"But Grantchester! Ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there."
So wrote Rupert Brooke in 1912, in his poem "The Old Vicarage". With hordes of day-trippers these days, peace and quiet are no longer the first words that spring to mind. But the reasons for Grantchester's popularity remain the same - a beautiful, easy walk from Cambridge, a village of thatched cottages, and one of the most charming places anywhere to have tea.
Start in Trumpington Road, facing the university's botanic garden, and take the footpath which crosses the Granta (the local name for the River Cam) to reach Coe Fen. You are still in the heart of Cambridge, but cows grazing in the meadow already give the walk a rural feel. Punts glide beneath a bridge on their way to Grantchester; a second bridge leads to Lammas Field, where there is a children's play area and paddling pool.
Cross Lammas Field and turn left into Grantchester Street; at the end, turn right to reach Grantchester Meadows. Now you are truly out of the city. A kissing gate leads to the start of the Grantchester Grind - a mile-long pedestrian and cycle path to the village. Instead, follow the course of the riverbank around the meadows, passing punts, picnickers, and perhaps lovers, along the way.
Soon the houses of Grantchester loom up. Rejoin the footpath as it becomes a narrow lane, passing the long, enclosed garden of the Green Man, with an outdoor bar serving drinks and snacks in summer. Continue to the end of the lane and you emerge opposite the churchyard.
Rupert Brooke is buried on the Greek island of Skyros - he died in 1915 en route to Gallipoli, aged 27 - but his name is listed on the war memorial here beneath one Joseph Blogg (seriously). Look up at the clock, immortalised in his poem ("Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?"). Unless your timing is perfect, the clock is unlikely to register 2.50pm - in fact it is doubtful whether it ever stood still at that time. But there is still honey for tea, in the very place that Brooke recalled - leave the churchyard, turn right, and at the bend in the road you enter the Orchard.
The tea gardens opened here in 1897 when a group of students asked the owner to serve them tea beneath the apple trees; before long it had caught on and is now a Cambridge tradition. Brooke lodged at Orchard House in 1909 and the Orchard became the meeting-place for his Bohemian circle of friends - Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, EM Forster, John Maynard Keynes - who came to be known as the Grantchester Group.
Keynes visited Brooke at Grantchester and found him "sitting in the midst of admiring females with nothing on but an embroidered sweater"; in a letter to a girlfriend, Brooke confirmed that "I wander about barefoot and almost naked ... I live on honey, eggs and milk, prepared for me by an old lady like an apple." The First World War was to bring this idyllic lifestyle to a sudden and premature end.
A century after it opened, the Orchard is more popular than ever. The queues are legendary - though even on a sunny Sunday at the end of July it only took me half an hour to get my Earl Grey and scone. Arrive early, draw up a deck chair, and you can sit under the apple trees all day over one pot of tea. If it rains, you can retreat to the original wooden pavilion, hung with portraits of a youthful Brooke, a Hugh Grant lookalike with his flapping hair and foppish good looks.
Leave through the car park and look at the house on your left - this is the Old Vicarage, where Brooke also lived. The current resident is another writer - Lord (Jeffrey) Archer, would-be Mayor of London. Peer over the wall at his collection of modern sculptures; if you are lucky you just might catch one of his celebrated garden parties.
A path beside the house leads back to the river, at a delightful spot beside an old mill ("And laughs the immortal river still, under the mill, under the mill?"). It does, it does, and on the day I was there a family of swans were cackling with it. A short diversion along the road leads to a shady woodland path to Byron's Pool, whose stagnant water and concrete weir belie its romantic name. Brooke and Virginia Woolf swam naked here by moonlight, but today's free spirits are put off by a stern notice forbidding bathing within 36 metres (why 36?) of the lock.
Back at the mill, a wide track leads towards Canteloupe Farm. Take this track, turn right at the junction, left at the next farmyard and right at a crossroad of footpaths to return to the village the back way with a brief glimpse of the surrounding farmland.
You emerge beside the Rupert Brooke pub. Turn left along Broadway and look for the footpath on your right, crossing a field to return to the Grantchester Grind. As you walk back to Cambridge you can just make out the spires of King's College chapel above the trees on the horizon.
8 Distance: Five miles. There is free parking on Trumpington Road on Sundays. Alternatively, it is a 10-minute walk from Cambridge station. The Orchard is open daily from 10.30am-6.30pm. Of the pubs in Grantchester, the Green Man is best for outdoor meals, the Red Lion has an excellent indoor play area, while the Rupert Brooke is best for food but less family- friendly than the others.
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