Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Cambridge Day 3

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

An Education at Cambridge

Our trip to Cambridge was somewhat harrowing. Kerry took a wrong turn on the roundabout to the service station at Peach Tree Park and Ride and was told by Tommy to “turn around when possible”. Rod and Kerry aware that Kerry had taken a wrong turn took a different wrong turn on the roundabout and found themselves heading toward Cambridge via Buckingham (due east). To remedy Kerry’s error we had to turn around and the queue onto the roundabout extended for about 2 miles. So we were half an hour behind Rod and Kerry.

We remained in contact via mobile phones. Tommy set us a course south onto the dreaded M25 and then due north before Maidenhead. About an hour into the trip Rod and Kerry hit road works and were delayed 50 mins whilst we made excellent progress. When we learned that Rod and Kerry were free of the road works we encountered “long delays” on the M25. These delays were similar to those encountered on our arrival into the UK. NOTE TO ALL TRAVELLERS – AVOID THE BLOODY M25!

In the end Rod and Kerry arrived at Saffron Waldron 5 mins ahead of us but due to the one way streets in the town we actually drove out of the town to turn around to get a car park. We registered and got the keys to our rooms. This is an old market town and the hotel is a renovation of a renovation. Our room was quite acceptable but Rod and Kerry drew the short straw and there was some considerable upset and debate about the accommodation. Once that was resolved we pulled out the cheese wine and beer and drowned our sorrows.

Next morning I was up early to move our car to the public parking as parking in the High Street was forbidden after 8.00am. We took breakfast in our room (Rod and Kerry had accumulated packets of cereal and bits and pieces). After breakfast we moved down stairs as we intended to use Rod and Kerry’s hire car to drive into Cambridge. I noticed the meeting room down stairs had been set up for a Rotary meeting so I went in and immediately noticed a Woolloongabba Rotary banner then a Stones Corner banner followed by South Brisbane and Brisbane banners. Kerry and I would call on the meeting later that evening.

Without the aid of Tommy but using Kerry’s IPhone we looked to park at the Trumpington St Park and Ride but nary a sign to direct us. So we ended up in the Grand Arcade extremely well placed for a visit to Cambridge. The only difference is the cost. Ultimately it cost us twenty pound for parking for four hours but the location in the heart of the city made up for it.

According to Oxford, “In 1209 a local woman was killed by a scholar. Seeking revenge the townsfolk hanged two of the scholar’s colleagues leading others to flee in fear. Some went to Cambridge where they founded another university” (Oxford Visitor’s Guide, Edition 5 2014).

According to Cambridge, “People had been living there for over 2,000 years. The Romans were there in AD 43 and the Saxons built a bridge across the River Cam in the 8th century followed by the Vikings who established a thriving river trade. 1209 saw the arrival of a rebel group of scholars who had been forced to leave after violent quarrels with residents of Oxford. These were the early founders of what is now the University” (Cambridge Official Map and Mini Guide).

In 1284 the foundations of Cambridge’s oldest college Peterhouse were laid and more colleges followed.

We started our exploration at a coffee shop before going onto the Information centre and purchasing the mini guide for the directions for the self – guided walking tour. The Information Centre is in Wheeler St and from there we proceeded to St Bene’t’s church, the county’s oldest surviving building with a clear Saxon influence (the bell tower was very much like the tower in Oxford). We then proceeded down Free School Lane passed the old Cavendish Laboratory where DNA was first unravelled and the atom split.

From there we found Pembroke College (many of the colleges share the same names as appear in Oxford). Cambridge seems to take a more open and non – commercial approach with there being no entry fee or barriers here. Pembroke was founded in 1347 by the widow of the Earl of Pembroke Mary de St Pol. In 1662 Bishop Matthew Wren kept his promise made whilst a prisoner in the Tower of London to build a new chapel for his old college and he roped in his cousin Christopher Wren to help. He, Matthew not Christopher, is buried in the crypt of the Chapel.

