Great Britain North Of London (Cambridge, Oxford, St Ives, Ely) 2016
Photos: Kathy Klofft
A trip to England to visit relatives gave us a chance to explore some of the area north of London, (Cambridge, St Ives, and Ely) and Oxford. We stayed with a relative in St Ives, and usually drove her vehicle to the nearest Park and Ride lot, and explored on foot or using the local buses. This was the easiest way to explore because most of these old cities in Britain have very narrow roads and little parking! It's relatively inexpensive to park, (pay online or at a kiosk, get a "return" ticket so you can hope back on the bus when you are ready) or take public transit, such as rail, to the park and ride lot and use the city shuttle to get into the center of the city.
Our first stop was to the Round Church. This 12th century church was built by Normans, who designed it to look like the original Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Many additions and renovations have been done since, and there is a small fee to explore the church which is managed by the group, Christian Heritage.
Interior Round Church
Punting on the Cam
We decided to take a punting tour on the river Cam. Many of the colleges are difficult to see from the street. Taking a tour on the river gives a completely different perspective of the architecture. Find the punting tours at the far end of Bridge Street. You can pilot your own punt, but you don't get the narrative, you can take a group tour, and depending on where you are in the punt you may not be able to hear or see what the guide is discussing (if you are seated backwards or on the end of the boat), or you can take a private guided tour, which costs more but allows you to sit where you like so you can experience the whole tour. There are many vendors of punting tours on the street and it's a good idea to ask for a discount off the quoted rate. Make a joke about looking young enough to be a student; at a minimum you'll get the student rate, move on if they won't bargain, because the kids on the street don't want to lose a sale, someone will!!! We selected a group tour, negotiated a student rate since my daughter was a student, and my sister in law and I have never stopped learning! Sometimes we had to remember the narrative and wait till we returned to see certain buildings that we weren't facing while the guide was discussing them. Another thing to keep in mind is that quite a lot of the narrative is apocryphal or myth, meant to entertain. Don't rely on these young guides with a pole for historical accuracy! If you'd like a more accurate tour, we had great luck with Context Tours in other parts of Europe for real historical or art tours led by experienced and educated guides.
We dined at the Galleria Restaurant on Bridge Street, the food was very well presented and tasty! We also enjoyed a large pitcher of Pims!
On another day, we made our way to Oxford, to visit another young relative studying there. Again, we relied on the Park and Ride Bus just outside the city to park and travel into the center. During our visit there many graduation festivities going on, an I would not have wanted to try to find parking, public transit or travel on foot was the best way to get around!
We decided to dine at Gee, which was appropriate, since our relative studying there was staying at UGA at Oxford House just down the road, where University of Georgia students stay while studying at Oxford.
We paid a small fee to climb St Mary's Bell Tower, where we had views all over Oxford. They only allow a few people up at a time, because of the narrow stairway and the narrow gallery at the top of the bell tower. There were only a dozen people up there, but it was still a tight fit! On our way up, there was an attendant manually ringing the bells.
The Covered Market
We made a stop to one of the oldest covered markets in Britain, the building dating to the 18th century.
Our relatives live in this area, so we spent several days exploring the area. One thing I noticed, as a North American, about this area, is all the old buildings! Every town seems to have a claim for the oldest this or that structure! I enjoyed seeing them all, because they were all older than most of what I see in my own backyard! Another nice thing about this area of Britain, is the protection of "green zones" between the villages, so despite being a fairly populous place, the look of the old farming villages remains with very little suburban sprawl.
In the village of St Ives
Near St Ives, there is a guided busway, a green area converted to a bus lane with special buses that run along a path automatically, for commuting into Cambridge. Alongside is the Fen Drayton Lakes via the adjacent bike and walking path. This is a good example of green areas right outside of the city center. I was able to easily bike along the path for several miles. I enjoyed the beautiful fens, seeing the wildflowers and watching the birds.
Another day trip we enjoyed in the Cambridge area was to the town of Ely, famous for the cathedral, dating to Norman (Medieval) times in first century. The original structure, the Nave, was completed in 1189, although the stain glass windows and painted ceilings were added during the Victorian era.
Ely has more to offer beyond the Ely Cathedral. We also enjoyed the new Jubilee Gardens created to celebrated Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the park was lively with live music and picnicking families and folks renting boats along the river.
The last photo of the series below is house where Oliver Cromwell grew up, which is also proudly preserved in Ely.
We capped off our day trip with a dinner at the Poet's House, which is also a lovely inn.