Cambridge, Cambridgeshire Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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On the whole, CAMBRIDGE is a much quieter and more secluded place than Oxford, though for the visitor what really sets it apart from its scholarly rival is "the Backs" - the green swathe of land that straddles the languid River Cam, providing exquisite views over the backs of the old colleges. At the front, the handsome facades of these same colleges dominate the layout of the town centre, lining up along the main streets. Most of the older colleges date back to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and are designed to a similar plan with the main gate leading through to a series of "courts", typically a carefully manicured slab of lawn surrounded on all four sides by college residences or offices. Many of the buildings are extraordinarily beautiful, but the most famous is King's College , whose magnificent King's College Chapel is one of the great statements of late Gothic architecture. There are thirty-one university colleges in total, each an independent, self-governing body, proud of its achievements and attracting - for the most part at least - a close loyalty from its students, amongst whom privately educated boys remain hopelessly over-represented despite decades of perfectly adequate state education.

Tradition has it that Cambridge was founded in the late 1220s by scholastic refugees from Oxford, who fled the town after one of their number was lynched by hostile townsfolk - though the first proper college wasn't founded until 1271. Rivalry has existed between the two institutions ever since - epitomized by the annual Boat Race on the River Thames - while internal tensions between "town and gown" have inevitably plagued a place where the university has long tended to control local life.

During the nineteenth century, the university finally lost its ancient privileges over the town, which was expanding rapidly thanks to the arrival of the railway. The university expanded too, with the number of students increasing dramatically following the broadening of the curriculum to include new subjects such as natural science and history. More recently, change has been much slower in coming to the university, particularly when it comes to equality of the sexes . The first two women's colleges were founded in the 1870s, but it was only in 1947 that women were actually awarded degrees and one or two colleges held out against accepting women students until the 1980s. In the meantime, the city and university had been acquiring a reputation as a high-tech centre of excellence, what locals refer to half-seriously as "Silicon Fen". Cambridge has always been in the vanguard of scientific research - its alumni have garnered no less than ninety Nobel prizes - and it has now become a major international player in the lucrative electronic communications industry.

Cambridge is an extremely compact place, and you can walk round the centre, visiting the most interesting colleges, in an afternoon. A more thorough exploration, covering more of the colleges, a visit to the fine art of the Fitzwilliam Museum and a leisurely afternoon on a punt , will however take at least a couple of days - maybe more. If possible you should avoid coming in high summer, when the students are replaced by hordes of sightseers and posses of foreign-language students, though you can still miss the crowds by getting up early - the tourists only start to appear in numbers from around 10.30am. Faced with such crowds, the more popular colleges have restricted their opening times and several have introduced admission charges. Bear in mind, too, that during the exam period (late April to early June), most colleges close their doors to the public at least some of the time.

Cambridge's main shopping street is Bridge Street, which becomes Sidney Street, St Andrew's Street and finally Regent Street; the other main thoroughfare is the procession of St John's Street, Trinity Street, King's Parade and Trumpington Street. The university developed on the land west of this latter route along the banks of the Cam, and now forms a continuous half-mile parade of colleges from Magdalene to Peterhouse, with sundry others scattered about the periphery. The Fitzwilliam Museum , with easily the city's finest art collection, is just along Trumpington Street south of Peterhouse. The account below starts with King's College, whose chapel is the university's most celebrated attraction, and covers the rest of the town in a broadly clockwise direction.

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