It has a luxurious court of grass surrounded by the ancient buildings forming the college. Here we were allowed into the chapel without restrictions (other than to respect the premises). The chapel is constructed with seats facing each other in “collegiate style” as was the case in all monasteries and followed by the colleges. In the ante chapel there is a beautiful 15th century alabaster depicting Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael with Mary giving judgment on a soul.

Outside the Chapel is a memorial to the past members of the college who died in the First World War. We were also allowed to walk in the gardens viewing the changing architecture over the years.

Across Trumpington St and down the way a few hundred yards is Peterhouse College. Access here was also readily offered. The chapel bore its age well but was clearly from an earlier time than the other buildings. We also were allowed to view the dining hall even though there was a lunch being held in there.

We then walked down Mill Lane to the river and had our first encounter with Cambridge Punt Tour sales people. This is the jump off point for the tours and they were not pushy at all.

We were now making up the tour as we went. We made our way to Queens Lane and into Queens College. Here we had to pay a fee of 3 pounds each but it was worth it. The college was founded by two Queens (Stephen Fry may have been a member but he was not one of the founding queens). The wives of Henry VI and Edward IV Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville respectively founded this college commencing in 1448. The buildings were very elegant and the dining hall exceptional but who ever allowed the 1970’s architecture of one of the newer buildings into the college needs to be called to account. While we were there a new building sympathetic to the old style used elsewhere in the college was being constructed so there seems no explanation for this incongruous architecture being introduced. Walnut Tree Court especially caught my attention with a large walnut tree and pretty bulbs flowering underneath it

Onto Kings Parade and the impressive and iconic Kings College. Built over 100 years and presided over by 5 kings including Henry VI, VII, and VIII this building is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Britain. It is also 7 pounds to enter and lunch is more important at the moment. This is where the Canal tour spruikers gather in numbers and are as annoying as bush flies from road kill on a hot summer’s day. Now the canal tour does look to be superior to Oxford and better value but we had to chase these bastards away – some were very persistent and annoying and would not take “No” for an answer.

We moved on to the square “Market Place” and true to its name there were markets selling all the usual wares. Unusually there were two bike repair shops set up in the pavilions and doing very brisk business. Lunch was a couple of pasties at 2.30 pm sitting in the sunshine which had decided to visit that afternoon but only for a short time. Lunch over, Rod and I prowled the market and found fresh figs the size of cricket balls. That is one thing very noticeable is the preference for seasonal produce. By 3.30 pm we were thinking about getting home not sure about the traffic and what the parking would cost us. Of course as we drove out of Cambridge all the Park and Ride signs jumped out at us. For some reason they all faced the driver leaving the city. Very strange!

We made it back to Saffron Walden and called into the hotel dropped our gear off and proceeded to look around the town. This is an old market town in Essex. It retains its rural appearance and contains buildings dating from medieval period onwards. There is evidence of settlement since the Neolithic period with a Romano British settlement followed by a monastery and after the Norman invasion a settlement the de Mandeville family (Earl of Essex) built a castle in the town. The castle was “slighted” by King Stephen in 1157 but the town remained within the confines of the old castle bailey battle ditches were dug further south and the town developed to the south and Market Square and in 1295 the Tuesday Markets were moved from Newbury and have been conducted at Saffron Walden ever since. The town claims it has the largest parish church in Essex and it certainly is large. St Mary’s the Virgin Church is dated from the end of the 15th century. The old buildings and jumble of shops makes the streets of the town very pleasant to stroll around.

We had dinner at Cross Keys a Tudor hotel and I suspect a more pleasant place to stay than our chosen hotel. The proprietor of the hotel has a relationship with D’Arenberg Wines from MacLaren Vale so good Australian wines are on the menu. The town is worth visiting and there are a number of other features I have not mentioned. If you want to check out Cross Keys visit The town has had different names and gained “Saffron” when the growing of saffron brought fame and fortune to the community.

Arriving back at our hotel “Hotel Saffron”, we remembered the Rotary meeting and dressed in shorts and smelling of the dust of the road, we were dragged into the meeting and warmly welcomed by all. The story about the banners was that one of their members had visited relatives in Brisbane and had gone to meetings at each of the Clubs. So we were able to pass on greetings from Woolloongabba and Nottingham.

