Pocket Britain
Britain > East Anglia > Cambridge > The Backs

A beautiful stretch of land running along the back of the riverside Colleges

Listen to this article


Bridge of Sighs
Clare Bridge
Gardens and Meadows
King's College Views
The Cambridge Backs is a stretch of beautiful land, running along the back of the riverside colleges of the University of Cambridge. The ground covers both sides of the river Cam and runs from Magdalene Street Bridge in the North to Silver Street Bridge in the South. The land was traditionally used by the colleges in the 16th century as pasture, gardens and orchards. Then in 1772 St John’s College consulted English architect Lancelot Brown who developed the landscape for the river bank land, which still exists today. The Backs incorporates the grounds of seven colleges including Magdalene, St Johns, Clare and King’s College.  In 1995, English Heritage listed the Backs as a Grade 1 Historic Park.

The view of King's College from the Backs
The River Cam runs through the Backs and is the centre piece of the landscape. It has for centuries provided a transport link to the town and acted as an important commercial thoroughfare to the mill at Silver Street. Today, the transport and industrial boats have been replaced with the famous punts that can be seen up and down the river. A favourite pass-time for the many students who live in the city, is a trip on a punt, soaking up the beauty of the Backs, and of course is a highlight of any visit to Cambridge. The stunning architecture of the college buildings adds to the natural beauty and the academic history of the buildings creates a wonderful setting to sail through. The tranquility and elegance of King’s College Chapel rises above the grassy lawns and the cloisters of Trinity Hall still ring out with the sound of the tramping feet of students.

The Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College
Whilst in the mid 1970’s Dutch elm disease threatened the many elm avenues along the Backs, the trees remain and provide an ideal spot from which to look out over the stunning landscape. In the spring the Backs is covered with a thick blanket of daffodils and crocuses, which is a sight not to be missed.

Clare Bridge
In November 2007, the landscape architect Robert Myers completed The Backs Cambridge Landscape Strategy which outlines the proposals for the evolution of the Backs over the next 50 years. It is hoped this historic stretch of land will retain its myriad of lawns and trees but will be expanded to include more beech trees, extended to emphasise Browns original feel. It is also intended to create a wildlife corridor that will allow both animals and birds to move through the area safely and provide suitable habitat, in what is an ever expanding urban city.

The Bridge of Sighs at St John's College

The view over Cambridge from the Backs at dawn
Photo © alexbrn (CC)

Leaf fall in autumn among the Backs
Photo © Laura Morley (CC)

Did You Know?

Cows still graze on many parts of the Backs
The Cambridge Backs is a beautiful stretch of land that captures the Cambridge countryside right in the heart of the city. An exploration of the Backs provides a journey into the history of Cambridge, its culture, academia and natural beauty and is a true jewel in the very impressive Cambridge crown.
Visitor Information
Enter the Backs from Silver Street (past the Mathematical Bridge) and turn right into Queens Green. Follow the riverside walk and enjoy the views of Queens', King's, Clare,Trinity and St Johns. Entrance is FREE.

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy