A not so grand day out

Having had a Grand Day Out to Oxford a few weeks ago, as related here, I spent yesterday savouring the delights of Cambridge. This was truly an adventure, although not one that I will be in a hurry to repeat. 

Whereas Oxford is a relatively easy drive from where I live, Cambridge is something of a nightmare to reach. It requires either an arduous, cross country trip across the plague of roundabouts that have infected Buckinghamshire, or a trip into London and out via the motorways that, in rush hour, resemble giant car parks. Naturally, the anticipated three hour each way journey was unlikely to be able to avoid the daily rush hours.

We did our best. Rising at 4.30am I had my elder two children fed and ready to leave within an hour. Traffic was bad, but we crawled along with just a few lengthy stops, and would have made it to Cambridge for the 9am start had it not been for my little car falling apart. Concerned that a major part of the banging and thunking underside was about to detach and render the car immobile, I crawled into the city an hour behind schedule with a snake of held up traffic behind me. Not a good start to the day for any of us.

The reason we were there was to allow my children to attend the university Open Day. The centre of the city, where all the pretty colleges are located, was full to bursting with young people and their parents. I left my kids to explore unhindered by my presence; they will be the ones to choose where to apply, so need to find out what they want to know for themselves.

While they toured colleges, attended talks and questioned the friendly students, I explored the city, river, book and coffee shops. It is a visually attractive place with fabulous architecture. Oxford was more fun as I traversed it with a friend, but I could still enjoy my day.

By mid afternoon I had tired legs and achy feet so decided to check in with my kids. They still had people to see and places to go so I parked myself on the steps of a college with my book and soaked in the sun; not a bad way to kill time at all.

By 6pm we were ready to leave so went to catch the Park & Ride bus out to the car. This is when I realised that the centre of Cambridge is not designed for motorised traffic, but neither has it banned such vehicles. We waited in a queue for over an hour while buses crawled through the hold ups, overfull but unable to disgorge passengers as quickly as necessary to clear the waiting lines of people. The students on their bicycles zipped around unhindered, that is obviously the way to travel.

Eventually we boarded a bus and spent another hour crawling out of the city to my car. I then had to face the fact that my normally trusty vehicle was broken and we were over 150 miles from home. We got about 10 miles down the road before I gave up and called our breakdown service. Two hours later they arrived, spent 15 minutes removing the offending part, and sent us on our way, clunk free.

The journey home, along unknown roads, in the dark, feeling totallly shattered, was not something I ever wish to repeat. I know that there are plenty of people who can cope with longer days, longer journeys, more challenging experiences; for me this was just about the limit of my abilities.

Still, I got us there and I got us back. Both children were impressed with the university and I enjoyed my explore of the city, despite the crowds. It was the journey that made it such a challenge. What we needed was a teleporter.    

Back in the day, when I was choosing a university, I did so from a large book listing available courses and entrance criteria; Open Days would have cost too much to attend. These days the young people seem to expect to be allowed to check places out for themselves, although at least mine are comfortable doing so independently. I can only hope that any remaining visits that they wish to make can be travelled to by train. 


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