Here is the photographic proof.


Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Oxford – the Second Day

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

An Education at Oxford – the Second Day

Our second day in Oxford. The B&B was comfortable (The Conifers) and the breakfast was good. The sun was shining and Oxford was waiting for us. We parked our cars at the Peach Tree Park and Ride and caught the bus into town. One pound for 24 hours parking and our 24 hour ticket from yesterday could be used until 12 noon today. The public transport is truly easily accessible.

The Oxford Visitors Information Office provides (for One pound 50p) a visitor’s guide which is a good investment. Inside is the information on the main colleges and a self – guided walking tour. With the benefit of our knowledge gained the previous day we elected to follow the self – guided tour. But before that we visited England’s first public museum the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, cnr. Beaumont and St Giles St opposite that old Morse drinking hole the Randolph Hotel.

Founded in 1683, there is no entrance fee to a museum of wonders. Sure there is the usual Greek and Roman antiquities sprawling across the gallery on the ground floor (many of which were donated by Lord Arundel a person who may have some special interest to me but I may say more about that in the future if research supports myth), but the museum has created a path for you to explore the different civilisations with examples of life for ordinary people as well as the Rulers/Gods. We set ourselves a time limit and I had not got off the ground floor within the time set and there are 4 floors. The most dramatic was an image of a boy mummy from one of the Egyptian periods created from a CT scan and laid on 133 glass sheets so that when you looked at the glass sheets you saw the mummified remains in full and side on all you saw was the edge of the glass panels. My photo did not do it justice but I have included others I found interesting. Kerry meanwhile visited the English Embroideries Trail. Before photography there was embroidery. Just as the Bayeux Tapestry recorded the events leading up to and William’s victory over Harold, there are tapestries of both religious romantic ideas and other works on display. Kerry also ran out of time.

We reconvened at the coffee shop after which we started our walking tour in Cornmarket St where we found Oxford’s oldest surviving building a stone Saxon Tower being part of St Michael’s Church. It was part of city walls and is over 1,000 years old. You can climb to the top of the tower for a fee and on the way up you can see the old door to the goal which imprisoned some religious heretics (Queen Mary trying to restore Catholicism to England had these three gentlemen burnt at the stake in Broad St) and the bells of the tower. On the roof you get very good views over the city – there are no high rise in Oxford.

Unlike yesterday we then continued down Cornmarket into St Aldates and passed Christ Church College entrance on the way to Christ Church Meadow and the Broad Walk to the river. We were supposed to find the shop where Alice Liddell (Alice in Wonderland) bought her sweets but all I could find was a Curry shop. How things change. I wonder if Lewis Carroll would have had Alice drop in for a curry.

We strolled down the meadow lane passed the visitors entrance to Christs Church (7 pounds 50p entrance fee). Across the fields we could see Corpus Christi and Merton Colleges until we reached the river (the Cherwell I presume). We emerged in front of Magdalen College decorated in some unique grotesques and saw that there was a punt ride available under the bridge across the river. We chose a chauffeured half hour cruise for twenty five pound and glided quietly (well we were quiet but the kids at play in the school yards adjoining the river were not) along the river. Our chauffeur was a female student from Brighton having just completed her degree in anthropology and working part time during the term break until she could pick up a job in her chosen profession – event management would you believe!

We left the river to walk along the High St past St Edmund College and into Queens Lane and into New College Lane past Edmund Halley’s house (you know Halley’s comet), under the Bridge of Sighs and into Catte St. Here we diverged from the walk and passed All Souls College, around Radcliffe Camera, to the door of Brasenose College (and this time I got a photo of the nose) and into the Bodleian then back to St Mary the Virgin and down that passage across the High Street into Alfred St and down to the Bear for a well – earned drink. There was another reason to lead Rod and Kerry to this pub and that is the quirk for which it is famous or infamous. The walls and ceiling of the hotel are bedecked with the ends of gentlemen’s ties. A former publican collected different ends of ties by shearing the end of the ties of his customers off and displaying it on the hotel walls.

