England: Culture of Cambridge

By Julia Shallcrass

Julia Shallcrass visits friends at Cambridge University for a tour of their home town.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Traditions die hard at Cambridge University, where century-old rules are made to be obeyed.

Walking on some College lawns is strictly forbidden - unless of course you are a fellow or a professor, in which case you are welcome to trample all over them.

My husband and I meet our friends Fran and Marc, post-graduate students at Cambridge University, for a tour of their home town. We discover the quirks of college life within one of the world's top universities.

Home to notable figures like the physicist Stephen Hawking, Cambridge has museums of a calibre unprecedented in a town of its size.

Fitzwilliam Museum offers a myriad of impressionist paintings, Greek and Roman artefacts and statues from throughout Europe.

At Sedgwick Museum Earth Sciences, you can learn about 550 million years of natural history and see exhibits of fossils, rocks and minerals.

King's College Chapel reminds us that Cambridge University is one of the oldest in the world.

Construction on the chapel began in 1446 under the reign of the Catholic King Henry VI. Today sunlight filters through stained glass windows towards the rows of seats where college choirs sing.

There are 31 constituent colleges at Cambridge University, each an independent self-governing body. Marc and Fran are proud of their colleges.

Marc is a student at Queens College, which spans both sides of the River Cam, colloquially referred to as the "light side" and the "dark side". The famous Mathematical Bridge connects the two.

Fran is studying towards her PhD in science at Jesus College. The full name of the College is 'The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund'. Thankfully the name has been abbreviated so that guests without a post-doctorate can remember it.

According to tradition, Jesus College was once a Benedictine nunnery. The nunnery's reputation for promiscuity made it more suitable for a university college; and so the college was founded in 1496.

In the First Court at Jesus College, we see a bronze statue known as the Jesus Horse. This gleaming horse may look like it's waiting for a rider - but alas, rules get in the way of any such fun. Jesus College students caught attempting to ride the horse face rustication (expulsion) from the college.

We enter the realm of Trinity College, which has educated more than 30 of the world's Nobel Prize winners, as well as princes, poets and prime ministers. Reputably it is one of the largest land-owners in the United Kingdom, and we marvel at its breathtaking chapel and large grounds. Just beware the Scholar's lawn, where walking is forbidden unless you're dressed in full regalia or are a fellow, and don't dare think about picnicking there in high summer.

King's College of Our Lady and St Nicholas in Cambridge has quite a different attitude towards its land. This College awards its fellows with cows in a rather decorous manner; and those who choose to accept their cow graze them on the King's College backfields.
Guests to Cambridge University can partake in some of the age-old traditions, without needing to meet any of the university's academic requirements.

Punt the River Cam and enjoy the solace and peace of the countryside as you pass the college halls and Bridge of Sighs. Take a guided punting tour with Cambridge Chauffeur Punts.

At night, dine by candle-light in the inner sanctums of the Corpus Christi College Dining Hall, a must-do for any Harry Potter fans, as it looks like Hogwarts Hall.

- nzherald.co.nz

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