Monday 27 April 2020

Back To College

No, lockdown has not been lifted, neither am I starting a distance-learning course. But, with a lack of anything much to blog about, I thought I'd take you on a brief jog around some of the colleges of Cambridge University which we've visited over the years on "By Stargoose And Hanglands". Most of the colleges are open to wander around for most of the year (in normal times) though they are always closed from about now till sometime in June as students are sitting their exams. Just a few of the most visited colleges make a small charge to look around. There are in all 31 colleges that form the University; we'll pop into just 14 of them....

 Christ's College

Christ's stands right in the city centre and has some of the nicest gardens to wander around, but despite this it's not visited by the hordes of tourists who descend on King's, Trinity and St John's. It was originally founded in 1437 as God's House, then re-founded in 1505 as Christ's College. It's by no means unique in being founded twice; it usually happened when a small establishment was given money to allow it to increase in size, or when the original set-up had run out of money.
Famous alumni: John Milton, Charles Darwin.

 Corpus Christi College

Not to be confused with Christ's (or indeed Jesus) College, Corpus Christi is one of the smaller, but also one of the wealthier, colleges. It's well worth looking around as it has the oldest courtyard of any of the colleges. Its library contains a priceless collection of Medieval manuscripts.
Famous alumni: Christopher Marlowe (dramatist), Archbishop Matthew Parker.

 Downing College

Downing was founded in 1800 to promote the study of Law and Medicine. It has a very different feel from the central colleges being set out around large lawns and mostly built in a classical style. It has the reputation of being the most ecologically conscious of all the Cambridge colleges.
Famous alumni: Sir Robert Jennings (President of the International Court of Justice) and the comedian John Cleese.

 Emmanuel College

Emmanuel was founded in 1584, originally to train Protestant preachers. It's just a few minutes walk from the city centre and has interesting buildings and glorious gardens, but unaccountably gets very few tourists (Sssshh! Don't tell anyone). 
Famous alumni: John Harvard (founder of Harvard University), Sir Richard Attenborough (actor and film-maker).

 Jesus College

It's full name is "The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge" but takes its modern name from the Jesus Chapel, around which it was founded from 1496. Despite its old name ending "near Cambridge" it's fairly central, the city having grown out to surround it, but it still has extensive grounds and feels like it's in the countryside.
Famous alumni: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poet).

 King's College

This is what people picture (minus the ducks perhaps) when they think of Cambridge University. King's College Chapel is huge and far too big to serve the College. It's also one of the great buildings of England and a truly awe-inspiring space in which to stand. Of course you won't be standing there alone, though it's very seldom crowded and doesn't detract from the splendour at all. Don't under any circumstances leave Cambridge without visiting!
Famous alumni: John Maynard Keynes (economist), Alan Turing (computer scientist), Robert Walpole (first British Prime Minister) and novelists E M Forster and Zadie Smith.

 Newnham College

The idea of women being admitted to Cambridge University took a long time to come about and Newnham, a college for female students, was part of that process, being established in 1871. It's only 10 minutes walk from the touristy part of Cambridge but not on the average tourist's radar though it's actually one of the most beautiful colleges with great gardens.
Famous alumnae: Rosalind Franklin (physicist), Dame Iris Murdoch (novelist), Sylvia Plath (poet).


The oldest (1284) and the smallest of the Cambridge colleges. It has a large area of parkland and gardens, which most visitors never find, and a wonderful show of daffodils in early Spring. Like many of the colleges there's very little to tell you that you are allowed to wander around, but nothing to tell you you can't.
Famous alumni: Charles Babbage (computing pioneer), Sir Frank Whittle (inventor of the jet engine), Thomas Gray (poet), Michael Portillo (politician and TV presenter).

 Pembroke College

Like almost all Cambridge colleges, Pembroke has increased in size over the centuries since its founding, which in the case of Pembroke was in 1347, hence there is a wide variety of architectural styles. A pleasant place for a wander, quite close to the main area for tourists but not that much visited.
Famous alumni: Pitt The Younger (youngest ever British Prime Minister), Ted Hughes (poet), Edmund Spenser (Elizabethan poet).

 Queens' College

Dating from 1448, Queens' is one of the group of older colleges to be found right in the centre of Cambridge. It may not have such grandiose buildings as nearby King's but its courtyards have a quirky charm and it always seems rather more laid back than some of its neighbours.
Famous alumni: Erasmus (theologian), T H White (author), Stephen Fry (comedian, actor, writer) and Michael Foale (astronaut).

 Selwyn College

The college was founded in 1878 to commemmorate the life of George Selwyn, who was the first Bishop of New Zealand. It's situated a little way from the centre, close to Newnham College.
Famous alumni: Malcolm Muggeridge (journalist), John Selwyn Gummer (politician).

