Stepping back in time on a visit to Cambridge

by Carmen Allan-Petale

The first college at the University of Cambridge, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284 after two students ran away from Oxford University because they were wanted for murder.

Now known as one of the most famous universities in the world, tourists flock there throughout the year to experience a town steeped in history and charm.

A sign that spring has just been – ducklings on the River Cam

Cambridge is a great place to go on a day trip from London as it’s only an hour on the train from King’s Cross station in the city centre.

The weather in England had been abominable but luckily the sun came out for us when we visited, so we headed to the River Cam which runs through the famous Cambridge University colleges for a spot of punting. We opted for the tour and are glad we did, as we saw amateur punters tumble into the river more than once!

Us girls on the River Cam being escorted by our punter

In fact, one punter fell in to the dirty water during a spot of ‘bridge hopping’ which seems to be a game played amongst students where they climb up the bridges’ walls, run across to the other side and then jump back down into the same punt. The first time we saw the punter do it, I called him a monkey because he scaled the wall so fast. The next time he wasn’t so skilful and there was a large splash as he fell in.

If you fancy a beer during your punt you can buy one from the floating bar

One of the first colleges we passed in our boat was Magdalene College, which was the last college to admit women in 1988. According to our guide, the men at the college held a funeral to mourn the death of the male-only college when this happened, holding a wake and carrying a coffin through the halls of the school.

We also passed Trinity College, which is the wealthiest college in Cambridge and the students who achieve the best grades get the classiest accommodation – complete with their own ensuite bathroom and lounge room. Often people think King’s College is the richest in Cambridge, but this is a misconception.

Mathematical Bridge which was designed to stay up without bolts

Other colleges, like St John’s, don’t have as much money and this college planted ivy to grow up its wall to hide the fact that the whole building isn’t built out of stone because the college couldn’t afford it.

St John’s college, which looks beautiful covered in ivy but which actually hides that it’s not made from stone

However even this college’s building is impressive, with one of its architects building a replica of Venice’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’. Unlike the Venice version, which got its name because it transported prisoners from their gallows to their execution – therefore taking their last breath (or ‘sigh’), at St John’s the bridge leads from the students’ accommodation to their examination rooms – sighing for a different reason!

The Bridge of Sighs, a replica of the original in Venice

After our enjoyable punt, we had a quick lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river and then we hired bikes and road around the outskirts of the city, viewing the university from further away. It was still impressive.

Riding my hired bike around the ring road surrounding Cambridge

Unfortunately many of the colleges were closed to visitors because the students were sitting their exams, but we did manage to walk around Trinity College. I kept imagining what it must be like to attend such a prestigious university – what an honour it must be. It was like stepping onto the set of Harry Potter and it would be like being transported back in time if you were able to study there. Take a look at our video to see what it was like.

To finish off our quintessentially English day we had a traditional meal – an English cream tea. Tickety-boo!

Scones and tea – how very English

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