Time was getting away and we needed to be in Cambridge (or more precisely Saffron Waldron just outside of Cambridge and closer to Stansted Airport). So after a pint and a Pimms we set sail for Cambridge. By the way they made the Pimms identically to the Turf. That and the fact that the name of the same hotel group was on the wall confirmed that the dispute about the oldest pub was in the hands of the same owner.

The Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Oxford

The Retirees Go Abroad

Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Oxford

We had a long standing arrangement to meet our good friends and erstwhile neighbours Rod and Kerry at Oxford. They were touring in Somerset and on the way to Spain we agreed to meet half way (well sort of half way). We had planned to meet in Oxford and travel together to Cambridge where Rod and Kerry would catch their flight to Madrid from Stansted Airport. We in turn planned to arrive in Oxford a day earlier to make the most of our visit.

Packed on the Sunday ready to travel on Monday September 8, we rose early and were on the road by 8.30am. Tommy was slow to wake up and we were half way to the M1 when he clicked in. Suddenly I was in a panic. My wallet was not in my pocket and I had left it at home. So instead of exiting at the first exit we upset Tommy by going all the way around the roundabout and home again. As we did so Kerry remembered we had forgotten our accommodation vouchers.

It is now approaching 9.00 am – school drop off time – and travel back to the flat was slow. I collected all the forgotten items (not quite later on I was to realise I had not picked the spare battery for the camera) returned to the car and we tried again. I had planned that we would go to the White Horse Hill south of Oxford and join our Morse and Lewis foot tour at 1.30 pm. Not to be unfortunately. The forgotten essentials and traffic jams at road works in Northamptonshire meant we travelled directly to our B&B in Oxford.

On arriving in Oxford I was surprised to find the city was ringed with Park and Ride facilities. We had been advised against driving in the city itself and I would wholly endorse this. We found the bus service efficient and cheap both from our B&B and later from the Park and Ride. Our accommodation was well located and near a bus stop which meant we arrived into the city well in time before the walking tour. There seemed to be some controversy around the tours offered by the Information Centre with other guides promoting their free tours (the Information Centre charge 10 pound per person for their official tour) directly outside the Centre. I don’t know the quality of the free tour but it would bear investigating and don’t be in a rush to use the services of the Information centre which charged for every service (including the basic street map of the city).

Our guide arrived a little after the appointed time (she had just finished the Harry Potter tour) and she seemed somewhat disorganised when she stepped in front of a bus. Fortunately no one was hurt but she had forgotten that there was a Fair in town and buses were diverted up Broad St (we were standing in the middle of that very street as the Information Centre is located on the old city side of the street.).

We are both interested viewers of Morse and Lewis (both programmes are on English TV continuously) but I was astounded at how seriously others on the tour took the show (mainly Americans). So this was about seeing some of the sites of the city with a slant towards those parts of the city where the programme had been filmed.

Firstly I will get the big question answered. Where is Oxford University? Answer – everywhere!

The University is made up of 38 Colleges which are scattered among the streets of the old city and the extended old city (outside the walls). Many of the shows are set in the forecourts and buildings of the colleges and pubs of Oxford and this tour was going to show us these special places.

Broad St represents one of the boundaries of the old city. The street is broad because that is where Oxfordians threw their rubbish. Oxford gets its name from the ford across the Cherwell and the Thames at this point. Many of the colleges were founded by religious orders and it is believed the Augustinians were the first to do so in the 12th century. By the 13th century many friars of most of the prominent orders of the day were studying in Oxford. Our first look at the front gate of one of these colleges was Balliol College (founded 1263 was for many years reserved for the poorer scholars) a regular set for Morse episodes (apparently) but we did not get past the front door. Beside Balliol is Trinity College with its’ tell – tale blue gates. From there we proceeded down Turl St and turned into Market St and the city markets (apparently there have been a few chase scenes through these markets) then across the High St into Alfred St and the intersection with Blue Boar St where we find one of Morse’s drinking holes (and the oldest pub in Oxford), the Bear. A small two level pub with crooked windows tiny rooms and narrow staircases it claims establishment from 1249 (not as old as Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham 1141). We return to the scene of this crime later on.

