The Backs

It is, in a wobbly sort of way, a spring-like period in Cambridge – some days have been unseasonably warm (although not today – the wind is in the north), with early signs of new growth: blossom on the trees, flowers poking through, birds getting excitable, humans getting frisky.


Photo: Peter Russell

The Backs, in particular, are in the grip of the New World (as John Donne calls the spring), the Backs being the extensive green spaces on the west bank of the Cam, running from Queens’ College up to St. John’s and Magdelene, via King’s, Clare, Trinity Hall and Trinity. It is from the Backs that you will get the most celebrated views of King’s College Chapel.

Photo: Alex Brown

Photo: Alex Brown

Originally an area of pasture, orchards and gardens, in the eighteenth century the land of west bank of the Cam opposite St. John’s was remodelled as a ‘wilderness’ area by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783). Brown also made proposals for a similar development opposite King’s, but these were never implemented. In time some buildings appeared on the west back, the first of them New Court in St. John’s College.

Photo: Cmglee

Photo: Cmglee

As it stands, the backs are now host mostly to snowdrops and aconites, both just starting to come through. Now we just need the late snows to hold off.


Photo: Peewee Rustle


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