Cambridge is one of those iconic places, it has such a history and so much has been written about it over the years, not to mention the photos and paintings of this beautiful town…. I had been before, but so long ago and I don’t think I ever explored it thoroughly, so this was a chance to get to know this historic place. My Dad was at the University in the early 1940s studying engineering, although my understanding is that he was having too good a time and had to repeat his final exams. I certainly remember him telling me that it was so cold and draughty in his ‘digs’ that he poked newspaper into every crack around doors and windows which made his landlady furious!
I caught the train from London Liverpool St and have to say a word in praise of the English railway system – the trains I have so far caught to and from country centres have all been immaculate with wi fi and comfortable seats and nice and warm. You get a discount for off peak tickets and for booking in advance. The hotel I picked from Booking.com on their last minute deals (good value) is right at the station and a 15 min walk into the centre of the town. It’s an Ibis Hotel, straightforward but clean, warm and comfortable and with a nice vibe.
It is a bit of a challenge to get your head around the amazing buildings and history of this town. I started with the centre, Christ’s College, which is where I believe my father studied – my mother, who is 91 and still sharp as a tack and who reads my blog and uses emails will know for sure and will tell me! I know that she was also in Cambridge (or just outside) during the war and once met Clark Gable as there was an American Red Cross canteen for the US servicemen (we have a photo to prove the meeting!) Anyway, Christ’s is magnificent in that wonderful shade of yellow stone with an impressive gateway and visitors were allowed to explore the grounds (provided you don’t walk on the vibrantly green grass…)
The centre of town is just across from here – huge market in the Lion Square and a modern shopping arcade – nice to go inside and get warm again, and listen to some very clever pianists on the piano (free to use) on the top floor and to listen to Christmas Carols before venturing out to more of old Cambridge and colleges which surround this area.
Apart from the obvious and wonderful history, I had to be very careful of cyclists! It is a town of bikes and you have to watch for them as they silently whistle past you (and most not wearing helmets).
There is also rather a lot of cigarette smoking, butts on the street and quite a few homeless (not as bad as Los Angeles) but quite a number sleeping rough.
Of course, surrounding all this is the glory of medieval architecture, illuminated manuscript, punting, the river, bridges and stone carving. As an art history student I was besotted with gothic cathedrals and I must say that King’s College Chapel is extraordinary. Just to see it standing in majesty with the flying buttresses soaring, the glow of the stone, the myriad stained glass windows and then to enter and see the fabulous fan vaulting on that vast ceiling – surely one of the wonders of the world!
There is a fabulous museum in Cambridge – The Fitzwilliam – it has so much, but I went to specifically see the exhibition on illuminated manuscripts – absolutely sublime in their beauty – burnished gold in the illustrations, supreme calligraphy, glorious colours, but not allowed to photograph. I came away wanting to have a go at making wonderful capital letters and beautiful writing.
The photo below was from the exhibition about the building of King’s College Chapel – also fascinating…..
There was more to see of course, I walked the Botanic Garden which had a plot grown specifically for the English winter to show that form and colour can still produce beauty even when there are no flowers. I’ve certainly enjoyed visiting – but would love to see the gardens in full bloom, so ‘note to self’ – return in summer!