England. The Good.
We based our trip from Downing College, a part of Cambridge University, staying in student housing that was convenient and comfortable. Downing College is beautiful, spacious and green – it has one of the largest lawns of all 31 colleges which gives it a park-like feel and it’s far enough away from the touristy colleges but still close to all the town’s amenities. We were served a full breakfast every morning that could have easily made us fat in short order. I decided to limit myself to muesli and fruit every morning (rice milk was readily available at the small grocery across the street). The dormitory was equipped with a small kitchen including table and chairs though we only made use of the refrigerator.
Beautiful Downing College
Downing College Dining Hall
We spent our first morning in Cambridge riding our rented cross bikes with the Cambridge Cycling Club. We joined their slower group on a pleasant 47 mile ride on quiet backroads that included a short breakfast stop in St Ives. We returned to Cambridge along a bike path that followed a “guided busway”; a unique railway-like system designed for high speed buses.
The next day we walked a guided tour of King’s College, Queen’s College and some nearby attractions like The Eagle, the famous pub where Watson and Crick announced their DNA discovery, the Round Church, King’s College’s Mathematical Bridge, as well as the relatively new Corpus Clock. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the history of this town and to calibrate myself to what it must have been like those centuries ago.
Henry VIII at King’s College
Mathematical Bridge at King’s College
Corpus Clock and Chronophage
The tour guide recommended visiting the Whipple Museum with its collection of historical scientific instruments which we did the next day. I think Bob appreciated this more than I did but it was money in the bank for me because my aim was to visit gardens – of less interest to Bob. We also rode our rental bikes along the Cam River to Waterbeach and back mostly along a dirt path. I was lucky enough to see Kingfisher fly across the Cam – a rare sight, I was told.
We traveled over the next 3 days to visit Reading, where Bob grew up, with his long time school friend Geoff. Bob arranged a visit to Reading School where he attended from age 12 to 18. The school’s head boy gave us a tour around the campus. I was amazed at what a wonderful place this all-boy school is and the quality of education they are getting. We visited 4 classrooms where the student engagement was phenomenal and the stuff of movies. Most of these boys are from wealthy, privileged families but it is a publicly funded school so there are boys, like Bob, who come from families much less well off. Only 1 in 7 applicants are admitted, based on scholastic achievement, to this highly competitive school.
Bob and Geoff in Chapel at Reading School
Lunch at Whittington’s Tea Barge, River Thames, Reading
Swans at Whittington’s Tea Barge
Bob at his Childhood Home
We spent 2 nights in Geoff’s thatched roof farm home that dates back to the 1500s, visited the nearby Hillier Gardens which has many dozens of art sculptures throughout the gardens, Winchester Cathedral and walked on and around the medieval walls of Southampton. We returned to Cambridge in time to see Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, part 3 at the Arts Theater.
Geoff’s Home in Romsey outside Southampton
One of Dozens of Sculptures at Hillier Gardens, Romsey
Stonehenge and Bath were next on the agenda and we chose to visit these places with a professional tour – let someone else do the driving, please!
Is a title necessary?
Limestone Defines the Buildings in Bath
The next Sunday, rather than ride the expected faster group ride, we chose to ride on our own to Ely and we were not disappointed. The Ely Cathedral is magnificent, with it’s painted ceilings, and my favorite of all the old buildings I saw in England. We stayed for the evensong with its choir of boys and men.
Painted Ceiling at Ely Cathedral
We met Bob’s long time friend Martin, his wife, Rose, and their daughter, Hannah, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. We all agreed it was a peaceful way to spend time in otherwise hectic London.
Kew Gardens, London
Kew Gardens Temperate House
Beth, Bob, Rose and Martin at Kew Gardens
Raked Gravel Pond at Japanese Garden
Hannah, Beth, Martin, and Bob at Kew Gardens
We spent our last full day in England on our bikes to Audley End, an early 17th-century country estate just outside Saffron Walden, Essex, south of Cambridge – a palace, really. We took the tour of the home filled with reminders of the extreme wealth and self-importance of royalty at that time (and still today, of course).
Audley End and Garden
England. The Bad.
I realize now more than ever that I am first a walker, runner and cyclist and it’s only when these activities are taken away – or made difficult and dangerous – that I realize how important and integrated they are in my life. England is a country of car dominance, where motorized vehicles have the right of way – vehicle drivers own the roadways and pedestrians and cyclists must pay heed to them. I found this distressing enough to not want to make trips to England a high priority. I’ll add that this is not likely to be an issue for most travelers.
Rather than suffer one long flight to California we visited Boston. It was an appropriate wrap-up historically as the city began in the same century which we left off in England. We took a tour along the North End portion of the Freedom Trail visiting Faneuil Hall (we learned correctly pronounced Fan-El; not Fan-You-El), the oldest restaurant in the US, Union Oyster House, the oldest pub, Green Dragon Tavern, the Paul Revere house and statue, Old North Church (correct name Christ Church), and the Granary Burying Ground. Bob and I continued to follow the route into Charlestown to the Bunker Hill monument and Old Ironside and took the T ferry back to Boston. We heard 2 concerts: the Boston Classical Orchestra on the second floor of Faneuil Hall and the next night the Bach Mass in B Minor performed by the Handel and Haydn Society at Boston Symphony Hall.