Walks index

River Cam - from Elizabeth Way to Magdalene Bridge


This is the Midsummer Common/Jesus Green section of the River Cam through Cambridge. Things worth looking at are marked in red. Click on them, or on the links, for descriptions and pictures.

Start point Midsummer Common Fort St George Jesus Green Towards the city centre
Underpass
Elizabeth Way Bridge
Anchor
Cutter Ferry bridge
Midsummer Common
College boat houses
Description of the Bumps
Fort St George pub
Fort St George bridge
Midsummer Fair and Fair Street
Victoria Avenue Bridge
Jesus Green
Open air swimming pool
Jesus lock, bridge and weir
Avenues of trees
Sundial and bandstand
Richmond Terrace
Magdalene Bridge and Quayside
Underpass Elizabeth Way Bridge Anchor under Elizabeth Way Bridge Cutter Ferry bridge Midsummer Common College boat houses Fort St George pub Fort St George bridge Midsummer Fair and Fair Street Victoria Avenue Bridge Jesus Green Jesus Lock Pool Jesus Lock Lime tree avenue Horse Chestnut avenue Sundial Richmond Terrace Magdalene Bridge and Quayside Butt Green

Map of River Cam from Elizabeth Way to Magdalene Bridge

This is not intended to be a linear walk, with a start and an end. I will describe the places in order, but feel free to see them in any order you want. There is a scale at the top of the map. 100 metres is similar to 100 yards and 400 metres is about a quarter of a mile, so you can see that all of this is quite close together.

Click on the photos for a bigger version.

You may prefer to start this walk at Magdalene Bridge, near the centre of Cambridge. However, I am going the other way, so we start at the Elizabeth Way bridge. This walk doesn't cross the bridge, but if you want to walk along it, there's a good view of the start of this walk. The spire in the distance is All Saints in Jesus Lane. This walk doesn't actually get to that point.

Elizabeth Way Bridge View from Elizabeth Way Bridge

If you are already on the river, then you can walk along it until you find the Elizabeth Way bridge. If not, start at the Elizabeth Way roundabout underpass (see first river walk). We are heading for the river so head for the scenes with the punts.

Underpass painting in the Elizabeth Way roundabout

Path to river from Elizabeth Way roundabout

When at ground level again, look for a path which runs to the left of Elizabeth Way (the main road over the river). Walk down this to the river. Apparently it's called Walnut Tree Avenue - I never knew that!

Elizabeth Way bridge is now on your right. The bridge was built in 1971. It takes most of the traffic which has to cross the river. As you can see, it is possible to walk under the bridge on this side, so you could walk downstream to the Green Dragon bridge from here (which was the first river walk), and beyond.

Elizabeth Way Bridge

Anchor under Elizabeth Way Bridge

We will need to turn our back on this bridge for most of this walk, but before doing this, walk under the bridge, and look on the opposite bank (while still under the bridge) where you will see this anchor. I don't know the story behind it. You can't get a better look, as it is on private land.

Now turn around, and walk westward along the river. You are now walking through Midsummer Common.

Ahead is the Cutter Ferry bridge, a foot and cycle bridge. This is a new bridge, built in 2005. It is 30m long and weighs approximately 20 tonnes. The original footbridge was closed in 2003 after over 75 years of service. That bridge replaced Dant's ferry. There is a path on the north bank called Cutter Ferry Path (see below, right). It seems odd that there are these two names for the ferry, Dant and Cutter, but this website says that the family and ferry were called Dant, and they seemed to have a steam tug called Cutter. So perhaps the ferry had two names.

Cutter Ferry bridge or Pye bridge

Cutter Ferry Path

The Cutter Ferry bridge is also called the Pye bridge. Pye was an electronics firm in St Andrews Road, north of the river. Cutter Ferry Path leads there, under the Elizabeth Way bridge. Pye made radios and televisions. They were taken over by Philips.

If you look at a map of Cambridge, you can see a lot of grass next to the River Cam. These are really water meadows. The photo below on the right show how Midsummer Common flooded in October 2001. The floods were not very deep, but since the commons and other riverside greeen areas are so big, they can sop up a lot of water. This means that they not only stop houses in Cambridge flooding, they remove flood water from the river to help the situation downstream.

