This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Monday, 1 March 2010

It wouldn't happen in Oxford

What wouldn't you may ask. Well possibly lots of things in the worlds fifth best university city because this latest load of nonsense is the story of our weekend in the worlds second - and Britain's first ........ Cambridge!

Both Trev and myself are Cambridge born & bred and can both claim to have been 'educated at Cambridge', though that statement is slightly misleading, neither of us having ever seen the inside of any of the prestigious colleges other than as a visitor!

Joining us for this trip are the incumbents of "The Close H.Q.", our good friends Tony & Jane who will be travelling up with us. Also on this trip down memory lane are Steve & Louise; honorary members of "The Close".

We had decided against taking the Merc, opting instead for the relative comfort and economy of the X-trail, the advantage being that it’s a little higher for sightseeing and has four doors for easier ingress and egress. It would also do the engine good to have a clear out after the daily toil of courier work.

Not much of a clear out was possible however, as thanks to road works and Friday afternoon traffic we were frequently overtaken by snails racing up the inside lane. A journey that should have taken a little over two hours ended up well into three.

We didn't go straight to the hotel, but made the most of the remaining light and took the A11 turn off heading over the gogs to Cherry Hinton, now a suburb but still a separate  village when Trev was a child here (a long while ago, snigger!) The light was fading however and it was nearing beer o'clock so we headed to the hotel.

The hotel of choice was the Gonville overlooking Parkers Piece. A stonking deal over the 'net combined with free car parking (a rare and expensive commodity) and including a full English had secured the booking. The rooms were clean, tidy and very spacious, but as tongues were now hanging out it was time to go in search of some liquid - and eventually solid - refreshment. I should mention at this point that today was also Trev's birthday, and before heading out he was presented with a very nice single malt from Tony & Jane - extremely generous and very thoughtful - I'm looking forward to sampling it!

Our walk took us along East Road, past what is now the Anglia Ruskin University, but in my day was the Cambridge College of Arts & Technology, down Prospect Row to our first watering hole of the evening - The Free Press. This delightful little boozer gained recognition when, over 20 years ago it introduced its own smoking ban - probably just as well given it diminutive size. The beer was good but it was soon time to steam towards our next port of call - The Cricketers. With another pint sampled it was then just a hop skip and a stagger to the Elm Tree just across the road. It's great to see the resurgence of real ale in pubs and particularly offerings from local micro breweries as well.

With fresh air and food in mind we departed the Elm Tree and headed across the edge of Parkers Piece, past the University Arms hotel and into Regent Street, home to more bars, pubs, eateries and estate agents. A quick (and expensive) pit stop at the Castle which used to be a good old fashioned boozer but now clearly has delusions of (pricey) grandeur and on to the Avery, which used to be the Hogs Head for a bite to eat. There was a problem with the beer of choice here and after waiting what seemed like a fortnight we settled for an alternative - the delicious but rather potent Abbot Ale. This wouldn't have happened in Oxford according to Tony!

We had just finished our grub when Steve & Lou arrived, having had nearly as tortuous journey as us. Time for another beer but by this time we were wilting a bit, all having had long days (not to mention several beverages), it was time to return to the hotel. Did one last bit of research in the hotel bar though!

It was soon morning and I was, it had to said a little groggy from yesterday - must have been all the fresh air I reckon. A decent mug of tea followed by a long steaming hot shower helped though.

Breakfast was delicious - the full English with heaps of toast and juice as well as the most delicious coffee ensured we were ready for the days extensive sightseeing. Orders were issued to convene at the front of the hotel at 10:00 hours. Only one person was late - I wont name names but you really would expect better of an ex Para wouldn’t you! Apparently though it wouldn't have happened in Oxford!

First stop was the grounds of Downing College and opportunity to commit images to memory card. Clearly, the camera feature on the phones of some of the party was underused as there was a lot of squinting, cursing and shaking of heads going on. Trev felt quite behind the times for actually using a camera to take pictures!

We exited the gates of the college and headed into town, past the new Grand Arcade and down Petty Cury into market square, overlooked by the Guildhall. More photo opportunities followed as we passed Kings College and turned the corner into Silver Street. We paused for breath - and more photos at Queens College and the Mathematical Bridge before heading to 'the backs' to sample what the most iconic views of Cambridge.

