Large building with turrets and ornamental details
England,  Monday walks

More Cambridge colleges and other sights

Against my will, in the course of my travels, the belief that everything worth knowing was known at Cambridge gradually wore off. In this respect my travels were very useful to me.

Bertrand Russell

I’m not sure the above is an argument against studying at Cambridge or in favour of travelling. I prefer to think of it as the latter!

This is a continuation of the visit to Cambridge started in my previous Monday Walk post.

I left you all at the stunning Kings College chapel. Now let’s continue our walk.

Senate House

From Kings we walked past the Old Schools which house the Cambridge University offices and formerly housed the Cambridge University Library. My photos below are of the entrance gate on the west side. This building was designed by George Gilbert Scott, who was also responsible for the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial, among many others.

Looking up at an ornate building with statues
The Old Schools entrance
Statue on an old building
The Old Schools: above the entrance

We walked through Senate Passage and emerged on to Kings Parade by Senate House. This is where all the university degree ceremonies are held. It was designed and built by James Gibbs in 1722–1730, in a neo-classical style using Portland stone.

Elegant pale grey building with classical pillars
Senate House from King’s Parade

Gonville and Caius College

We passed, but didn’t go into, Gonville and Caius College, named for its two founders. Gonville, Rector of Terrington St Clement in Norfolk, first founded the College as Gonville Hall in 1348. When it went into decline in the 16th century a former student and Fellow, John Keys, who also spelled his name as the Latin Caius, came to the rescue and re-founded his old College of Gonville Hall as ‘Gonville and Caius College’. My assumption is that the two stone figures above the Great Gate which show men holding buildings must be Gonville and Caius.

Tower on an ornate building
Gonville and Caius College
Statue of a man holding a model of a building
Gonville or Caius?

Trinity College

We continued our walk north along Trinity Street, passing the Great Gate of Trinity College which was built at the beginning of the 16th century. Above the gate is a carving of King Henry VIII who founded the College in 1546, one of the very last acts of his life. It was formed by amalgamating two existing colleges, King’s Hall and Michaelhouse. Look carefully at the carving on my photo below. Henry is holding a chair or table leg in his right hand! It is thought that this was substituted for the original sword, but no one knows when, or how, although it seems likely to have been a student prank.

Worn statue of a man with a crown, orb and sword
Statue of Henry VIII, Trinity College
Statue of a woman on a building
St John the Evangelist, St John’s College

St John’s College

A little further on we came to another Great Gate, that of St John’s College. The statue above it is of St John the Evangelist, with an eagle (his traditional symbol and an emblem of the College). He carries a poisoned chalice with a snake twined around it, representing the legend that once, while at Ephesus, John was given a cup of poisoned wine to drink. Before drinking, he blessed the cup and the poison departed the cup in the form of a serpent.

First Court

Passing through the gate we were in the college’s First Court. From here we had good views of the college chapel’s impressive tower, the tallest building in Cambridge, which we had already seen in front of us as we walked along Trinity Street.

Square church tower seen above roof tops
St John’s College Chapel from Trinity Street
Pale grey stone church with a square tower
St John’s College Chapel
Part of a church building next to a brick building
First Court

Front Court dates from the early 16th century though it has been considerably altered over the centuries, especially on the north side where this chapel was built. The chapel is relatively new by Cambridge standards, having been built between 1866 and 1869 to replace a smaller medieval chapel which dated back to the 13th century.

The main part of chapel was closed. We could only peer at it from the entrance area through a wrought iron screen. I would like to be able to say that I didn’t see the ‘no photos’ sign until after I had taken this one!

Inside a church with dark wood choir stalls and tiled floor
St John’s College Chapel
Second Court

We carried on into Second Court. This was built from 1598 to 1602 and is far more intact than First Court, with a symmetry to its Tudor buildings.

Brick building with a church tower behind
Looking back at the chapel from Second Court

On the far side of the Second Court (the west) is another imposing gate, a copy of the Great Gate. Above the archway is a statue of Mary Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury. She financed the building of the court, which was added in 1671.

Small hexagonal tower with a gold weather vane
In Second Court
Worn statue of a woman wearing a crown
Statue of Mary Talbot

I was taken by the little faces set into the archway. All are different and all rather gargoyle-like in their ugliness!

Small carving of a face on a stone building
Carving detail
Small carving of a face on a stone building
Carving detail

We walked through Third Court and little Kitchen Court. From there we came out on to the Wren Bridge over the Cam. As the name suggests, the bridge was based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren, albeit for a bridge intended for a different place.

The Bridge of Sighs

The Wren Bridge is the perfect vantage point for views and photos of Cambridge’s best-known bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. This was built in 1831 and is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, presumably because both are covered. University legend however has it that the bridge is named for the sighs of students as they walk from their rooms in one of the courts on the Backs to their tutors’ offices.

River with a brick building on one bank and a stone bridge with windows
The Bridge of Sighs

On the far side of the Cam we had a lovely view of New Court, the first college court to be built on this side of the river. It was built between 1826 and 1831 in the Gothic Revival style, to accommodate the growing number of students. It has the flamboyance typical of that style, and in the September sunshine and with beautiful flower beds outside, looked like a very grand stately home.

