Cambridge is a lovely town. It's dominated, of course, by the University and its many colleges. The architecture of most of them is superb. Sadly they were all closed when I got there - end of year celebrations following end of year exams. You'd think, after all this time I'd be better at doing some research before I go anywhere. But no, I'm still blundering about in a fog of my own making. However, most places opened up again while I was still there so it turned out alright in the end.
I stayed in a pub in Barton, a few miles out of Cambridge and took the Park & Ride bus into town each day. Cambridge is not a car friendly town - narrow streets, pedestrian only zones and horrendously expensive parking. Most people, sensibly, ride bikes.
Have I mentioned Park & Ride before? It's a wonderful invention found in most English towns and cities. You park you car at the P&R and catch the bus into the town centre, and then back to your car at the end of the day. In Cambridge it cost me 2 pounds 40 for all-day parking and 2 bus rides; some places are cheaper, some charge a bit more. To park in Cambridge itself for a day costs 22 pounds. No brainer.
The first thing I did in Cambridge was take a punt ride along the River Cam. The trip goes from the Magdalene (pronounced Maudlin for some reason) Bridge at Quayside to the Mill Pond and back. It passes through the part of the river known as "The Backs" as it runs past the back of many of the colleges. It's the only way to see this part of town, if you're not part of the University, as the riverside land is all privately owned, by the colleges, and not accessible to the public. The same goes for many of the bridges that span the river along here - college property.
One such bridge is Cambridge's version of the Bridge of Sighs.
This bridge, built in 1831, is part of St John's College and is supposed to be modelled on the original in Venice.
The oldest bridge is the Clare College Bridge. It dates back to 1639. Older bridges were all destroyed during the English Civil War. Silly men.
You get good views of the colleges from the river, although the temporary fencing and huge marquees set up for the college balls spoilt it a bit. I think the fencing was to stop drunken students falling in the river.
The best view is of King's College Chapel - a really imposing structure whether seen from the river or from town.
The punt trip goes as far as the Mill Pond where you'll find the Anchor pub.
This was a regular haunt of Syd Barrett. Both Syd and Dave Gilmour were/are Cambridge natives. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd on the iPod while I was in Cambridge and still can't think of the town without Shine On You Crazy Diamond running through my head.
I'm glad I took the punt trip when I did because for the rest of my time in Cambridge it, naturally, rained. Fortunately, by the second day, the colleges had started to reopen so I was able to do some indoor sightseeing. The colleges are not just university buildings but also provide student housing - probably only Oxford can compete for such impressive student digs!
The two big colleges are King's and St John's. They're huge and the competition/rivalry between them is apparently fierce. From a purely architectural point of view, King's wins hands down for me. It was founded in 1441 by Henry VI but the Chapel wasn't completed until during the reign of Henry VIII.
Another of the big colleges is Queens' College: founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou (the Queen of Henry VI), and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville (the Queen of Edward IV). Hence Queens', not Queen's. Two of its notable students are Oscar Wilde and Stephen Fry. Appropriately.
Apart from the University and colleges, there are plenty of other things to see in Cambridge. The pedestrian zones make it a pleasant place to wander around, although you do need to watch out for the bikes! There's a large open air market in one of the squares - everything from fruit and veg to tourist trash on offer. Plenty of shops too. I noticed lots of high-end clothing shops and tailors. I don't think there's any shortage of money in this town. I doubt I've ever seen such well-dressed students anywhere.
The Round Church is an interesting little structure.
It dates back to the mid 1100s, built by the Normans. Inside is a series of poster boards outlining the history of Cambridge: it's an old town with settlements recorded back to pre-Roman times.
There are some really nice, spacious parklands to wander through: Midsummer Common, Jesus Common are two that I strolled around. There was the Midsummer Fair set up in Midsummer Common so I went and had a look. I'd hoped there'd be market stalls and such like but it was mostly just rides. A proper old time fairground. I was too early though and nothing was open - it all takes off in the afternoons.
Still, it was all very colourful and a bit olde worlde. There were even some traditional travelling vans which were cute.
There's a nice path along Jesus Common that wanders along the riverside but that was blocked off at one point.
A body had been found in the river that morning. Local news reported that the death was suspicious and two teenagers had been taken in for questioning. Not a particularly nice way to end my sojourn in Cambridge!
On the way back to Barton one day I took a detour to Grantchester, another little village just outside Cambridge. Thatched cottages and cute pubs!
Behind the Red Lion is Grantchester Meadows about which Pink Floyd sang on the Ummagumma album.
Beautiful little spot.
All in all, despite the murder and the rain, I enjoyed Cambridge. It's a very picturesque town.
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