We walk down Blue Boar St and into Oriel St and the front door of Oriel College, where again we see inside the door but entry is not allowed. Again some misadventure had taken place here in one of the series but the best was yet to come. Into Merton St and we arrive at Corpus Christi College. Our guide has a quiet word with the porter (all the gate keepers are called porters) and we are in despite the “No entry to Public” signs. I think there may have been some graft and corruption here as most colleges will for the right fee allow entry and I think our guide has a deal which she has been unable to swing with the other colleges.

The fore court of the college is very interesting. Unlike the others there is no grass and in the centre of the court is a sundial (handy when there is sun). Graffiti adorns the walls but this is to do with successful rowing teams crowing about their victories. We are taken to the chapel and told more “secrets” from the shows. The chapel is typical but probably the smallest as this is the smallest college with accommodation for only 300 students. Typically there are 20,000 students per year shared among 38 colleges, 8 of which is for graduates and one only All Souls for Fellows (no it is not sexist – these are senior academics). We walked through the garden to see all that remains of one of the Saxon walls that enclosed Oxford, spied on the students using Merton field and viewed the spires of Christ’s College before making our way out to look at the front door of Merton College the third oldest in Oxford (1264 – University College 1249 being the oldest). Once again bloody cobbled streets. Merton St is the only remaining cobbled street and therefore distinguishable in any Morse or Lewis episode.

We then back tracked to Magpie Lane, once again crossing High St, and into Catte St passed St Mary the Virgin Church(interesting how many churches are dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin) and the precinct of the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera (this is connected to the library through underground tunnels). This is an enormous Library with miles of underground tunnels (although it is only three storeys high it has 8 floors underground) housing tens of thousands of books. It is a copyright library and therefore entitled to receive a copy of every book published in Britain. We could not get inside as it is a working library but tours are available and even tours which include the tunnels (if you know what to ask for and where to look).

From there we moved into New College Lane (the New College was founded in the 13th century) under the Oxford imitation of the Bridge of Sighs as seen in Venice (actually it is nothing like it – the genuine bridge in Venice connects part of the old palace to the goal cells and when a prisoner passed over that bridge he sighed with resignation over his fate). Then we turned suddenly left into a small lane distinguished by a sign saying “To the Turf”. Following the lane the guide shows us the other remaining section of the original Saxon wall and the entrance to Oxford oldest pub (Yes this one also claims that title and I think the dispute has been settled by the one person buying both hotels and sharing the claim). This pub is squeezed in between other buildings and you have the distinct feeling of being underneath. We visit the scene of this crime a little later on also.

There is another exit out to Hollywell St where we pass another pub this time part of the Young’s Chain and into Broad St once again. We duck back into the Bodleian to view the door through which every student who matriculates passes on their way to the Sheldonian Theatre (a Christopher Wren building) to receive the awarding of their degree. Across the road from the Sheldonian is Blackwell’s bookshop which often features in the Morse and Lewis episodes. Reportedly the bookshop has 2.5 miles of shelving. Alongside is another Morse favourite the White Horse Pub.

There our tour finished. I felt that our guide just ran out of enthusiasm and her audience the same. Whilst I enjoyed it thoroughly I don’t think it was well organised or as well presented as the opportunities to do it better seem endless to me.

In need of something to wet the whistle Kerry and I returned to the Turf to soak up the atmosphere and an ale or two. The building is clearly old with bits and pieces everywhere very low ceilings small rooms and higgledy piggledy patios all of which gave it an intimate atmosphere. Here they made the best Pimms – not just cucumber or lemon or lime but all of those plus strawberry and apple.

We ended our day and caught the bus back to the B&B where we found that Rod and Kerry had arrived. After settling in we returned to the Turf where we did in a couple of burgers, and a bottle of wine. My photos follow.