Walking to Grantchester

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?

–Rupert Brooke, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’

The church bells go crazy in Cambridge on Sunday mornings. I mean, they ring pretty frequently anyways, but on Sunday mornings, if you are thinking about sleeping in, just forget it. It probably doesn’t help that Caius is right next to King’s College Chapel (not to mention a whole slew of other churches), but I woke up around 7 to the bells: trills and chords, up and down, up and down, then random madness as the bells kept clanging without stop for 20 minutes at a time. Good morning, Cambridge!

Around noon, we set off to Grantchester, about a three mile walk from Caius. We crossed through Clare College, and went down a few streets, where we could see the Cam (the river that runs through the city). The only thing more plentiful than church bells on a Sunday are tourists in the summer. As I was walking across a footbridge over the Cam, I heard a small voice: ‘I’m scared!’ Then: ‘Really afraid!’ I laughed as I looked down: the river was filled with punters. Tourists were trying to steer the iconic flat-bottomed, wooden boats up and down the Cam. The technique is harder than it looks: first, you have to stand up to punt (it’s not called rowing because you don’t have a paddle–it looks more like a giant 10 foot-long pole). In Oxford, it is apparently acceptable to stand inside the boat; in Cambridge, that is frowned upon. You have to stand on the edge of the boat, on a little flat area raised above the small benches. Then you hold the pole by the middle, poke it into the water, let it touch bottom, and keep your hands loosely around it until it has nearly slipped away as your boat floats forward and you’ve got only the very top of the pole left in your hands. Then you grip it tighter and let it trail behind you, using it to steer your little boat, before starting the process again. Needless to say, this is harder than it looks, and the boat full of children–all aged 7 and under, it looked like–were crying out (‘I’m scared!’) because their boat was about to collide, no joke, with three others. Don’t ask me how that’s possible; it was like a multi-car pile-up on a major highway. Safe to say I’ll save my punting for a random Tuesday or something, when there will hopefully be less tourists!

We reached a long grassy field, and there were two options: walk on a paved path near the woods, or walk along a dirt path near the Cam. I opted for the dirt path–and was only slightly delayed by cows (when they choose to cut in front of you and park themselves on a narrow footbridge for a while, there’s not much to do but wait). Anyways, after a lovely (but very, very hot and sunny!) walk, we reached the orchard at Grantchester.

The orchard, which features (obviously) trees, also has a a number of wood-and-cloth chairs, small tables, and a tea house. A lovely spot to eat a scone in the shade, with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Now, before you think that clotted cream sounds gross (I know, sounds like it’ll just crawl up and clog your arteries), I must clarify that it tastes like the inside of a cream puff, and layered on top of jam on a piece of scone, is nothing short of wonderful. I did not have tea there (wayyyy too hot), but I did read some Rupert Brooke poetry (who wrote about Grantchester in the poem I quoted above, and to whom there is a small museum dedicated at the orchard).

Anyways, the following cool and famous people have ‘taken tea’ at Grantchester (among others):

Watson and Crick

EM Forster

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

AA Milne

King George VI


V. Woolf.

Yup, that’s right. My own very favorite author, Virginia Woolf.

And I have photographic evidence to prove I was there, eating a scone.

Life, clearly, is excellent.

2 thoughts on “Walking to Grantchester

  1. Cub says:

    Yay! Lets hear it for relaxing!

    I remember the punters from when I worked in Oxford for a summer. this blog makes me miss that.

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