Situated on the picturesque River Cam to the South of the City of Cambridge, Grantchester is a village which dates all the way back to settlements in the 9th Century. Included in the Doomsday Book (1086) as Grantesete and Grauntsete, it began as an outlying settlement to the growing community in Cambridge.
The village is not only notable for its beauty but, for a small village, its brains. Grantchester is said to include amongst its residents the highest concentration of Nobel Prize Winners per person, many of whom previously worked as academics at the prestigious Cambridge University. Other noteworthy residents include Helaine Blumenfield OBE, a revered sculptor who has called the village home for over 50 years, as well as scientist Mary Archer and her husband, author Jeffrey Archer.
The house the couple now call home is known as The Old Vicarage, and once counted Edwardian poet Rupert Brooke amongst its lodgers. In fact, a 1912 poem by Brooke lamented his homesickness and is titled ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’. Brooke is also known to have lodged next door at The Orchard Tea Rooms. Now a charming, traditional lunch spot, the Orchard was originally simply a residence until, in 1897, a passing group of Cambridge students asked the owners for a cup of tea. The practice became a regular one, until one of rural Cambridge’s most well-loved and picturesque Tea Rooms was founded.
The Orchard itself backs on to Grantchester Meadows, another area of great natural beauty. There is a footpath which runs parallel to the Meadows and all the way into Cambridge, locally nicknamed the ‘Grantchester Grind’. This was used in 1995 by the writer Tom Sharpe as the title and inspiration for his novel of the same name.
Walkers using the ‘Grantchester Grind’ to walk upstream along the Cam will also be able to take in Byron’s Pool, so called because the legendary poet once swam there. The pool itself, and the surrounding area, is a local nature reserve and a must visit for nature lovers.
The ITV drama Grantchester – itself based on the James Runcie novels known as ‘The Grantchester Mysteries’ – is just the latest in a long line of artistic endeavours inspired by the unique charm of the village. It is even the subject of a Pink Floyd song, ‘Grantchester Meadows’, written by Roger Waters.
The last 100 years have seen many changes in Grantchester, and a slow conversion from a farming village to a quietly attractive tourist destination. The old Grantchester Mill was destroyed by fire in the same year a new Village Hall was built, while the 1960s saw the closure of the Baptist Chapel (converted to a artists’ studio) and Merton and Lacies farms, the latter a breeder of championship cattle. The farmland boasted by the village is now widely open for walkers and explorers looking to take in one of Cambridgeshire’s most charming, and beautiful destinations.