Savouring the Delights of the Historical University City of Cambridge

Saturday, the 26th of August, proved to be a lovely day for driving along the pristine and unspoiled countryside of England. I only had to travel about 100 miles south to my next destination, Cambridge.  I’ve been here once before a couple of years ago and was looking forward to returning. There is so much to see and do in this fascinating University-laden city with its rich intricacy of Gothic architecture. Its claim to some of the world’s greatest minds (Milton, Darwin, Hawking, etc.) is mind-boggling!

IMG_5184I arrived at the conveniently located YHA Cambridge hostel near the train station and got settled right in. This was the first hostel I had ever stayed at when I toured two years ago and it holds a special place in my heart because it welcomed me and introduced me to the world of hosteling which I have grown to love immensely!

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Botanic Garden & Hostel neighborhoodAs you can see on the map above, the hostel (upper right-hand corner) and the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens (lower left) are just a couple of blocks from one another. Trumpington Road, which borders the garden on its western edge, leads straight north into the heart of the oldest part of the city a short distance away.

During my first visit, I did not have enough time to meander through the Botanical Gardens so this time I put it first on my list! I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, I think it is one of the most beautiful and extensive botanical gardens I’ve ever visited!

BOTANICAL GARDEN MAP

We owe the existence of this garden, occupying a 40-acre site, to John Stevens Henslow, the Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1825 – 1861. He laid out the garden in 1846 to accommodate a wonderful tree collection, but he also planted his ideas about ‘variation and the nature of species’ that would be taken up in a new and revolutionary fashion by his famous protege, Charles Darwin.

I entered the garden through the Station Road gate and began following the meandering pathways throughout discovering jaw-dropping vistas and colourful displays of flora along the way.

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The Glasshouse held a wide variety of beautiful specimens from various climates to behold.

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More paths to follow took me past glorious blooms and bursts of colour!

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The school’s garden shop even offered up some whimsical and cheery yard art!

I kept following the intriguing pathways to see where they led through bamboo tunnels and past giant specimens of some very special trees like Britain’s Dawn Redwood!

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This place was vast and never ceased to amaze me with its variety at every turn. In the big grassy areas, there were all kinds of interesting herbaceous beds laid out in unusual patterns. I really liked the way they made circular and oblong beds scattered throughout the large lawns. I think this would look great, and work quite effectively, in my front yard lawn at home, only on a smaller scale, of course! You have to look closely to see it in the picture, but the second-to-last photo in the photo collage below shows how they staked out the beds and strung string between the posts to outline the new beds.

Ingenious! I love the way they used the space and didn’t create rigid corners in a ‘formal’ type of planting. So much more interesting and fun to wander through and around.

I ventured past two locals, a mother and daughter, painting flowers in the garden and had a nice chat with those two lovely local ladies before continuing on.

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IMG_5356The path meandered on through more beautifully and artfully set plantings, eventually leading me back to where I started. What a delightful way to spend the first part of the morning!

After all that walking and traversing through garden paths, I’m ready for a little cruising! I’m going to enjoy lazy summer punting on the River Cam!

If anything is stereotypical ‘Cambridge,’ this is it. Punting involves being propelled in a long wooden boat by pushing a pole against the shallow river bottom as you glide effortlessly down the river.

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Another great feature of the hostel is that it offers discount tickets to activities such as punting! Armed with my ticket I found my way to Scudamore’s Boatyard Punt Station and climbed right aboard – no waiting in line!

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We glided along the “Backs” of all the major Universities: King’s College, Trinity, St. John’s, etc., passing underneath its wonderful bridges like the Mathematical Bridge, Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s and turned around at the Magdalene Bridge to make our way back.

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IMG_5293Nearing the end, as if on queue, this swan appeared alongside the boat and graciously escorted us back to the punting station where we originally boarded. What a wonderful and delightful outing. A definite must see – must do kind of activity!

IMG_5401I really wanted to continue touring around the rich gothic architecture of the Universities and the winding streets of the city’s centre but didn’t want to walk.

What better way to see the city than riding a bicycle like the locals. Most of the city centre’s streets are closed off to vehicular traffic and are pedestrian-only anyway. It’s such a lovely,  relaxing and fun way to take in the sights.

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Cambridge University has many famous alumni, including mathematicians such as Sir Isaac Newton, philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and writers such as John Milton and Lord Byron. It was the site of Rutherford’s pioneering work in nuclear physics as well as Crick and Watson’s DNA work. Cambridge academics have won more Nobel Prizes than those of any other university in the world.

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And there are also a few others that are not quite so famous…

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To top off a perfect day exploring the beauty and history of Cambridge, a glorious sunset adorned the western skyline! What more could I ask for? I feel so grateful to have had such a perfect day exploring this wonderful city and discovering more of its many treasures.

The next morning I drove further south to a town made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, another university city which boasts some of England’s finest medieval architecture, including one of its oldest cathedrals. However, as I have said before, that’s another story for yet another day!

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving American 65-year young great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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