Cambridge, an education in charm!



I love to go exploring in and around London. And, since I've already been to the town of Oxford, I was very interested in seeing the other half of the famed "Oxbridge", the lovely town of Cambridge. 

My friends Kaarina and Diane offered to go to with me, so we met at King's Cross Station, and after a quick 45 min train ride through beautiful countryside, we arrived at Cambridge Station.


Kaarina had already advised me that although both are quite charming, there is an easy way to think of the differences between the two:  Oxford is a city with a university in it, and Cambridge is a university with a town surrounding it.  It is clear from the start that Cambridge exists for its students-- of its 123,000 population, 22,000 (20%) are students, and from the looks of it, each of them owns a bicycle!





It's a short walk down Station Road, and after passing the Catholic Church of our Lady, we made a right onto Hill Street. 

Soon we were in the midst of the 31 colleges which comprise Cambridge University. 

The first college we came to was Downing College (named after the family of 10 Downing Street fame). 

Hill Street turns into Regents Street, and we turned left onto Downing Street, which of course turns into Pembroke Street, then Mill Lane :) We wandered down little streets and peered into cute courtyards. There are eight museums at the University of Cambridge, and we passed the Sedgwick Museum pictured above.


We made our way down Mill Street to the Cam River and popped in for a lovely lunch at a very old pub, The Mill.


Practically all of Diane's family went to Cambridge, so while we ate, Diane explained that the UK university educational system is much different than in the USA, as is the language used to describe it. 

For example, a UK university is what would be called a college in the USA, and a UK college is something of a cross between a dorm/fraternity/club. Although the colleges make up the University, prospective students apply to each self-governing college as if they were applying for an individual university in the USA. The students will generally live in the college while they are at university, unless there is not space available, whereas in the USA, generally only first year students live on campus. 

The students in a college come from many disciplines, and they take classes with other colleges' students, according to their field of study, in buildings called faculties (whereas, in the USA, a faculty is a collection of teachers). Classes in the UK are called lectures (if they are large classes) and seminars (if they are small classes). The teaching staff are called Teaching Fellows (senior lecturers) or Research Fellows (regular lecturer) and only called Professors if they are extremely accomplished. 

But probably the biggest difference between the two systems is that the length of time needed to earn a degree is shorter in the UK, due to the USA's focus on breadth, while the UK focuses on depth of knowledge:  Undergraduate degree (USA 4 years vs UK 3 years), Master's (USA 2 years vs UK 1 year), PhD (USA 5-7 years, UK 3-4 years).  So, if you were to study through your PhD in the UK, it could take 7-8 years, whereas in the USA, the same process would take 11-13 years! 

After lunch, we walked across the street to the River Cam. Many of the colleges back to river, (called "the Backs") and no trip to Cambridge is really complete without  the experience of "punting" down the Cam on a punt (flat boat).


You can rent a self-guided punt and try your luck at staying upright and on the boat, while your pole stays stuck in the mud behind you...or you can do like we did and have someone guide you! Our fabulous guide told us all about the history of Cambridge and the colleges, which I'll try my best to share with you!



Cambridge (the city) was founded in 875, as a small village surrounding the BRIDGE over the river CAM.  Cambridge (the university), although the second-oldest in the UK, was not in existence until 1209. It was founded by former students of Oxford, who left Oxford after an incident in which two students were hung by the Oxford townspeople. The students took refuge in Cambridge, with its abbeys and church history (churches, abbeys were centers of learning at that time). 


Initially, the students lived in homes and in the churches, and were taught by fellow students. It wasn't until 1231 that King Henry III issued some protection and support for the university. Cambridge University has long had the support of the monarchy. For example, King's College was founded by Henry VI, Queen's college was founded by two separate queens, and Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII. Prince Charles attended Trinity College, and was the first (future) ruler to have earned a degree from a university.
The Mathematical Bridge
Some other interesting facts about Cambridge University: Cambridge is ranked the #1 university in the UK for 2019, and among its alums, it can count 118 Nobel Prize winners and 15 former Prime Ministers (Oxford boasts 26 current and former PMs). Some of Cambridge's more notable alums are: Isaac Newton, Erasmus, John Milton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Emma Thompson. 

Trinity College (Prince Charles)
Cambridge was for men only until 1869, and although several "women only" colleges sprung up, it was only in 1948 that a woman could be conferred with a full membership and degree. Today, although most of the colleges at Cambridge accept both men and women, Cambridge remains the only university in the UK that still has "women only" colleges---Murray Edwards College, Newnham College and Lucy Cavendish College. 

The Bridge of Sighs

When we finished our wonderful boat ride, we headed back out to Turpington Street, to see the fronts of all the gigantic colleges. You would be absolutely amazed at how large the colleges are, when they accommodate only an average of 700 students each. 


We stopped at what looked like the town square, and took a gander at the Cambridge University Press building, which is the world's oldest publishing house, near the corner of St. Mary's Street.





We pass the long row of colleges, and soon we come to "the Round Church" and a split in the road.

We turn left on Bridge street, to go see Magdalene College from the bridge. Ok, I just have to discuss the crazy pronounciation of Magdalene. it is pronounced "maudlin" here in Cambridge!


But Diane has saved the best for last! Because her husband is a Fellow at Christ's College, we got to peek inside! (It is sometimes possible to go inside many of the colleges, but you would need to visit the individual website for opening dates and tour times.... When school is in session, the individual colleges try to respect the student's privacy, but often in the summer, you will find more open to the public. You can get tickets though, for entering the famous King's College Chapel, just check with the Visitor's Center).

Christ's College is set up in three courtyards, each lovelier than the last, and inside these courtyards you will find the Charles Darwin Sculpture Garden and a tree that once shaded author John Milton. Both Milton and Darwin were alums of Christ's.








Well, it started to rain again, so we headed back to the train station, and we bid  lovely Cambridge farewell until next time.





Hope you enjoyed this look at the very charismatic Cambridge!

And bonus bit: Some of the beautiful decorations above the doorways!



...and back at King's Cross Station in London, the beautiful purple ceiling of the train station!

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