 Sidney Sussex College

Go Travel round the town, my friend, whichever way you please,
From Downing up to Trinity, from Peterhouse to Caius; (pronounced Keys)
Then seek a little College just besides a busy street,
Its name is Sidney Sussex, and you'll find it Bad to Beat'
(E H Griffiths 'A Song of Sidney Sussex', 1900)

It's still beside a busy street today, just across the road from Sainsburys supermarket, but I'd bet that for every thousand townspeople who've been there to shop for groceries only one or two will have looked around Sidney Sussex College. Which is a pity because it's full of history and with an unexpected garden, tucked in among the bustling city streets.
Famous alumni: Oliver Cromwell, many of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

 St John's College

One of the biggest colleges with a proud history going back to 1511. It's a glorious place with much to see, though it does attract many visitors. As a result you're perhaps not as free to wander where you like here and you'll find yourself guided through on a designated route between the buildings. Having said that you will see all its major attractions - of which there are many.
Famous alumni: William Wordsworth (poet), Ben Johnson (playwright), John Herschel (astronomer), Thomas Hobbes (philosopher), Frederick Sanger (biochemist), William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Thomas Babington (anti-slavery campaigners).

Trinity College

The last college we'll visit is also on the main tourist trail, though it seems to absorb them a little more easily than neighbouring St John's. It is the largest college in either Oxford or Cambridge Universities and it has produced an incredible number of influential people such as...
Sir Isaac Newton (scientist), Ralph Vaughn Williams (composer), Alfred Lord Tennyson and Lord Byron (poets), Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosophers), William Thakeray, A A Milne and Vladimir Nabokov (writers) as well as twelve Prime Ministers and thirty-four Nobel Prize winners.

Thus concludes our wander around some of the colleges of Cambridge University. If you want to find out more there are posts on all of the above on the blog and you can read them, should you so desire, by clicking on the Cambridge University tag just below.

Take care.

Friday 24 April 2020

Low Down And Dainty

When we visited Shepreth L-Moor Nature Reserve at the beginning of the year I was rejoicing that the rains had returned the water level to something near its normal levels. However the last month has been unusually dry - not too many April showers - so I thought I'd go and see how nature was faring in this little corner of England.

I've mentioned before that this "Moor" is not really a moor at all, but an area of undrained, or at least poorly drained, rough grazing land. In the past every village would have had these summer grazing lands which were too wet to farm in any other way. Most have been drained over the intervening centuries, which is a pity because they gave rise to interesting flora and fauna.

As you probably noticed in the first picture, it's quite a place for Cowslips and there's a good show of them again this year.

They have a whole host of folk names including Peggles, Paigles, and Culverkeys, which suggests that they were once a very common flower. "Cowslip", according to some authorities, once meant the fragrant and messy deposits which cows leave on the ground, though I prefer to think that the association is because they appeared at the same time as the cows on these summer pastures.

Another common flower of meadowlands is the Lady's Smock or Cuckoo Flower. Again it has many common names, but I once heard them called Milkmaids and that somehow has lodged itself in my mind, perhaps because they appear at the same time as the cowslips, as milkmaids and their cows would have done. 

The old folk songs of Southern England are full of milkmaids and ploughboys meeting in meadows:
"Where are you going to, my pretty fair maid,
With your red rosy cheeks and your long black hair",
"Going a-milking, kind sir," she said to me,
"Rolling in the dew makes a milkmaid fair".
Over the ensuing verses the young man makes it clear that he's quite keen on the "rolling in the dew" idea. The milkmaid doesn't seem averse to the suggestion either, but has thought things through more fully than her suitor, for she makes it clear that, should a baby be the result, he'll jolly well have to marry her and provide for the family. Whether he's still so keen, once confronted with his responsibilities, we never learn because the song ends there.

Buttercups continue the dairying theme perhaps, and even they seem to be stealing a kiss on this sunny morning.

Around the drier edges there are good shows of Dandelions. Goodness knows where lions fit into our story, so perhaps we'll leave it there.

Lesser Celandine has mostly disappeared by now, though here there's a small cluster of them still sparkling forth, like golden stars, in the shadows. It must be at least six weeks later than the rest of its clan. It was William Wordsworth's favourite flower and he wrote three poems about it. It was decided appropriate to have one carved on his gravestone, but unfortunately the stonemason carved the unrelated flower, the Greater Celandine.

These meadows have dried out to such an extent that I could only find a single area of standing water and here were just a few flowers of Water Crowfoot. There may well be more in the brook which runs alongside; I didn't check.

There's just a small stand of old reeds beside Guilden Brook in one corner of the area, and of course I couldn't resist photographing them.

