Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Getting to know you

I said I would add some more thoughts about my recent trip to Cambridge, but before going through these, I want to explore the wider picture, of what exactly is involved when visiting a new location for the first time.  First, it’s almost a given that you only really scratch the surface, on that initial visit. Taking this a stage further, it’s fair to say that all cities, large towns and even some of the smaller ones, require more than one visit to properly do them justice.

Some require substantially more, but it’s safe to say that two or three stays at an unfamiliar destination, does leave you with a sense of knowing the place to a reasonable extent. More importantly, it becomes increasingly easier to find your way around, as you become more and more familiar with the intricacies of the public transport system. You end up intrinsically knowing the relation of a city’s prominent building’s or must-see sites to one another and, most importantly, you know where the best boozers are.

I have made umpteen trips to both Munich and Prague, and have visited other European cities such as Barcelona, Cologne, Bruges, Regensburg, and Nuremberg, several times. Each visit I have uncovered something new, as well as re-aquatinting myself with some of the best bits of these locations. 

It’s the same with certain towns, although depending on their size, familiarising yourself is significantly easier. There is always something though to surprise, and occasionally delight, even the most seasoned visitor, especially if one looks hard enough. Understanding the geography and layout of the location, is perhaps the key to becoming better acquainted. This is particularly true if the city lies on a river, as the majority of them do, as the water course acts as a focal point. Other features such as royal palaces, main railway stations, cathedrals, churches, and parks, all act as way-point to help on get one’s bearings.

The best way of describing this process is, after the couple of visits, you’ve probably visited several different areas of a city, but as you journeyed to these districts in isolation, you don’t yet realise how they interconnect with each other. It is only after three or four visits to a location, sometimes made over a time span of several years, that you finally understand the relationship between these different districts and start to appreciate the bigger picture.

Cambridge was no exception to this process, as one visit has only provided a brief snapshot of this historic and bustling university city. My first impressions were of a vibrant city that definitely seems to have got its mojo back after the dark days of the pandemic. Pedestrian-friendly, in the main, and easy to get around on foot. If I visit alone, I can make full use of my bus pass, as well. The student population adds an atmosphere and charm of its own.

Last Thursday’s visit did at least give a glimpse of the lie of the land, and whilst none of the various parts really came together, I got a good feel for the place. That is an important consideration, as I now know the best way to reach the city centre on foot, from the station, and also know that many of Cambridge’s most prominent colleges are sited down by the river. The visit allowed me to discover the delights of a small number of the city’s pubs and made me aware of others that I want to try, on subsequent visits.

These include some of the pubs close to the Free Press, mentioned in the previous post, and also include the Champion of the Thames, Cambridge’s sole city-centre National Inventory listed pub. Perhaps next time, I will make it to the Cambridge Brewhouse rather than the Cambridge Tap!

It is on those visits that I intend doing some of the more cultural stuff, that son Mathew was reluctant to participate in. This means, a visit to Kings College Chapel, in order to get a feel of where the Christmas Eve service, of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast from.  In addition, I shall cross the river Cam to take a wander along the Backs. I might even walk as far as Grantchester and its famous meadows, as immortalised by the Roger Waters/Pink Floyd track of the same name.

It’s worth noting the brief visit I made to Grantchester, several years ago, on one of my many trips up to Norfolk, when my father was still alive. I’d booked an overnight stay at the Red Lion, in the village of Stretham, just to the south of Ely, and had arranged to meet Retired Martin for the first time. That evening Martin and Mrs RM called to collect me, and drove us to Ely, where they showed me around the city and introduced me to a few of its finest pubs.

On the way to Stretham, I stopped off for a pint at Grantchester’s historic and unspoiled Blue Ball Inn, which features on CAMRA’s National Heritage Pub Register. As I recall, parking was a bit of an issue, (that's my car in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo), so it would be good to walk out there again, without having to worry where to leave the car or restricting my beer intake, because of having to drive.

It’s interesting trying to compare Cambridge with its rival university city, Oxford.  I have visited, and stayed in the latter, several times back in my own student days, and would say that without doubt, Oxford too is worthy of a revisit.


This is especially true after a gap of 40 years, although the sad demise and closure of the city’s only established brewer, Morrell’s, means the beer scene in Oxford is somewhat diminished from what I knew back in the late 1970’s.

So, there we have it, Paul’s perhaps over-thought description of the steps involved in becoming familiar with a new destination, and how the process applied to Cambridge

Does any of this sound familiar, or am I just making it all up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.


retiredmartin said...

Yes, that sounds very familia, Paul.

Many towns change their Beer Guide entries almost annually and after half a dozen visits I'm still discovering and reappraising towns like Lewes, Ipswich and Southport. Half the fun of travel is seeing change and being able to recognise the different pace of change in, for example, Ramsgate and Rochester.

Incidentally, the walk from the commons I'm Cambridge to Grantchester takes about half an hour and is well worth it, even if Grantchesters pubs aren't the draw they were.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Paul. Yes that totally resonates with me. The excitement of not really knowing what a pub is like, the sense of expectation…
I think I prefer my first visit anywhere as it is like an Aladdins Cave!
Life After Football

Paul Bailey said...

I agree about the changes that towns go through Martin, and how this tends to vary, both in frequency and intensity, although as far as the GBG is concerned, I am surprised at the degree of churn.

The walk from Cambridge to Grantchester sounds well worthwhile. Roger Waters must have thought the same, when he composed that song.

Glad the post hit the spot with you, Beermat, and totally agree that the first visit anywhere, is always an exciting event. Am off to Sheffield in the morning, where I'll be meeting up with Martin.

It's not quite my first visit, but it will be as far as the pubs are concerned. They weren't exactly the first thing on my mind, as a 15 year old, schoolboy.

Roses Ronan said...

Yes, that sounds very familia, Paul
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Paul Bailey said...

Thank-you Roses for that unashamed plug for your Gatwick car parking business!

I shan't remove your comment, but I will instruct my readers to make sure they stick to the official providers, when it comes to choosing which company to entrust their vehicle to, before jetting off on holiday.