Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cambridge: It's Graduation Day

I went to visit Cambridge for the first time on Saturday, and much to my confusion, it was graduation day. I'm sure someone understands such things, but didn't the term just start? Was Saturday a graduation for people who'd finished up their studies in June of 2011? And then they come back for a graduation ceremony?

At any rate, it was one of those fun days when you see young folks in gowns walking around, often trailed by two beaming older folks.

I started my visit with a pilgrimage to Spenser's Pembroke College. Happily, for me, anyway, the gate was open, and I could go in and wander the quads and garden areas a bit. There were numbers of people wandering, and it had a friendly feel.

After Pembroke, I walked up to King's College and visited the famous chapel where I took the required picture of the fan vaulting. It really is a beautiful chapel, but it felt more like a cathedral than what I think of as a chapel, to be honest. I gather that King's was founded with Eton as a place where Eton graduates would go on to study at Cambridge (I wonder if they still have some sort of formal relationship?) and it didn't sound like it would have had all that many students back when the chapel was built, so I'm not clear why the chapel would have been built as such a big space. But it is!

King's didn't feel nearly as friendly as Pembroke, maybe because it was a paid admission sort of thing where you could only go along this basic path through the chapel? I don't know if it's the same on regular days or not.

Then I walked up to the Castle Mound. It's basically a built up hill with fairly wide stairs leading up, so up I went. And at the top, I surprised a couple of people with champagne and a picnic lunch. One of them rather blushingly told me that they'd just become engaged, so I felicitated them and wished them many happy years together and left to give them some hint of privacy. It did seem like a nice place to get engaged. And no, alas, they didn't offer me a glass of champagne. (But you can see from this picture why I didn't realize there was anyone else up there.)

So now, they'll have a lovely story about the day they got engaged, romantically picnicking at the top of Castle Mound until a somewhat unkempt middle-aged woman with an American accent stumbled up. Lovely.

Back down, I wandered down to see the Sedgwick Museum, because I'd heard they have a ton of stuff from Darwin's Beagle voyage, and what self-respecting me could pass that up? What they have are mostly rocks, and a few journals. I liked the journals best, but wow, he had handwriting that's hard to read!

Mostly, though, the museum felt like a bit of a clutter hall, with lots of stuff, much of which would have been fascinating if I'd had something more to help me understand them.

I guess I was expecting to see some of his bird collection, and was both disappointed not to, but also sort of relieved because after feeling lousy at the Museum of Natural History in London, I wasn't sure I wanted to visit popsicle birds. Except they would have been Darwin's popsicle birds.

I went on to the Fitzwilliam, and looked at Greek and Roman and Syrian stuff, and medieval stuff.

Finally, I walked across the river where there are punting tours, but I didn't have time to go on one, so instead I walked up the backs of the universities, thinking to get a different view. Happily, Clare College had its gate opened, so I went and looked at the river from its bridge. There were a LOT of punters on the river, so many, that there was a punting traffic jam under one of the bridges. From the path, I could see into a tiny bit of what the gate said were the "fellows garden" and it was gorgeous, all green and flowered, and just inviting (except for the locked gate).

And then it was time to go.


  1. Undergraduates get their degrees in ceremonies held college by college at the end of June, after final exam results come out. But there are postgraduate and honorary degrees being handed out all the time, as well as the MAs that all BAs get to come back for four years or so after they graduate.

    In this instance I think it was a bunch of honorary MAs:

    Oxford do things differently: there is no en masse graduation ceremony, you just book a slot whenever you like. My wife didn't get round to "graduating" until seven years after she'd finished her degree!

  2. The trick at King's is to go to an evensong: they don't charge, and you get a real sense of the acoustics. I used to love doing that after working in the UL.

    If you ever listen to the King's College 9 Lessons & Carols at Christmas, they pray also for Henry VI's foundation at Eton.