Rectory Farm, Cambridge
A Georgian-style house surrounded by fields makes a charming alternative to urban chain hotels, discovers Cathy Packe
At the end of a long, tree-lined avenue and gravel courtyard is an elegant, Georgian-style brick building, in front of which is a field inhabited by three black sheep. But appearances are deceptive: it looks like an 18th-century rectory surrounded by farmland, but the house is 1960s-built and the sheep, along with a few horses, are the only animals on the pastures. It's undeniably rural, with fields and woods in every direction, but Rectory Farm is just a few kilometres from the centre of Cambridge.
The city has no shortage of hotels catering for tourists and the parents of university students, but if you want something a bit more relaxed than a busy chain hotel, Rectory Farm is a charming alternative. And while it might seem close to the M11, the traffic is no louder than a distant rumble.
The six rooms in the main house are spacious and light, with full-length sash windows and views of the fields at the front, or the back garden with countryside beyond. The emphasis is on restful comfort: cream carpets, acorn-patterned curtains, plenty of pillows, Botanicals products in the warm, well-appointed bathrooms, comfortable armchairs and a TV with DVD player. There's also tea, coffee and a tin of biscuits. Downstairs in the large sitting room there are several comfortable sofas, a piano and a huge bay window, and a well-stocked and reasonably priced honesty bar. In the grounds there is a separate, three-bedroom lodge which, although in need of modernisation, is a good base for a family. Also, a chalet, newly converted this year from an old fruit barn, provides an additional 17 rooms.
The continental breakfast is served in the dining room overlooking the large back garden. And there's far more than just coffee and croissants: the copious help-yourself buffet includes fresh fruit, yoghurt, cereals, cheeses, cold meat and fresh toast, as well as juices, tea or coffee and a DIY egg-boiler. For an extra £10 you can order a full, freshly cooked English breakfast.
Roger and Alison Foster have been running Rectory Farm for two years. They once ran a small hotel in the centre of Cambridge. Their policy towards their B&B guests is to be welcoming but unobtrusive; they live in one wing of the house and are around if anyone has questions, but on the whole they prefer to leave guests to relax. Barring their private rooms, their home is yours, extending to the use of a tennis court and a good-sized outdoor pool during the summer.
Cambridge city centre is a 40-minute walk across the fields and through the "Backs" – the lawns along the banks of the river Cam – or you can take the short walk to Madingley Road park and ride a bus to the centre. Take a walking tour of the city from the Tourist Information Office (01223 457574; www.visitcambridge.org; the £16 charge includes admission to the spectacular King's College Chapel), or see the university colleges and their backs from a punt. Several companies offer short excursions, including Scudamore's (01223 359750; scudamores.com) which charges £16 for a 45-minute trip.
The Fitzwilliam Museum (01223 332900; www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk) on Trumpington Street found great success with its Vermeer exhibition at the beginning of the year. It has a new temporary display, continuing until 11 November, of tomb treasures of Han China. Admission is free.
And if you prefer to get right out of town, Roger and Alison will point you towards the footpaths that will take you through the fields to the nearby village of Coton.
The Pit Stop
Cambridge has a vast range of restaurants, but the best choice is closer to home. Follow the footpath from Rectory Farm to Coton to find The Plough (01954 210489; theploughcoton.co.uk). This lively gastropub has an excellent menu (pies, sausages, burgers) from £10.95 and daily specials such as pan-fried grey mullet, steaks or goat's cheese Wellington, as well as mezze and antipasti plates from £12.95. It's extremely popular, so it's worth booking.
Rectory Farm, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB23 7PG (07742 272115; rectoryfarmbnb.net). Doubles in the main house from £60, with a continental breakfast (cooked is £10pp). Doubles in the chalet from £55 or the three-bed lodge start at £150 per night.
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