Large building with turrets and ornamental details
New Court

The Round Church

St John’s was the last college that we visited. Feet were growing weary and I had a train to catch. So we decided to catch a bus back to the main city centre bus terminus from where I could catch a second bus to the station and my friends one to their home.

We found a pleasant spot in which to wait for our bus, outside the Round Church (more properly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). This is one of just four medieval round churches still in use in England. It was originally built in 1130, modelled on the 4th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Although it has seen many structural changes since then a sign outside proclaimed it the oldest church in Cambridge.

Round brick building with a tower
The Round Church

A fitting place perhaps to end our walk around this historic city.


  • Tanja

    enjoying your walk in Cambridge so much because it takes me back to the time when I walked these streets. I stayed at a modern college, Fitzwiliam , for my course before my internship in England

  • leightontravels

    So many wonderful details captured here Sarah, many of which remind me of my own adventures in Cambridge. I particularly like the cheeky looking carvings, the cross-eyed man/woman/creature with his/her tongue out brought a smile to my face.

  • Oh, the Places We See

    Thanks for including so many photos. We’ve only touched down into England and have much more to see. I, too, love architecture, especially details like the statues you shared. It’s amazing what the workmen could do, and I wonder if part of that art is lost forever. Beautiful post.

  • Teresa

    Thanks for taking us along on your walk through these beautiful architectures,..the well manicured gardens… the facade and the interior and the river!

  • maristravels

    All those buildings look as though someone has been out and just polished them. The photograph of the Senate building really took my eye, I love it, but then I love them all. Do you know, I’ve never been to Cambridge but now you’ve made me want to visit.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      They do certainly look after these buildings Mari, and they were looking especially good when I visited as they were just getting ready for the new intake of students. It’s a somewhat unreal place in a way, very ‘exclusive’ as you would imagine, but really worth a visit for the stunning architecture!


    Great photos of beautiful buildings in a great city. George Gilbert Scott has a place in our hearts…firstly, St Pancras is and always has been one of my favourite buildings anywhere in the world. Reminds me of exciting childhood journeys but also I really like the way it was enhanced in recent times. Scott though also designed Brownsover Hall in Rugby – which is where we got married! These shots of Cambridge really are evocative, a great feel for a fairly unique place.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, I love St Pancras too, and I agree about the newer additions. For me now it’s the place where journeys to Paris start 🙂 I didn’t know about Brownsover Hall however. Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  • grandmisadventures

    Beautiful tour of Cambridge! My dad was in the military and would send me postcards from all over the world, but the first one he ever sent was from Cambridge and that picture is still hanging on my mirror waiting for the time when I’ll be able to see it in person 🙂

  • salsaworldtraveler

    Russell’s quote is an endorsement of Cambridge and travel I think. Your photos bring out the beauty, majesty and power of the architecture. Being educated there must be quite an experience.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      An endorsement of travel, yes, but since he found he had to unlearn what he learned here, maybe less so of Cambridge. It would indeed be an experience to be educated here but I’m not sure to what extent it prepares you for real life (whatever that is!), which I think is the point Russell was making. Thank you for the kind words about the photos 😊

  • restlessjo

    I remember I did St. John’s but I can’t be sure which of the others I went in. So much personality in the architecture, isn’t there? I’m only on nodding terms with Oxford too. Do you have a preference? I remember waiting for a good shot of the Bridge of Sighs, then I too had to leave to get back to Wisbech, via Peterborough. The exciting lives we do lead! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m sure our paths will cross one day… if it’s meant to be. Enjoy the rest of summer.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      ‘via Peterborough’ – exciting indeed! I used to say I preferred Oxford but that’s maybe because I’d visited more and knew it better. Since this latest visit to Cambridge I’m more torn. It’s hard to beat the view from the Backs, for instance 🙂 But the location of Oxford, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is arguably better than Cambridge? Yes, one day … 😘

      • restlessjo

        I’m not keen on the flat lands but Ely is gorgeous. I have a friend in Wisbech who I really must contact this week! Time just slips away. 🤭💗

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I’m just back from a weekend in Norfolk (a friend’s birthday celebrations) and I have a fondness for those big skies, but they were rather flat when we were out exploring on Sunday so I didn’t come away with any good images this time. All my best shots are of bumblebees, it seems!

  • Anonymous

    I visited Cambridge more than 40 years ago when I was about to start my university training. Your pictures recall many good memories of that period when – thanks to the generosity of my parents – I was able to visit England and Scotland and became very fond of both of them. You caught beautiful days to take the pictures. The institutions appear even more majestic than on a cloudy day. Thank you for providing background information on these beautiful edifices and statues.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha! Well, I benefitted from the knowledge of my friends, one of whom is an ex scholar and is still currently involved with his old college, volunteering in their archive. He was an excellent guide so much of this I learned from him as we walked, supplemented with just a little research 🙂

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