HRH had been on the phone. She was in Cambridge with Trev's Sister & brother-in-law; Rose & Ray and we promised to meet up in John Lewis for coffee. We cut back into town through Clare College, past the Senate House, back across the Market Square, through the Grand Arcade, then following a change in orders from HRH back along Sidney Street to that world famous purveyor of coffee - Marks & Spencer's!

With caffeine levels restored to usable levels it was time to sample the views offered by the tower of Great St Mary's Church, overlooking the market square. The lady on the desk decided that a family rate was available and not wishing to disappoint her we handed over our money and scuttled off to the stair way.

124 very narrow steps elevate you to the viewing area at the top. The bell ringing provided a noisy yet welcome accompaniment to the puffing and panting as we made our way to the top. The views were wonderful, the chilly wind  not quite as welcome, however if you are visiting Cambridge then this has to be on your to do list as it’s a great way of getting an overview of the city. Cambridge is on the edge of 'the fens' and so the area is very flat - no high rise buildings here either.

The expedition continued down past Trinity and St Johns Colleges, and up Magdalene Street for our first proper pit stop; The Pickerell Inn, a good old fashioned boozer. Food was making it's way to the top of the agenda now, but first we rounded Northampton Street and into Queens Lane and along the far section of the backs. Ignoring the no entry signs we entered the back gates of St Johns College and went back over the river pausing to photograph the Bridge Of Sighs. Tony & Jane had seen the one in Venice and were keen to find the 'proper' one. Images saved, we exited St Johns at the front entrance noting that they were charging £3.20 to get in. Isn't local knowledge wonderful!

Our next port of call was The Maypole for some liquid (and surprisingly almost universally non-alcoholic) refreshment. A march across Jesus Green followed, round and up past New Square and the Grafton Centre to East Road and in to The Bakers for a (very) late lunch. A quick foray to John Lewis then back to the hotel to rest some really weary feet.

It would have been nice to catch up with some more friends whilst we were here but time was at a premium. However we did arrange to meet up with Pauline who we hadn't seen for at least 15 years. Pauline met us in the hotel bar first then we joined up with the others for our evenings excursion. The Tram Depot was our first ale house of choice and soon we were winding our way down memory lane to the sound of balls dropping - bar billiard balls that is!

The evening meal wasn't quite the occasion it should have been. The pubs we tried had stopped cooking so it was back over to Regent Street and through the doors into Pizza Hut and the start of 'Hutgate'. It started going wrong when some of us tried to order red wine. At first they thought that they had ran out (Saturday night FFS!) then they stumbled upon half a bottle of merlot which to be fair was tasty enough. The first pizza turned up, was cold and was promptly sent back, then the prawn pasta arrived - again cold, and this was duly returned to the kitchen. Two more pizzas arrived and these whilst not piping hot were just about acceptable (one was mine and I was getting pretty hungry by this point). The pasta reappeared but had clearly just been slammed in the microwave. This was rejected and the manager summoned. All this time, Pauline was waiting patiently for her pizza of choice - something authentically Italian apparently and judging by the time it took for it to appear someone had gone to Italy to fetch it - by bike! Of course this wouldn't have happened in Oxford!
Eventually, plates cleared and (discounted) bill paid we returned to the hotel.

Sunday was Mothers day and HRH joined us for breakfast at the hotel which once again was delicious. Check out was a little arduous as 'the system' was trying to charge us less than we had paid. It wouldn't have happened in Oxford! Adding HRH's breakfast to the bill complicated things further but eventually we were on our way.

We headed down Fen Causeway and along Grange Road to Madingley Road then stopping at the American Cemetery stopping for some quiet (and chilly) reflection. Thence a short navigation of the infamous A14 before turning off for the village of Oakington, the old RAF base here now a Immigration Detention Centre.

Another short drive and we entered the co joined villages of Histon (home to Chivers Jam) & Impington. We stopped to feed the ducks at the beautiful village green then headed to the other end of the village and paused at number eight Mill Road - my home for the first twenty seven years.

We dropped HRH off then, following another brief flirtation with the A14 it was time for a brief stop at Teversham Churchyard while I placed some flowers for Mothers day.

On the way home we passed the beautiful Audley End House and stopped for coffee and snacks in the delightful town of Saffron Walden. All in all a fantastic weekend in a terrific setting in the company of great friends. I wonder if that will happen in Oxford!

For facts and figures of varying accuracy check out the Wikipedia page on Cambridge:

To have a look at the photos we took, follow this link to Facebook (you don't need to be on Facebook to see 'em):

Until next time.....