I must have been well under ten years old, and I can remember very little about my first visit to Cambridge. But I do recall the water channels that run either side of the road outside the Fitzwilliam Museum – this is just the sort of unusual feature that appeals to a young boy. I saw these channels again when I returned to Cambridge recently.
Molly and I went by train on the first day of the year when you could say that spring had really arrived. We caught the 9.40 to Cambridge after being taken to the station by our daughter Polly. The train’s first stop was at Wymondham, that pretty award-winning station. I had intended to doze on the outward journey, so as to be fresh for exploring the university town, but there was too much to see.
The train arrived on time at Cambridge station where my friend Bill was there to greet us. My cousin William had driven up from Knebworth with Bill and he drove all four of us the Fitzwilliam Museum. William is very knowledgable about the town as he read history at Selwyn College in the early 1980s. At the Fitzwilliam we spent over an hour looking round the exhibits, starting with the armour and moving on through the pottery to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities. As this is one of the best collections in the country all the exhibits were of the highest quality. Molly, Peter, Polly and me had been there last to see the Macclesfield Psalter, that misleadingly termed example of the East Anglian School of manuscript illumination. Entrance to the Museum was free, which cannot be said of many of the attractions of Cambridge.
To eat William took us to the Eagle pub in the centre of town. When first built in the 17th century this was called the Eagle and Child (as the pub in Oxford still is). This is near to the original site of the Cavendish Laboratory and Watson and Crick would frequent the pub in the early 1950s. This was while they were working on the double helix that we now know as DNA. The brewers Greene King (who manage the pub on behalf of the college which owns it) produce an ale called Eagle DNA. William had a drink of DNA with his meal.
We went round the chapel at King’s, where I had last been in 1972 to hear the Allegri Miserere for the first time. There was an interesting display on the building of the chapel which was started under Henry VI and completed under Henry VIII. King’s College Chapel was very much a royal project in spite of the different houses involved (Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor), and it is built on a suitably impressive scale. Next we perambulated the court at Trinity and the chapel there, where the ante-chapel has a fine collection of statues of notable alumni of the college, including Sir Isaac Newton and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
We were due to catch the train back to Norwich at 4.12 p.m., and were taken back to the station with about ten minutes to spare. The train home was equally punctual, but this time I did doze on the odd occasion. I do not remember stopping at Brandon, so I may have dropped off as we passed through Suffolk. The sun had gone in by the time we got off the train in Norwich and there was a chilly breeze but the whole time we spent in Cambridge was perfect spring weather.