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UK - England: Cambridge, London, Oxford
Cambridge, England: Again a rift started it all
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The University of Cambridge has been in existence since the early 13th century when scholars moving from Oxford formed a school here. Oxford University in itself was formed due to a rift. But that’s another story featured separately. The Cambridge campus has 31 colleges and has been alma mater to many scholars. At the time of writing, Cambridge has produced 85 Nobel Prize winners. That should say it all.
In the good old days, increasing number of students in Oxford led to serious accommodation shortage. Owners of homes began to expect rents that many could ill afford. As a result, a bunch of students got together, left Oxford and started a school in Cambridge. So, if Oxford is the oldest university, Cambridge would be second oldest!
Cambridge is about 90-minute drive from London. Since my plan was to cover Cambridge and Oxford on the same day, I opted to be a tourist on Evan Evans Bus Tour Company. Fortunately, they have a tour that covers the two destinations albeit only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The cost was GBP 74. We left the Victoria Bus Terminus at 9AM.
The bus dropped us on Queen’s road that works as a boundry of The Backs. We had 90 minutes to discover the town. Our tour guide was Sheila with a Scottish accent and she did a good job with her briefing. The name Cambridge is due to the River Cam that runs through the town. While the group decided to be with Sheila, I broke away from the group to explore on my own.
I entered the town of Cambridge using Silver Street. From a bridge on the River Cam I could see another beautiful bridge, built in 1749 (and rebuilt again in 1902), which is called ‘mathematical bridge’. It was designed and built to study bridge engineering, if I may. Anchored nearby were many punts. Professional rowers as well as students offer to take you around Cambridge in their punts. I came across many students holding placards offering their services. Had I the time on hand, I would have surely opted for a punt tour.
At the end of Silver Street, stands Saint Botolph’s Church which was built in 1320 – the oldest of its kind around. At this junction, there was no mistake to realize that I was in a ‘student town’. Bicycles were all around and formed a major mode of transportation. Sans of motorized traffic, it felt so good to walk… reminding me of the good old times.
King’s Parade is one major road in Cambridge and is a must visit. Its home to famous colleges including Queens’ College, King’s College and the Corpus Christi College and others. King’s Parade is intersected by smaller stone paved streets. Shops and restaurants all along King’s Parade make it a busy place.
A little detour on Benet Street got me to the gates of the historic Eagle Pub. The Eagle is one the oldest inns in Cambridge dating back to the 14th century. Not only does the Eagle provide traditional English cask ales, a selection of wines and carefully prepared home cooked food, you can also sit where Watson and Crick announced to the world they had discovered "the secret of life" (DNA), look at the famous RAF (Royal Air Force) ceiling which boasts signatures of RAF pilots from all over the world who returned from the second world war and signed their names on the ceiling using only cigarette lighters, candle smoke and lip stick. Whilst you are around, make sure to look at a window that’s always kept opened – rain or shine; snow or hail. It’s believed that if the window is closed it will destroy the occupier as had happened in the past!
Another attraction on the King’s Parade is the Corpus Clock, located on the corner of Corpus Christi College. The Corpus Clock is a large sculptural clock. It was conceived and funded by John C. Taylor, an old member of the college. It was officially unveiled to the public on 19 September 2008 by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. The clock's face is a rippling 24-carat gold-plated stainless steel disc, about 1.5 metres in diameter. It has no hands or numbers, but displays the time by opening individual slits in the clock face backlit with blue LEDs; these slits are arranged in three concentric rings displaying hours, minutes, and seconds. The dominating visual feature of the clock is a sculpture of a grim-looking, devouring, metal insect similar to a grasshopper or locust. Taylor calls this beast the Chronophage (literally "time eater", from the Greek words). It moves its mouth, appearing to "eat up" the seconds as they pass, and occasionally it "blinks" in seeming satisfaction. The creature's constant motion produces an eerie grinding sound that suits its task. The hour is tolled by the sound of a chain clanking into a small wooden coffin hidden in the back of the clock.
Moving forward, King’s Parade turns into Trinity Street that has the famous Saint John’s College. Whilst other colleges are closed for public viewing, Saint John’s College allows you in, provided you pay a fee of GBP 3.50. I did. And I recommend all visitors to do so too. Saint John’s College is a fine example of how a 16th century dilapidated hospital has been converted into a fine educational institution.
A marked visitor route takes you through the college’s front gate, first court, the chapel, chapel court, second court, third court, the new court and the Cripps building. After leaving the third court you will come across the Bridge of Sighs built over River Cam. Whilst the architecture all along is bound to captivate visitors, the combination of the brick gables of the Third Court, New Court and the Bridge of Sighs constitutes for many an epitome of the Cambridge scene.
Here’s a small list of Cambridge students. Trust me there are countless more but these names come to mind quickly: Charles Darwin, Lord Mountbatten, David Attenborough, James Watson, Graham Chapman, Lee Kuan Yew, Queen Margarethe of Denmark, Alastair Campbell, Salman Rushdie, C S Lewis, Sue Perkins, William Wordsworth, Oliver Cromwell, Prince Charles, Charles Moore and Stephen Hawking.
After the tour of Saint John’s College, I walked up to the end of Trinity Street. In a corner was the Round Church. It was time for me to turn back as I need to be at the pick-up point by 12:30. My bus would leave for Oxford – my next destination of the day.
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