Peterhouse College looking towards the Chapel with the main road behind. The building to the left is the Dining Hall. (click image to enlarge)
Exactly how I ended up in Peterhouse college a few weekends ago is a very long story. It has a lot to do with study and the Open University. Every now and again they organise trips and study weekends to some really great places. Peterhouse in Cambridge is the oldest of the Cambridge colleges and I found myself with a free morning and afternoon to wander around Cambridge, heaven really but where to start and what to see?
A quick look at the planning and layout of the town shows that the colleges are organised mainly on one road and that some back onto the river. But this simple information in no way prepares you for how stunning and beautiful the colleges and the City itself are. Add in the amazing history of the place and the museums and galleries and you really do need to set aside more than just a day to visit the town.
Lovely little streets to explore (click image to enlarge)
A stream running down the street (click image to enlarge)
But starting at Peterhouse and the colleges is no bad thing. The University dominates and influences. This is not just true for the City but the world at Large. Many famous people have attended the university and gone on to shape the world we live in. Equally the University attracts the best. There are 4 current Nobel prize winners lecturing at Cambridge. Everywhere you go you feel that you are walking in the footsteps of great people. It is a humbling experience.
Statues of Henry VIII are everywhere in Cambridge. This one seems to have been customised by the students at Trinity (click image to enlarge)
So after grabbing a few photographs of Peterhouse I set out to look at the colleges and take a walk down to the river. What can you say about these buildings that has not been said or thought before? All the colleges are very different in character and design. They reflect the mood of the age in which they were built and the people (or person) responsible for building them. Many have evolved in a way that Darwin (yes he studied here) would apply to life itself in the 19th century.
Kings and St Johns at the heart of the city are two of the colleges I wanted to look round. Not all were open to the public while I was there but as luck would have it both these were.
St John College, cold and stark (click image to enlarge)
The view across the Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge (click image to enlarge)
St John’s is the largest of the Cambridge college’s that go to make up the university and Kings has the amazing hall that is almost the symbol of Cambridge. St Johns is big and laid out as several courtyards. The college is similar to Hampton court in many ways and has a tudor feel about it. It neatly jumps the river via the Cambridge Bridge of Sighs and a good way to view it is from the river. It is big and imposing, a place that seems to promote efficient and scientific learning. Attractive yes, but not the beauty I was looking for. As Kings is next door I was hopeful I would find the experience of the beautiful there.
The Heron! Photographed at the back of St Johns (click image to enlarge)
So despite finding and photographing a heron in St John’s I left wanting more. Kings was next and the hall is an amazing structure. The largest Medieval Fan vaulted span in the UK, probably the world, started by Henry VI in the 15th century. It represents both an amazing vision for the future and a triumph of Architecture. The fact it was ever finished a minor miracle in it’s own right.
The huge Kings Chapel
Kings is a beautiful building (click image to enlarge)
Walking into Kings is like stepping into a great Medieval space. You wonder at the vision of the people who created it and stand in awe.
I’m not sure if it was the enormous space or the fact it was a dull day and the lighting was poor but the hall seemed very cold, huge and unwelcoming. There is a display showing how it was built and why it stands that is worth seeing. A combination of architecture and maths.
You walk out in awe. I took a while to realise that I had just seen one of the great buildings the world has to offer. Read about the history and vision, it is a touching, simple story.
The inside of the Chapel at Corpus (click image to enlarge)
But for me the Jewel in Cambridge’s crown is neither of those colleges. Come out of Kings and turn right and on your Left is Corpus Christi. From the Brutal, huge buildings at St John’s to the Glorious triumph that is Kings Corpus Christ restores a sense of beauty and the delicate. The buildings are smaller and the courts more compact. Nature and plants are allowed in and take over in places. But the chapel is the perfect heart to the college. I walked in sat down and was at ease and at peace.
The grounds at Corpus. The trees and building just seem to be part of each other. (click image to enlarge)
Crucifix at Corpus, Cambridge
I took more pictures at Corpus Christi than anywhere. A beautiful building in a stunning setting.
Glass at Corpus, Cambridge (click image to enlarge)
There is then much to see in Cambridge. Base a day around the colleges or the town or the museums and you will not be disappointed. But it’s not possible to see all of it in a single day. Allow a weekend and enjoy a city that offers the best of everything and something to satisfy ever mood.
All images copyright © 2010-2011 Peter S. Martin