University Arms, Cambridge

University Arms, Cambridge

A former coaching inn spiked with English eccentricity,
The University Arms is every
bibliophile’s bliss. Thumb through classics in the library, bed
down in rooms named after famed alumni, or tuck into the
restaurant’s quintessentially British dishes. No Cambridge degree

This article appears in Volume 27: The Books

“Have you been to Cambridge
before?” the manager asks. “Oh yes! The last time was after my
interview, when I cried into the river under the Mathematical
Bridge because I knew I hadn’t got in!” I reply brightly. To give
him credit, he only looks bamboozled for a second before
responding, “Well! I hope your stay with us will be MUCH more

Reader, it is. Despite immortalising the crest of my failed alma
mater in stained glass, the University Arms is a bibliophile’s
bliss that you don’t need a Cambridge degree to decipher. A former
coaching inn that had morphed into a Frankenstein of architectural
add-ons, last year it was licked into shape by architect John
Simpson and
interior designer Martin Brudnizki
. The result is a bookish
homage to the city’s history spiked with English eccentricity – the
carpets are patterned with university ties, the wallpaper is made
of old tomes and there’s a recording of Alan Bennett reading The
Wind in the Willows in the loo.

Its 192 rooms include 12 suites named after alumni such as
Newton, Byron and Tennyson. I snuggle up in Hawking, where a
psychedelic print of the man himself oversees a covetable bookshelf
curated by Mayfair
Heywood Hill. In the library
lounge you can thumb through classics by authors including Virginia
Woolf, Alan Turing and William Wordsworth, and illustrated pocket
maps highlight notable literary locations such as where Sylvia
Plath and Ted Hughes first met, best reached on one of the hotel’s
vintage, powder-blue bicycles.

For nourishment I head to Parker’s Tavern, the in-house
restaurant dedicated to souped-up British classics. Chef Tristan
Welch’s dishes deserve their own volumes of rhapsodic prose, with
special chapters on the slow-cooked truffled duck egg and
rice-pudding soufflé. I’m sent packing with a slice of Duke of
Cambridge tart that leaves me wiping away morsels of burnt sugar on
the train home, those tears a dim and distant memory.