“Stands the church clock at ten to three

This England - - News - ANN E. CAREY

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.

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