Bricks and Bridges
I was fortunate to visit England again last summer. Every time I go there, I see something new (or old) and beautiful about the country.
My older sister lives in Kent with her family. Our parents happened to be in England as well that summer and since none of us had been to Cambridge, it was an easy decision for a day-trip out of London.
Cambridge is a university town in Cambridgeshire, north of London. It is home to the University of Cambridge, one of the oldest (earliest record of the uni was in 1209) and best universities in the world.
How to get there?
From London Kings Cross Station, it takes about 1 hr by train to reach Cambridge Station. You can buy train tickets at Kings Cross although, for us, we bought them at Kent (Sidcup). I like the regional trains in London. They are relatively cleaner (than, say, the Tube) and the fact that you can comfortably have your hot cappuccino and bagel on board while looking at charming sceneries outside the wide glass windows.
How to explore Cambridge?
There are a few options on how you can explore the town. From the train station, you can take a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus, rent a bicycle or do a punting tour at River Cam. If you are interested in going inside the university buildings, you have to join a local walking tour. You can check this website out for some walking tours:
Exploring the university town
We decided to do a walking tour on our own in the morning and then punting in the afternoon. We were lucky about the weather that June – sunny with cool breeze, so walking was a good choice. Summer months in England are bright and they have a smaller chance of rain, so it’s a good time to visit during that period.
I like visiting medieval structures – castles, bridges, especially the old churches, for their intricate architecture and beautiful interiors. The church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs behind us is a 19th century Gothic Revival. It is a working catholic church located in the heart of Cambridge.
As you walk down the streets of Cambridge, you can easily tell it’s a town loaded with history just by looking at the buildings and bridges. Many of them are part of the university itself and many are listed Grade 1.
TRIVIA: Some buildings or structures in England are listed for their historical significance or architectural design hence cannot be demolished or altered without approval of the local planning authorities. The objective for listing is to make sure that the value or heritage of a structure is protected. A Grade 1 listed building means it is of exceptional interest. Check out this interesting website for more info. https://historicengland.org.uk/
I like the contrast in this next picture – the soft, colourful flowers against the solid, monochromatic cobblestone courtyard and brick walls
We spent an hour or so at the Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street. The paintings and artifacts were mostly bequeathed to the university by Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam when he died in 1816. Admission to the museum is free.
We had lunch at The Anchor, a pub and restaurant right on the banks of River Cam. I like this restaurant for the good view of the river, good food, good service too!
I think one experience one shouldn’t miss in Cambridge is a punting tour at River Cam. You can hire a punt and cruise on your own, or do a private or shared chauffeured tour. For us we, we joined a shared tour with Punting Scudamore’s, located just outside The Anchor. The price is £19 per adult and £9.50 per child.
The tour is called College Backs Punting Tour which lasted 45 minutes. The Backs is basically the area behind (hence ‘Backs’) the colleges alongside the river. The tour was relaxing, which was just what I needed, and it gave us a glimpse into the university life and a lot of Cambridge’s history.
The seats in the punt were cushioned and they provided fleece blankets, too.
There were several bridges that span across the river including this historic Mathematical Bridge, a wooden bridge originally built in 1749. This bridge is still being used, although now it is just a replica made of teak. It was originally made of oak wood.
The building with red bricks connected to the Mathematical Bridge is the President’s Lodge at Queens’ College. It is the oldest building along the river in Cambridge and is where the head of the college lives. Queens’ is one of the 31 colleges of the university and it offers several courses including archaeology, economics, history, and law, to name a few.
This next beautiful Gothic Revival bridge is the Bridge of Sighs, which connects New Court and Third Court buildings at St John’s College.
The bridge is enclosed and they say that the bars on the windows were built to prevent the students from going in or out of St John’s College at night. It was built in 1831.
This next building is New Court at St John’s College. Built in 1831, it is affectionately known by the name ‘wedding cake’. If you look closely at the design of the central building’s cupola, you’ll understand why it’s called such.
A number of former prime ministers (England, New Zealand, India) were students of St John’s plus the British economist, Alfred Marshall (1915 – 2009), known for his significant contributions to the study of microeconomics. Now I’m trying to remember if his book, Principles of Economics, was one of my textbooks.
Behind us is Clare College, one of the oldest colleges in the university having been founded in 1326.
One of the most photographed buildings in The Backs is the King’s College Church.
King’s College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI. Construction of the church started in 1446 during the time of Henry VI but it was only after a century, in 1544 during the time of Henry VIII, that it was completed.
We were lucky to be able to get inside the grounds of King’s College.
Among the many notable alumni of the college was John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946), one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, and whose ideas I remember studying during my undergrad years.
The last building we saw was the Corpus Christi College. It’s the 6th college to be founded in Cambridge (1352).
I regretted leaving Cambridge without taking a picture of Trinity College, which has produced the most number of Nobel Prize winners and British prime ministers. One of its notable graduates is, of course, Sir Isaac Newton (gravity). Eddie Redmayne (actor, Theory of Everything, Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts…) is also a graduate of the college.
Anyway, we all went back to London after 4pm, and I with a burning desire to go back to Cambridge on my next visit to England.
What I think:
I think one day is too short to get to know a place like Cambridge, especially if you are interested in old buildings and history. Punting at The Backs is a must. And if I were to visit Cambridge again, I would join a tour that has access to the university buildings.
Up next is a day in the country – strawberry picking and blue ice-cream in Kent