Midsummer Common Midsummer Common floods in October 2001

Midsummer Common is rough grass, mostly open with trees round the edge. Midsummer Common is registered under Commons Registration Act 1965. There are cows grazing there for some of the year, but there are also events on the common, so the cows have to go elsewhere then!

Midsummer Common

Butt Green

The southern part of Midsummer Common, by Maids Causeway, is called Butt Green. This would have been used for archery practice in medieval times, when English archers were needed for the French wars, among others. The small building in the distance houses public toilets. Its local nickname is the Armadilloo.

Most of the boat houses are along the north bank of this part of the river. The colleges of Cambridge University have several boat crews each, racing twice a year in the Bumps, a special type of race described below. Each college has its own coloured blades so you can tell which is which. Click here for the colours. There are Town boat clubs as well, some connected with local pubs.

College boat houses College boat houses

College boat houses

You can often see the boats along this stretch of river. The racing and practice take place between the railway bridge and Bait's Bite lock, north of Cambridge, some distance away. But you can see the boats on their way downstream. Here you can see a four (4 rowers with a cox) and an uncoxed pair. The rowers face backwards, so the cox steers and makes sure that they don't run into anything. This means that an uncoxed pair (who are still facing backwards) have to be more careful.

The Bumps are races between college eights, teams of 8 rowers and a cox. (There are also Town Bumps as well, for the non-university teams.) You can see that the River Cam is rather narrow to race boats side by side, so a special type of race was invented. These races are spread out over several days. On the first day, the boats are lined up along the river at Bait's Bite Lock in the order that they ended up the previous year, a few yards apart. Once they have started, each eight rows as fast as possible to catch up with the boat in front, and to avoid being caught by the boat behind.

Bumps chart

When a boat catches up with the boat ahead, it actually bumps it to demonstrate this (hence the name of the race). This bump is acknowledged by the boat in front (or the umpire confirms it). Both boats drop out, and take no further part in that day's racing. One effect that this has is that the boat behind now has to catch the boat in front of the pair, a lot further to row! If they manage it, it is called an overbump. Any boat which neither bumps nor is bumped carries on to the end of the race. The boat crews who have managed a bump break off branches from a willow tree (which are all along the river banks) and decorate themselves and their boat, proudly showing their success.

The next day, the boat that has done the bump starts in front of the bumped boat. Any overbump means that the successful boat starts three boats up, and the other three boats down. And it all happens again. The local newspaper prints a chart explaining how the boats change order during the various days racing. This example shows some exciting overbumps! It also shows that the head of the lower division then has to row again the same day as the bottom of the next division. If they manage a bump, then they move up into the next division for real.

Any crew that manages to bump every day of the races is considered to have won their oars. The table on the left is printed in the local paper to explain what has happened each day.

The Fort St. George is a popular pub by the river. You can sit outside, either facing the common, or round the back and watch the river. It gets very busy in warm weather, or during the fairs and other events on the common.

Fort St George pub Fort St George pub and bridge

The pub's full name is the Fort St George In England. It is called this because it was completed on St George's Day 1639, and it was supposed to resemble the Fort St George in Madras, India. The footbridge next to the pub is naturally called the Fort St George bridge, although some call it Midsummer Common bridge. It was built in 1927. Again, it replaced a ferry.

Fort St George bridge

Ferry Path

You can cross the river using the Fort St George bridge, and walk along Pretoria Road, then turn left down Ferry Path. Turn left again down the narrow path which leads you to the river. This is called Ferry Path as well, and must be the original path to the ferry.The map shows that there seem to be paths along this side of the river. But they are used by boat crews getting to their boat houses, and it is private property. To walk along the river, you need to retrace your footsteps to get back to the Midsummer Common side.

