Post Christmas purse pinching doesn’t have to mean staying in, try these free things to do in Cambridge
1. University of Cambridge Museums
The museums house 13 award-winning collections, which are open to the public for free. Lesser known highlights include an iguanodon dinosaur skeleton at Sedgwick, an extraordinary collection of beautiful astronomical instruments at the Whipple and the Polar Museum’s latest haunting exhibition on Ernest Shackleton, By Endurance We Conquer. Check the website for opening hours.
2. Brampton wood
The second largest woodland in our county, Brampton Wood is 900 years old. It’s looked after by the local Wildlife Trust, and is perfect for a wintry walk. Follow the wide rides and see how many species of tree you can spot: maybe you’ll find one of the two specimens of wild pear tree. Open every day, the wood is near Huntingdon and has a small car park.
3. Nine Wells
Nine Wells, formed of several chalk springs, was the source for Hobson’s Conduit, which was built in the 17th century by Thomas Hobson to bring fresh water into Cambridge. Visit the four active chalk springs, and the small 1.2 hectare copse of rolling woodland. Near Great Shelford and accessible only on foot, it’s well worth a little wintry wander.
4. The Wren Library
Although Trinity College charges for visits, the famous Wren Library does not. The library is open to visitors from midday to 2pm Mondays to Fridays, and from 10.30am to 12.30pm on Saturdays during full term (which starts on 17 January). Amongst its treasures are books from Sir Isaac Newton’s personal library, the Capell collection of early Shakespeare Editions and A A Milne’s manuscripts of Winnie-the-Pooh.
5. Byron’s Pool
This picturesque spot was once a favourite of the poet Lord Byron, after whom it has since been known. Look out for the weird and rare arched earthstar fungi and great spotted woodpeckers. The reserve is near Grantchester and open every day. There’s a car park nearby and a circular walk to follow once you’re there.
6. Hilton Maze and Monument
One of only eight turf mazes surviving today, the Hilton Maze and Monument is the perfect spot for a day trip. Made in 1660 by Royalist William Sparrow to commemorate the Restoration of Charles II, it consists of a single winding track which coils into a seemingly endless labyrinth.
7. The Colleges
Not all of the University colleges are free to visit, and not all are as pretty as King’s. Of the free colleges, though, we’d highlight Magdalene, Pembroke and Christ’s. Magdalene’s current Master is the former Archbishop Rowan Williams, Pembroke boasts a host of famous members, most recently the actor Tom Hiddleston, and John Milton is Christ’s second most-famous pupil, after naturalist Charles Darwin. Check online for further details.
8. Paxton Pits Nature Reserve
With 78 hectares of lakes, riverside, reedbed, and woodland, Paxton Pits is one of the best places in England to see wild otters. Three kilometres north of St Neots, the Reserve is open to visitors at all times, and the Visitor’s Centre opens on weekends. Follow the Heron or Meadow trail and keep an eye out for kingfishers, cormorants and flocks of tits. Go online for a guide to what you might see.
9. Wandlebury Country Park
It’s the city’s original country park and offers more than 40 hectares of mature woods, meadows and chalk grasslands. The park is open seven days a week from dawn till dusk. Look out for Highland cattle, the Iron Age hillfort and the 15th century Tadlow Granary. As January progresses, see if you can spot the first snowdrops of the season.
10. RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes
It used to be a gravel works, but now Fen Drayton Lakes is a wonderful complex of lakes and traditional riverside meadows to wander around and explore. At this time of year, look out for black-headed gulls and starling murmurations. Open every day, it’s also easy to get to, just hop on the Guided busway; it has its own stop.