“Stands the church clock at ten to three
Those immortal lines (above), penned by the famous wartime poet who studied at Cambridge in the early 1900s, had drawn me to Rupert Brooke country on what was probably the sunniest Sunday of the summer. We wandered along by the River Cam, fascinated by the many assorted boats that lined the banks. Many of these were works in progress and occupied largely by students. What a fabulous place to live!
A pub across the water called to us so we stopped, taking our drinks outside where we found a handy perch in the shade beneath the bridge. We dipped our toes in the river as we took in the view. The sun reflected off the ripples as narrowboats chugged by, cruisers coasted along with sunbathers on deck and rowers were coached from the bank. Swans and ducks came to visit, no doubt hoping for a tasty morsel or two, and the willow trees wept into the water.
Time certainly does stand still at Grantchester Meadows, where the Cam becomes the Granta, and walkers, cyclists, canoeists, picnickers and punters flock to take advantage of one of nature’s finest hours. On this occasion my man and I fell into the category of observers as we ambled amid this quintessentially English scene, breathing in the relaxed yet fun atmosphere, evocative of a bygone age of optimism and elegance before the First World War.
Brooke (pictured) lived here between 1909 and 1914 and was central to a distinguished group of friends, who included philosophers Russell and Wittgenstein, novelists E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, Keynes (economist) and Augustus John (artist). It is said that he walked barefoot through the village and swam in the river, living on fruit and honey and commuted to Cambridge by canoe.
Back in the here and now we sauntered on, passing picnicking paraphernalia, canoodling couples, families and children playing, excited dogs, the solitary reader, other strollers, groups of animated teenagers and those just basking in the late summer sunshine.
And is there honey still for tea?”
A punt was passing, with passengers enjoying a glass of wine and two young girls attempting to propel and steer the craft. On the rear platform, in true Cambridge tradition, one stood doing her best to not end up in the trees or marooned up the pole, whilst the other sat straddling the bow, frock hitched up to allow her legs to dangle in the cooling water. Seemingly oblivious to all shouts of “right a bit” etc. from the back end, she paddled away prettily while the punt precariously careered from bank to bank…a hilarious sight. No one seemed unduly bothered by this although there were a few unladylike expletives, making this performance all the funnier from our perspective. Unable to disguise our amusement we laughed out loud; they joined us with good-humoured giggles at their own expense.
Continuing on, we headed into a small wood that wound us around then back out onto the meadow a little higher up towards the road. A familiar tinkling sound could be heard and, on peeping through the hedge, we saw several groups of people seated at tables taking afternoon tea in the dappled shade of the trees of The Orchard Tea Garden: a secret garden, lacking only a brass band to attain absolute perfection.
Next up was a visit to Grantchester church, refreshingly unlocked and open to all, where Rupert Brooke memorabilia abounded. A trip around the tranquil and well-maintained churchyard proved interesting, inscriptions and dates on headstones revealing some sad and tragic tales of premature death. An empty teacup on top of a tombstone, no doubt discarded by an absent-minded gardener, made us smile as we rested on a bench beneath one of the many majestic trees that had stood there for centuries. A quick tour of the village rounded off our visit, which we pledged there and then would not be our last.
Back home, then, to look out my ancient copy of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, in particular the track “Grantchester Meadows”, which would transport me back to that special place and forever conjure up memories of a delightful day.