There is a very good reason for the name of Midsummer Common. Every midsummer, there is a funfair on this common, with a few market stalls as well. There are other fairs during the year, such as November 5th, when the council holds a fireworks display on the common. But the Midsummer Fair is the biggest, and the oldest. This document says that Barnwell Priory was granted the right to the fair by King John. In 1505 it was agreed that the mayor and burgesses of Cambridge should hold the fair, paying a yearly rent of 4 marks to the priory. Nowadays, the Mayor of Cambridge proclaims the fair on the first day, and throws money to children. Click here for details.

Midsummer Fair

Fair Street

You may not be able to see the fair, of course. But if you cross the common to Maid's Causeway, you can see Fair Street. This is how Cambridge people get to the fair. The marks on the wall, 'HTP' and a year, are parish boundary marks.

The next bridge along the river is a road bridge, Victoria Avenue Bridge. It takes quite a lot of traffic, although not as much as the Elizabeth Way Bridge. Northwards, it does lead into a notorious junction called Mitcham's Corner, which is a mega-roundabout, mis-shapen, with houses in the centre. If you are coming through Mitcham's Corner in a car or bicycle, then look at the lane markings on the road very carefully!

Victoria Avenue Bridge Lamp on Victoria Avenue Bridge

This bridge replaced Bate's Ferry. Plaques on the bridge say that the foundation stone of Victoria Avenue Bridge was laid in 1889, and it was opened in 1890. It was closed for reconstruction recently, and re-opened in 1992.

You can walk under the bridge to get to Jesus Green. Occasionally, this path floods, so then you can climb some steps to cross Victoria Avenue, and then climb down more steps to return to the riverside path.

Jesus Green is the next piece of open land next to the river. Its character is different to Midsummer Common, as its grass is closely mowed, and it looks more like a town park. It used to be part of Midsummer Common, but was separated from it when Victoria Avenue was built around 1890. There are other sports on the green, a skate-board park (on the far left of the left picture below left) and a children's playground. But it is a big area, and there is always open grass and trees to look at.

Jesus Green Jesus Green

There is an open air unheated swimming pool next the river surrounded by trees. This pool is 100 yards long, and is closed during the winter. Click here for details.

Jesus Green swimming pool Jesus Green

Jesus lock was built in 1836. It divides the river. Downstream there is the lower river, used by the rowing eights and other boats from the college and Town boat houses. Upstream is the middle river, which belongs to the punts. You can just see a punt under the footbridge. There is also a weir, and a footbridge built in 1892.

Jesus lock Jesus lock, bridge and weir

There are several paths meeting at Jesus lock so they can cross the river. One path leads back to Midsummer Common. It is a beautiful avenue, lined with London plane trees. The view on the right is from Victoria Avenue, looking back towards Jesus Lock. Walking along this avenue takes you away from the river, but it's worth it, especially on a sunny day.

Avenue of London Plane trees in Jesus Green

Victoria Avenue with Horse Chestnut trees

The end of the London Plane avenue takes you to another famous Cambridge avenue. This time it is a tree-lined road, Victoria Avenue, with its horse chestnut trees.

Walk back along the avenue to the river and lock again. The last part of Jesus Green is more formal.

Jesus Green by lock

Sundial in Jesus Green

It includes the old bandstand (top of picture) and a sundial. This needs a person to complete it. You stand on the mark, and your shadow shows the time. Click here for more about it.

If you carry on walking along the river, you will find yourself on a board walk built out over the river. This is Richmond Terrace, constructed fairly recently. Before that, you couldn't walk along this piece of the river. It is an attractive walk, with good views across the river, of attractive houses, then the grounds of Magdalene College grounds over the river. You can also see people punting with greater or lesser ability on the river.

Houses across the river Richmond Terrace

Finally you come to Quayside. This is a modern square. However, this was the original heart of Cambridge, as it was a river port before the university was set up.

Quayside

Magdalene Bridge

Magdalene Bridge is the end of this walk. This is another road bridge, although with little traffic apart from buses (and bicycles, of course). In Cambridge, we spell Magdalene with a final 'e' (Oxford doesn't). Both Oxford and Cambridge pronounce it as 'Maudlin'.

If you want, you can continue with the next walk.