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Higher Education – Cambridge-style

Higher Education – Cambridge-style

Cambridge is the quintessential English university town, and the destination for my second day trip out of London.  Once again, I went with London Walks.  We met at King’s Cross Station for the journey to Cambridge.  Harry Potter and his classmates caught the Hogwarts Express here at Platform 9¾.

A coach (better known to Americans as a bus) met us at the Cambridge train station.  Our first stop was the Cambridge American Cemetery.  It’s the only American World War II cemetery in the UK.  There are more than 3,800 American servicemen buried there.  There’s also a memorial listing the names of more than 5,000 servicemen missing in action, including Joseph Kennedy and big band leader Glenn Miller.

The coach then deposited us near the city center for the walking tour portion of our day.  First we climbed to the site of Cambridge Castle, which was really more of a Norman fort.  Little remains of the castle, but there’s a great view of the University from the top of the hill.  King Henry III chartered the University of Cambridge in 1231.  It has more than 150 academic departments and 31 self-governing colleges founded between 1284 and 1977.  Every Cambridge student is admitted to one of these colleges, which provide them with tutorials and room and board.

We toured St. John’s College, which was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII.  It has some beautiful examples of early Tudor architecture.  Our next stops were Trinity and King’s Colleges.  Sadly, they were both closed for the day, so we didn’t get to tour the Wren Library or King’s College Chapel.  We had to be content with admiring these famous Cambridge sights from the outside.  We also passed Gonville and Caius College, where Stephen Hawking is a fellow.

Lunch was on our own.  I learned my lesson in Bath, and I took full advantage of the break by having a sit-down meal and resting my feet for half an hour.  After lunch, I stopped at the Cambridge University Press Bookstore — I always have a hard time resisting a bookstore!  Then I made a mad dash through the food, craft, and second-hand stalls in Market Square.

The afternoon portion of our tour started with a visit to the 15th century Church of St. Edward King & Martyr, which played an important role in the Protestant Reformation.  Robert Barnes preached the first openly evangelical sermon in England here in 1525.  Several other key leaders of the Reformation also gave sermons there.  Most of them were later executed for their beliefs.

Of course the Reformation took hold in spite of the Church’s efforts to suppress it, thanks in part to more than a little help from a self-serving Henry VIII.  Our next stop was Emmanuel College, established in 1584 as the first Protestant college at Cambridge.  It has a lovely dining hall and a chapel designed by Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Our walk continued past some of the University’s science buildings.  These buildings were the site of some of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, including Alan Turing’s development of modern computing, the creation of the first programmable computer, and Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA.

We finished the day with punting on the River Cam.  A punt is a flat-bottomed boat.  The punter stands on a deck at the rear of the boat and propels it through the shallow water by pushing a pole against the river bottom.  Punting is one of Cambridge’s newer traditions.  It didn’t become popular until the early 1900’s, when cargo traffic on the river started to decline.  Our boat came with an experienced punter, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hire a boat and try it for yourself.  Judging by the difficulty some of the amateur punters were having, it’s not as easy as it looks.  It was quite comical to see the collisions and near misses as these neophytes tried to maneuver up and down the river.  I can’t believe nobody fell in!

The Cam flows past the “backs” of the colleges, and the hour-long ride provided us with a steady parade of immaculate gardens and beautiful buildings dating from the 1400’s to the present.  It was a lovely and relaxing way to end the day.  I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Cambridge.




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