IT’S WORTH THE PUNT

A 184-year-old ho­tel in his­toric Cam­bridge has been given a stun­ning makeover. SARAH MAR­SHALL of­fers to give it a try

Uxbridge Gazette - - Getaway -

IMAG­INE wak­ing up to dis­cover your car hoisted on to the roof of a 70ft-high build­ing. That’s what hap­pened to one un­lucky Cam­bridge pro­fes­sor, when he awoke one morn­ing in 1958 to find his Austin Seven on top of the univer­sity’s Se­nate House. Re­sult­ing news­pa­per head­lines gen­er­ated cu­rios­ity, out­rage, and snig­gers na­tion­wide.

“They only found out who it was 10 years ago,” says my punt chauf­feur and tour guide Keiran, as he pushes us along the River Cam, a stren­u­ous ac­tiv­ity re­spon­si­ble for his Mar­vel su­per­hero bi­ceps and a men­tal bank of Cam­bridge-re­lated trivia.

It wasn’t the only prank pulled by some of the UK’s bright­est stu­dents. One Christ­mas, a group of ur­ban ex­plor­ers known as the Night Climbers clam­bered to the top of King’s Col­lege and popped a Santa hat on its crenu­lated spires, and in the Eight­ies, a three-wheel Re­liant Re­gal was sus­pended from the Vene­tian looka­like Bridge of Sighs.

Eng­land’s pres­ti­gious univer­sity town basks in its glo­ri­ous past and rev­els in tra­di­tion.

Ur­ban myths are ven­er­ated like pas­sages from the Bi­ble, and as we glide along the shal­low river, where bridges arch proudly and wil­lows foun­tain into the wa­ter, sto­ries con­tin­u­ously un­fold.

A work hard, play hard ethic is clearly at the heart of this city – and that spirit has been em­bod­ied by one of the few his­toric build­ings which doesn’t be­long to the univer­sity.

Orig­i­nally opened as a 15-room coach­ing inn in 1834, the Univer­sity Arms Ho­tel has re­cently un­der­gone a two-year, £80m trans­for­ma­tion, and is now one of the few places where it’s pos­si­ble to sleep, eat and drink the Cam­bridge Univer­sity life­style with­out need­ing to pass a sin­gle en­trance exam.

A PROP­ERTY WITH A STORY

OVER­LOOK­ING Parker’s Piece, a pub­lic green where the rules of foot­ball were sup­pos­edly in­vented in 1848, the ho­tel has al­ways been a fix­ture of the cityscape.

“We have el­derly cou­ples who used to dance in our ball­room,” ex­plains one of the re­cep­tion­ists, who’s worked here for years. “This was an im­por­tant part of their lives.”

Telling that story – and cre­at­ing fu­ture chap­ters – was cen­tral to the think­ing of ar­chi­tect John Simp­son and Swedish in­te­rior de­signer Martin Brud­nizki, com­mis­sioned by new own­ers Mar­riott to over­see the ren­o­va­tion.

In the main bar, wall­pa­per with mar­bled swirls of colour has been de­signed to mimic a book in­lay; be­spoke crock­ery also cel­e­brates key mo­ments from the area’s past, with il­lus­tra­tions of foot­ball play­ers, row­ers and New­mar­ket sausages (the Queen’s favourite, ap­par­ently).

In the li­brary – a lounge area with vel­vet arm­chairs, dimly lit ta­ble lamps and stud­ded leather pouffes – a grand wooden fire­place has been re­lo­cated; the stained glass win­dows in Parker’s Tav­ern restau­rant are orig­i­nal, and the wooden par­quet floor­ing in hall­ways is all re­claimed.

Although he never vis­ited the ho­tel, Sir Win­ston Churchill casts a stern black and white stare from a photo frame be­hind the re­cep­tion, and neatly tai­lored woollen staff uni­forms have been mod­elled on his fa­mous boiler suit. The as­so­ci­a­tion is cru­cial: Cel­e­brat­ing the best of Bri­tish is what Univer­sity Arms is all about.

WINING AND DIN­ING

A stand­alone restau­rant with it’s own en­trance, Parker’s Tav­ern is a bistro-style set-up in­tended to look like a com­mu­nal col­lege din­ing hall. Chef Tris­tan Welch, who hails from Cam­bridge, has de­signed a very Bri­tish menu us­ing lo­cally sourced prod­ucts where pos­si­ble; a plate of sashimi fea­tures slices of fleshy trout from re­gional rivers and ac­com­pa­ny­ing wasabi and soy sauce is made on the premises.

The restau­rant also has it’s own branded bot­tle of claret, spe­cially blended in Bordeaux.

In the next-door bar, sig­na­ture cock­tails also have a story to tell. Sir Jack’s Bat, a smoky pow­er­house of rum, mez­cal, fen­nel and bit­ters, was in­spired by the great English crick­eter who prac­tised on Parker’s Piece, and The 1848, a com­plex mix of rum, char­treuse, lime, basil and honey, pays re­spect to the Cam­bridge Rules, which would later form the foun­da­tions of ‘the beau­ti­ful game’.

GUAR­AN­TEE OF AN IN­TEL­LI­GENT SLEEP

LINKED by cor­ri­dors car­peted in the navy and red stripes of Cam­bridge Univer­sity’s em­blem­atic tie, 192 rooms are spread across four lev­els.

The largest floor ar­eas can be found in the suites, all named after great aca­demics who stud­ied at Cam­bridge.

I stay in the Franklin suite, which pays homage to Rosalind Franklin who dis­cov­ered the struc­ture of DNA; books re­lated to her work and women in sci­ence are slot­ted into a bed­side ta­ble. A clever style note, or some am­bi­tious late night read­ing per­haps?

Duck egg blue walls and metal lat­tice­work wardrobes tickle a sense of nos­tal­gia, and the in­clu­sion of an iron and iron­ing board is won­der­fully old fash­ioned. But it’s the bath­room that re­ally steals the show, with its gleam­ing white porce­lain with shiny gold fit­tings, built into one of the ho­tel’s fairy-tale tur­rets. Sit­ting in a deep claw foot bath, I can peer through key­hole win­dows and watch the sun­rise over Parker’s Piece.

Be­cause even if my IQ falls short of the Cam­bridge av­er­age, I’m still able to ap­pre­ci­ate this city’s charm and the en­dur­ing ap­peal of a much-loved ho­tel. You don’t have to be a ge­nius to work that one out. Un­dated Hand­out Photo of

Cam­bridge Univer­sity has 31 col­leges, where over 9,000 staff teach more than 18,000 stu­dents

The ho­tel’s grand ex­te­rior Sarah Mar­shall goes punt­ing in Cam­bridge... and learns some­thing of the city’s rich his­tory

The ho­tel’s wood-pan­elled li­brary

A typ­i­cal Univer­sity Arms bed­room

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