“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” ― Danny Kaye
As you may have noticed, I begin each entry with a quote that speaks to me about what I’m going to write about. Danny Kaye, if you’re unfamiliar with the name, played opposite Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen in the 1954 film White Christmas. Oh my word, how I love that movie. I remember loving it even as a teenager, and I think the first time I saw it may have been before digital-remastering brought it to colour. But I digress. I was searching for today’s quote, looking for something that connected travel with family, because this trip to Cambridge was much more about connecting with my family than about the place I was going (though the place is also beautiful!).
My Grandparents on Dad’s side of the family are both from England, and so it is thanks to them that I have a 5 year Ancestry Visa to be in the UK. Grandpa’s family is quite large, but on my Grandma’s side, she has one immediate cousin who lives in Barrington with her husband (very near Cambridge) and one of their daughters lives in the same village with her husband and their two sons. I met this daughter two years ago when she came to Canada for my Grandma’s 90th birthday. When I booked my train tickets, I was beyond excited to see my cousins (who I’ve grown up knowing as they often visit Canada), to see her daughter again, and to meet her daughters husband and sons. I could have never left their village and I still would have been thrilled. This journey definitely felt like one “into myself” as it meant visiting a place where part of my family is from; a place that also holds meaning for my Grandparents, and a place where my Dad has visited and stayed. It was my first time staying with any of my UK family. As I said, that in itself would have been enough for me.
Of course, we also had great adventures! Brace yourselves as I dub this “the post of ALL the web links and pictures that ever were.” I encourage you to read this post in a few visits so you can go to each of the links as they will connect you with amazing information and beautiful pictures. Typically, I think I do a good job of choosing a few photos to highlight a trip/post but despite my best efforts, I failed today (thank goodness for the slideshow feature!). Alright, Shakespearean apologies and warnings now written, let’s move on!
I travelled to Barrington by train from Kings Cross St Pancras on Thursday morning. I arrived at a tiny train station at Shepreth where my cousin Helen was waiting to pick me up for the few-minutes’ drive to the village. Helen and her family live on one side of the village green, while her parents live on the other side of it. The village green in Barrington is the second largest in the United Kingdom at roughly 22 acres, and it has such an interesting history. Today, it still has the village school that was founded in 1835 and which is one of “the last thatched schools in the country, with nearly 100 pupils”. This trip, I was to stay with Jean and Keith in their beautiful home. They used to live in a hundreds of years old cottage at the other end of the green, but it was a two-storey home and they have relocated to a lovely rancher in the last few years. Arriving there, I was pleased to find Helen’s sons there with J & K to greet me. We sat out on the patio to enjoy a cup of tea and a treat while we decided our plans for the day.
Today was the day for the Wimpole Estate (we let the boys off the hook for this one). Check out a few fun facts about the hall here. After finding a very convenient parking spot, we made our way to the stables which have been converted to a set of shops. Then it was across the lawn for lunch; I ate my first British sausages (they really put sausages in Canada to shame, sorry to say) which came directly from the estate farm, and enjoyed sitting in the warm sunshine and hearing about my Grandparents and their visits in the past. I learned that I was naturally following in their footsteps as they too ordered the sausages and mash when they were in England (as my Grandma rightly said, you can’t get anything like them back home).And having lost my Grandfather a few years ago, it felt great to be with people who knew and loved him and who had stories to share (hence my opening quote). Lunch was followed by a visit to the estate church (my first time going into a village church, where I was stunned to find that several people were actually interred INSIDE the church, with markers and such on the walls and floors of the church. I have since learned that this is very common here, but at the time it was quite a shock! The church smelled of must, and had a beautiful old door that is no longer in use. What I loved most about this church is the ancient wooden floors, which really gave a sense of how long the church has stood there, and made me feel connected to its history as I imagined centuries of people walking there before me.
Happily, they had saved the best for last. Leaving the church, we came past the grave of Elsie Bambridge (more about her later) and to the front of the main house. I felt like I had been swept back in time, or at least into an episode of Downton Abbey! The house is glorious, and we spent almost 3 hours wandering through the rooms, which included: a drawing room with a beautiful gasolier; a room specially designed for Queen Victoria’s visit and stay in 1843; a plunge-pool (even more magnificent in person, with a marble floor that is painted to look like wood); a private in-house church with stunning murals, the list goes on. I really can’t sum it all up because we’d be here for hours and hours but just trust me when I say that it’s worth seeing. In the chapel, the seats at the side were for the house staff. The family sat behind where I stood, up above on a balcony. What really blew me away is that I was so stunned by the grandeur and beauty and history, yet my cousins tell me that there are estates that make this one look practically insignificant. How this is possible, I don’t yet know! I could have stayed longer, and I’ll happily go back.