Although it's still April, some May (or Hawthorn flower) is already blooming and it's heady scent was attracting a number of insects.

Later in the year there should be more flowers blooming here, including a few small wild orchids. It looks as though I'll have plenty of time on my hands to investigate, photograph and get thoroughly confused by them in the coming months.

For today's music I should really have a song about "the meadows so green", but instead we're heading north, up to Northumberland, to hear from one of my favourite musicians, Kathryn Tickell playing her Northumbrian Small Pipes. They make a much sweeter, more refined sound than other bagpipes and the tune she's playing here, Rothbury Hills, is a beautiful melody which recalls to me the days when I used to lead groups of walkers in the hills that surround the Coquet Valley. 

It may sound like an ancient air but it was actually written by Jack Armstrong (1904-1978), official piper to the Duke of Northumberland.

Take care.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Finding My Way

During this stay-at-home period of life I've been absorbed by my maps of the area, searching out possible routes I might take when, one day in the future, this old dog is let off his chain once more. That's how most of my walks start, looking at maps and trying to link together interesting places to visit. Here are some thoughts about maps and route-finding in general, illustrated with some photos from last summer.

Although I have a complete set of 1:50,000 maps of East Anglia (everywhere within about 100 miles of home) I usually use the online maps available for a small subscription to the Ordnance Survey, which is Britain's official mapping agency. This makes maps available down to the very detailed 1:25,000 scale which is ideal for walking. These are the maps I print off on to A4 size paper to take with me.

What else to take? I usually take the relevant 1:50,000 map in case I want to identify a distant landmark, or if I manage to lose my other maps. And I usually take a compass, which may sound like overkill in this far-from-wild landscape but which has come in useful from time to time. Then I take a cheap pair of boots, rucksack, camera and spare battery, binoculars (sometimes), sandwiches (occasionally) and a water bottle or flask (most of the time) and a phone (switched off and only for use in an emergency).

On such clear paths as shown in the two photos above what could possibly go wrong?

At certain times of year this can happen - or worse! Paths get blocked by fallen trees, large mean-looking bulls in fields or unsympathetic farmers who simply (and illegally) block paths for their own reasons. At certain times of year this can happen....

Farmers are quite within their rights to plough up the paths across their fields and carry out other agricultural work. Our "footpaths" are legally defined as "rights of way", in other words they are merely places you can walk, there doesn't need to be a clear path on the ground to follow. After a while, on a popular route at least, a track soon becomes established on the ground.....

As you might be able to see, a guide post has been erected in the middle of this field to help you on your way and prevent crops getting unnecessarily trampled. At other times there's no help and you might be the first person to travel this way.

Nothing for it but to strike out across the freshly ploughed ground, as my brother is doing here. This is one place where the compass comes in handy to work out exactly where to head. 

At other times you can have too much information with arrows pointing in all directions leaving you scratching your head. That's my brother Les posing for the camera and it's just as well I had printed off that detailed map so we knew just which route to follow. The problem is that you can never be sure on the level of signing on any particular path, though there are usually metal fingerposts where paths leave the road. Some of these aren't particularly helpful....

….like this.....or this.....

At other times you really need all the help you can get: you'd have to be pretty sure of your map-reading to proceed here.....

If not for that little yellow arrow you'd think you were entering someone's back garden. As indeed you are, but that's where the path goes! Over the years I've followed paths which lead through gardens, between pig-pens, across farmyards, under someone's washing-line, through a scrapyard, across golf fairways and even through a rifle range (watch out if the red flag is flying).

Then there's the vexed question of permissive paths, which may or may not be marked on the maps. These are usually supplementary paths offered by landowners, sometimes allowing you to link other rights of way or even visit places of interest like old ruined churches. Others are provided to allow you a safe way around a working farmyard rather than go directly through, as the legal path does. Again it's best to have the detailed map to make sure you know exactly where you're being sent.

I'm not complaining though. Our footpath network allows us to take a huge variety of walks through the varied landscape of these small islands. It's a wonderful resource and, to my mind, one of the secret glories of the country, along with our rural churches. You can be sure I'll be exploring more of both as soon as I can. 

This landowner has clearly got fed up with walkers ambling lost across his property and is making sure they find the path!

Take care.

Saturday 18 April 2020


I keep getting ensnared by the idea of photographing the unfolding of Spring through the long end of my camera's zoom. Photographically it's all wrong and I should get better results on my DSLR, but somehow I've become entranced by the fuzzy foregrounds and backgrounds that I get when I peer through the new leaves on the hedgerows.

I also snapped a few other things while I was out. Collateral images, I suppose....

Madame Blackbird out searching for food for the youngsters.

Some of a small herd of Red Poll cattle.

And SeƱor Pheasant.

Take care.