After all the drama of settling in, I was definitely ready to start enjoying my weekends, and make the most of my time here and when I am not on a trip abroad, I set about exploring my new backyard in Cambridge, the beautiful parks and colleges, and the surrounding country side.
I must admit I just love the history of England, the UK and Europe in general. Being able to wander down a track that was a main throughfare in the 13th century and around colleges founded in the 12th century just blows my mind. Spoiler alert – there is a history lesson coming up!
Speaking of colleges, did you know that although colleges are partly responsible for admission of undergraduates, colleges are actually glorified halls of residences. Lectures are held elsewhere aruond the city. I certainly did not know that!
Cambridge is a ‘collegiate’ university, which means it comprises University faculties and departments in different academic subjects, and a number of Colleges – 31 in all. Not sure I will get to all 31 in the year but I will do my best.
Cambridge University was founded in 1209, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English speaking workd (second to Oxford, as it was founded by Oxford University students who left Oxford after a dispute with the locals).
For many years only male students were enrolled into the university with colleges for women being founded initially in 1869. That said, the women studying here did not actually graduate with a degree from Cambridge University until 1948 (despite studying and sitting exams)!
Since students must belong to a college, and since established colleges remained closed to women, women found admissions restricted to colleges established only for women. The former men’s colleges began to admit women between 1972 and 1988 but oddly Cambridge stil has 3 women’s only colleges!
When visiting the colleges, some are free and open for the public just to wander around, others charge (up to £10 to enter). There are even some you can’t enter at all as a member of the public. There are also those that I am not sure I am allowed in to but I walk through the open gates like I know where I am going and no one stops me lol!
As well as exploring the city, I am also taking the opportunity to explore around Cambridgeshire and surrounds. I found a great app called ifootpath which has self guided walks all around the country. So far I have only done 2 but look forward to more over the coming months. Of course the spring flowers and blossom are stunning everywhere.
My first foray in to the world of colleges was to Jesus College and Sidney Sussex College.
The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge (what mouthful),
or Jesus College as it is known, was established between 1496 and 1516 and is the third wealthiest colleges in Cambridge. It’s has vast grounds in near the river and lovely buildings.
Although I had planned to try and visit Jesus College, my wanderings that day also lead me to Sidney Sussex College which is right in the centre of the main down town area of the city. As I have soon learnt, many of the colleges are tardis like – looking small from the outside but one courtyard leads to another and another and then seems to open up into grounds much bigger than you could imagine from the outside.
Sidney Sussex College definitely was one that fell in to that category. Founded in 1596, Sidney (as it is informal known) is one of the smaller colleges and boasts the likes of William Cromwell (political and military ruler who’s skull is now buried under the chapel) and TV personality Carol Voderman.
My next weekend in the city I was back treading the pavements to explore. First stop this weekend was Magdalene College, which I have subsequently learnt is pronouned “MAWD-lin”. Another small college (with only around 300 undergraduates), it was founded in 1542. The college still has a very traditional style and holds a candlelit formal hall every evening. It was also the last all-male college to admit women – in 1988! At the time, some of the male undergraduates wore black arm baans and flew the college flag at half mast!
I then headed over to Christ’s College, founded in 1437. For me their most famous alunmi was Charles Darwin. I really felt like I was walking in the footsteps of greatness.
My next trip in to the city was on a lovely sunny day. I had spotted a beautiful view of Kings College as I drove by on Friday (dropping something off for work) and I set out on a mission to find it on foot. It always takes me way longer to reach anywhere I plan to go as I am constantly getting distracted but other things – cute streets with bicycles, cute little cottages with beautiful daffodills in the gardens and this day Castle Mound (literally the only raised vantage point in the city and was the site of a Norman castle in 1068 by William the Conqueror).