Here, Elsie deserves some attention. The daughter of Rudyard Kipling, Elsie married a British diplomat (George Bambridge) and they bought the Wimpole Estate in the late 1930s. Unlike some British estates, this one had passed through several families, in part because two of its owners had to sell in order to repay serious debts. This may be why it was in such a state of disrepair and lacking in furnishings when the Bambridge’s bought it after having been tenants there for several years. It is solely because of Elsie’s dedication that the house was returned to its resplendent, albeit changed, state. She was incredibly dedicated to restoring the estate: which included furnishing; reupholstering walls (yes, walls), tearing down decrepit parts of the building; ripping out the old kitchen and restoring it to a glorious dining room (even painted black to honour the fact that Queen Victoria was in mourning when she visited); and much more.
Walking through the house, it is clear that she loved it there as it has an elegant but homey feel throughout and lacks the cold formality that one might expect of such an estate. When she died in 1976, she left the estate to the National Trust so that it might be maintained and appreciated for years to come. I should quickly note here that I learned all of this because Jean has volunteered at this estate for more than 20 years and is an absolute fount of knowledge! She loves history as much as I do, and is full of fantastic facts and stories than enriched my visit more than I can say.
OH! The library!! I haven’t even talked about the library yet! It is beautiful and grand, as you would expect it to be (again, think Downton Abbey and you’ll have a good idea). You can’t go right into it, which is probably to protect both the books and the carpet. I was perusing the shelves in the entry of the library, a newer part that Elsie added, and found Rowley’s Poems! Being the honest, upstanding citizen I am, I didn’t touch it, but I bet I could find a lawyer who’d help me argue that I’m probably more entitled to have that book than the estate is 😉 Just saying…
After this amazing day of exploring, we went to Pete and Helen’s for an absolutely beautiful dinner, complete with my first Pimm’s (a very popular summer beverage here), appies from the barbecue, and great conversation. Then it was back to J & K’s for a shower and a good sleep.
On Friday, we had tea and toast to start our day before meeting up with Helen and her younger son to head to Cambridge.We wandered the town a little, heading through a mall and the Cambridge market en route to the river. There, we hired a punt. We had a bit of a wait which provided time for a very quick (much too quick- I have to go back!) to the Wren Library at Trinity College. Here, I must insist that you pause and go look at this link, because cameras weren’t allowed inside but this website has pictures! Go ahead, I’ll be right here when you get back (plus, you need to see the pictures for context of what I’m about to tell you).
Okay: see those wooden cases with the red fabric draped over them? Those are display cases, within which are select books on display. During our visit, the displays included a manuscript of Winnie the Pooh as both the author, A.A. Milne, and his son Christopher Robin Milne, attended Trinity. There were also handprinted books, and books that are some of the earliest ever made on the early printing press. Also, the pictures don’t really show it, but at the far end of the library is a gorgeous stained glass window, and the architecture of the library is as gorgeous as the books and history that it holds. We were fortunate to have made it there just before closing, and after having to rush out much sooner than I would have liked, we went back to the river to meet our punt.
Now, as a Canadian, I hear the word “punt” and think of football (North American football that is, not British football, which we call soccer). Here, a punt is a long, usually narrow, flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by a long pole (traditionally made of wood, but sometimes now also made of aluminum).
You can self-punt, wherein you rent the boat and then, as the name suggests, punt yourself down the river to take in the sights. But my cousins, bless them, sprung for a guided punt! It was incredibly cool because he’s been doing this job on the River Cam for about 12 or 13 years and he had lots of interesting information to share with us. We passed by centuries old colleges, under glorious bridges, and past buildings as old as the 1600s (the President’s Lodge was built in 1640).
Here I was stunned by the age of the place. In Canada, we have such a rich and beautiful First Nations history, but our European roots are quite new and there are drain pipes on the buildings in Cambridge that are literally older than “Canada” as it exists as the current country (a long sentence I know, but to say it more simply sounds like a denial of our very real and important history that pre-dates European contact, so bear with me). One of the bridges is the very cool mathematical bridge. I recommend that you go to the link but skip right down to the third heading, “History of the Design” to learn about how it worked.
After punting, we went for lunch at Bread & Meat (of my “about” page fame) and then explored Cambridge some more, walking past a couple of the universities to see their entrances (which are extravagant and architecturally stunning) including Trinity University, which I like to call “the one meaningful thing Henry VIII did in his life.” We went into some of the shops and stopped for ice cream. It was a lovely afternoon.
We returned to Barrington for another lovely dinner before I went back to the train station and journeyed home to London. I could visit this place a dozen times and never get sick of it.