Though I have been to Cambridge, England many times, I have never participated in a formal guided tour. Visiting colleges as part of a university reaches a high point in Cambridge where this is the “thing” to do. On earlier visits friends were informal guides and though I learned a lot about the colleges and about Cambridge, the Footprints Tours, 2-HOUR Free walking tour I joined on this visit, tied all the loose ends together. We met in front of Fudge Kitchen (fudge was being made), across from Kings' College. Matt, our guide, in addition to being knowledgeable, enthusiastic and humorous, led our group in an around the colleges so that in two hours without being strained, I felt I knew more about the city and it’s famous college than I learned on even extended stays in Cambridge. More information on the Footprint Tours Website.
People on the tour the day I went were from South Africa, Germany, Greece, United States, and England, enjoying the tour and sharing information. Matt was comfortable answering questions and sharing his own experiences and was always interesting. Things that I found especially appealing about this tour included: no reservations needed, a convenient time and place to meet, the pacing and route of this tour, and the great stories.
Matt began our tour with an explanation of early Cambridge that included the Romans and Vikings, the Black Plague and great fires. The Cambridge University website tells the story this way: “By 1200, Cambridge was a thriving commercial community, which was also a county town and had at least one school of some distinction. Then, in 1209, scholars taking refuge from hostile townsmen in Oxford migrated to Cambridge and settled there. At first they lived in lodgings in the town, but in time houses were hired as hostels with a Master in charge of the students. By 1226 the scholars were numerous enough to have set up an organisation, represented by an official called a Chancellor, and seem to have arranged regular courses of study, taught by their own members. From the start there was friction between the town and the students. Students, usually aged about fourteen or fifteen, often caused disturbances; citizens of the town, on the other hand, were known to overcharge for rooms and food. King Henry III took the scholars under his protection as early as 1231 and arranged for them to be sheltered from exploitation by their landlords. At the same time he tried to ensure that they had a monopoly of teaching, by an order that only those enrolled under the tuition of a recognised master were to be allowed to remain in the town.”
As our tour moved along, we stopped at the giant £1million Corpus Clock that only tells the exact time once every five minutes. The clock was designed by John Taylor, an inventor, who made his fortune developing the kettle thermostat after graduating from Corpus Christi in the 1950s. More about the Corpus Clock at the Corpus Clock website
Around the corner, we took a look at St Bene’t’s in the heart of Cambridge. It is the oldest building in Cambridge, going back a millennium. Across the street, was the Eagle Restaurant and RAF Bar, the site where James Watson and Francis Crick spent time during the years when they developed their ideas about DNA and Service men left their mark at the bar before going off to fight.
Cambridge has always had an emphasis on Science and boasts 88 Nobel Prize winners. Beginning with Peterhouse, its first college, Cambridge is currently comprised of 31 independent colleges. Our tour continued with the exploration of Old Cavendish Lab, Pembroke College, Queens’ College and a Master’s House, Mathematical Bridge, a discussion of women’s role at the university, walking along the “Backs, the meadow behind Kings’ College with its cows, a view of Claire College, and finally, the tour concluded at King Henry VIII’s Trinity College, the wealthiest at the university. Pembroke College is distinguished by having a building from each decade of it's existance, and much more.
Following the tour, my husband and I also had the opportunity to visit additional places we had not previously explored. These were two of the University museums. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is housed in a 17th century timber framed building, which was the White Horse Inn for 300 years. It was open in the morning so we visited there first and saw some fascinating relics from early Cambridge on the first floor.
The second floor was especially interesting because it explained the various decisions that need to be made when planning an exhibition. There were also shelves where stored items were visible. The huge items displayed between the second and third floors were very impressive and came from all over the world. More information is available on the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology website
The Whipple Museum was open in the afternoon. The collection at the Whipple Museum's includes scientific instruments, apparatus, models, pictures, prints, photographs, books and other material related to the history of science. It was fascinating. More information is available on the Whipple Museum website
Our last evening we met friends at a pub that was frequented by Lord Byron and friends so many years ago and left the next morning. We remain awed by all there is to see in Cambridge.
Photos: Leon and Barbara Keer