I wandered down what they call “the backs”, basically just the backs of the colleges (see they are not that smart lol). From this side you can wander through the beautiful gardens and up to the river. That morning I wandered through the beautiful gardens of Trinity College with their wonderful spring flowers in bloom, and great views in to St Johns College. It was still early and still weren’t many people around and no punts out on the river yet, meaning the river was still with beautiful reflections (until a some Canadian geese decided to mess it up!).
Some of the detours I take, take me to places I am probably not supposed to be – I just act like I belong and no one seems to stop me 👍🏻I continued wandering the streets and the near by meadows until I came across Cassius and Gonville College (which was actually closed that day but I didn’t even realise until I was walking out and over heard someone else being told they weren’t allowed in!) 🤦🏻♀️
Gonville & Caius College, the fourth oldest colleges at Cambridge founded in 1348 and one of the wealthiest. It boasted 14 nobel prize winners (second after Trinity College) including Francis Crick (joint discoverer of the structure of DNA – as a side note, I saw a very interesting play called Photograph 51 about this discovery a few weeks, primarly about Dr Rosalind Franklin, an x-ray Crystallographer who was key in the discovery of the double helix strucutre but overlooked when it came to the noble prize for the discovery). Dr Stephen Hawkings received a research fellowship here to and it is where he got his PhD in applied maths and theoretical physics.
This day I got so distracted with other things I ended up not having time to go to the colleges I had planned to see 🤦🏻♀️ but I can always go another day and I saw lots of other lovely places. Cambridge is really such a beautiful city and I look forward to continuing to explore it throughout the year.
To help me give some structure to some of my wandering (but not necessary my writing), I have bought a booked called 111 Places in Cambrudge That You Shouldn’t Miss. Not only does it include some of the colleges, it also includes gardens, cafes and other quirky littel places and things to look out for. At the time of writing this blog, I have managed to cross of 13 of the 111. It will be interesting to see how many I get to in the year.
Also in the pursuit of giving structure to my wandering outside of the city, I have found a great app call iFootpath, which shows walks throughout the country. Not only does it give directions for the walks and show them on the map, but it also provides information about the sites along the route.
The first one of these walks I did was around the city of Ely – now something I still can’t get my head around how a town comes a city here. I had always thought it was to do with population, but it seems here that is not the case, as the City of Ely only has a population of only 20,000 or so. Apparently, having a cathedral helps, but it basically the city just needs has to apply (and there is much competition) and the Queen formly grants the city status as she (or her advisors) sees fit. Ely was granted this status in 1974 and is one of the smallest cities in England.
My morning walk around the city of Ely was brisk but with filled with blue skies, bird song and blossom. If I haven’t said it already (though I think I have) English history blows my mind as I just casually strolled down a narrow pathway that once was the main route to Ely in the 13th century!!!!
Ely is reknown for it’s beautiful cathedral that dominates the skyline (rather than it’s name originating from the name the ‘Isle of Eels’)! The current building dates back to 1083 – apparently the stone used to build the cathedral were purchased from a quarry owned by Peterborough Abbey for 8,000 eels a year! I had no idea how much value eels had lol.
My next walk from my app was around Grantchester and its beautiful river side meadows.
Grantchester is a beautiful village just 3km outside of Cambridge with a population of just over 500, but it has received fame in recent years due to the TV series Grantchester, which is filmed in the village itself as well as Cambridge. (I had not watched it till I moved to Cambridge but have subsequently binged watched all the series!)
This walk took me through beautiful the village, across beautiful fields and passed the the quaint ‘Old Vicarage’, once the home of English poet Rupert Brooke and now the home of novelist and politian Jeffery Archer.
I then carried on to a small nature reserve call Byron’s Pool, named after poet Lord Byron who attended Trinity College from 1805 and who used to swim in the weir pool.
The pathway ended walking through the lovely Grantchester meadows – wide rural pathways that run along by the River Cam. Apparently you can walk all the way to Cambridge along the pathway, a walk (and I am sure a story) for another day.
Of all the places I could live in the UK, I am gratefully to be living in such a beautiful one.