Saturday 17 July 2021

Day Out in Cambridge

A group outing by train

At last I have been able to take a small group on a short "adventure" by train. Myself, four regular adventurers and a new subscriber to my list gathered at Stamford station on Saturday morning for the 09:54 train for Stansted Airport, which we left just over an hour later at Cambridge. Just as with my recent personal trips we found it hard to use the "socially distanced" seats we had been allocated because we wanted to travel more-or less together: two members were a married couple and did not need to be apart at all, one of our seats was taken anyway (none was labelled), and none of us, all vaccinated, felt the need to have a whole seating bay each. But there was plenty of space and, occupying the general area of four of our allocated seats we managed to seat reasonably close without taking too much risk: "one metre with mitigation," I think it's called - face-coverings (still compulsory in any case), not directly facing, and speaking only quietly. I'll let you know in a fortnight if any of us is ill ...

A pleasant surprise was the arrival of a refreshment trolley after a few moments, and we celebrated by buying coffee and biscuits (we know how to live ...) which also meant, of course, that we were allowed to unmask temporarily in order to enjoy them. As I said, I'll let you know if any of us is ill!

Across the Cambridgeshire Fens we noted that there was not as much flooding of the wash land as there sometimes is, so more land was visible. We passed the beautiful view of the city of Ely, with the boats moored close to the railway and the city rising behind the riverside, surmounted by the cathedral with its unique lantern roof and single west tower. And so into Cambridge over the River Cam's boat race stretch, and an arrival on time at Cambridge station.

We made our way together to the exit and ticket barriers and scanned our tickets to exit the station - because I had bought these tickets using the Cross Country iPhone app (for some reason the website was unable to take my money) I had electronic tickets which I had printed for everyone to take their own. Getting the whole party through the barrier with me having all the tickets on my iPhone was not something I'd want to experience!

Outside the station we went to the line of bus stops and sought a bus heading for the city centre. This is slightly awkward, although I cannot think of a way that it could be improved: there are several stops for several services and it is hard to decide where to wait because most, if not all, of the buses go to the city centre. One sat there but showed little sign of being ready to move off, so when another came up at another stop looking as if it might go first, we all boarded - all of this happening in a matter of seconds, as it does with the frequency of buses here. All but one of the party had senior bus passes and can use any bus without payment. The one remaining member paid her fare for a day ticket and that was when we realised that this bus was not one of Stagecoach's "Citi" services which serve most of the city and so her return ticket would not be useable on most of the buses back to the station - but we would find a solution to this matter. The bus took an interesting route to the city centre, rather further round than most buses but not much longer in time, and the party gradually left the bus as we arrived at the places they wanted to visit. The last of us left at Silver Street in order to visit places around Kings Parade.

Enormous sausage roll!
As on all of these group outings now, we were all members of a WhatsApp group and were able to share location and inform each other of what we were doing. I scouted the proposed lunch venue, Michaelhouse, where I had been before, and discovered that it would be quite suitable for the group so I was able to confirm that we would meet there as planned. I was amazed at how busy the city was. There were still hordes of young people and several family groups visiting Cambridge. In spite of the pandemic it looked as teeming as ever, albeit with face coverings and restricted access to most premises. Some wanted to visit Kings College Chapel but that was fully booked until two days' time. We met at one o'clock for lunch at Michaelhouse and had a very enjoyable meal. Some of us then took a stroll along The Backs and in Silver Street consulted the timetable for the bus that our youngest member would be using to return to the station! We then repaired to the Anchor public house where we had to check in and be shown to a table where our order was taken and the beer eventually delivered. The pub was not crowded and would never be as we would not have been let in if there had not been a table (duly sanitised) available for us.

Cambridge's weird platform arrangement!
I had some shopping to do at John Lewis: now that their shop in Peterborough is closed, Cambridge has one of Stamford's nearest branches of any department store and there is nothing quite like them for browsing for the things you need. I then strolled around to Christ's Pieces (I love the names of locations in Cambridge!) and sat and enjoyed a takeaway coffee in the afternoon sunshine before taking the bus back to the station, having heard from all the rest of the party that they were either already at the station or were on their way. Although it had been quite a short day out, it had been a tiring one, especially for the older members of the group, and we had a lengthy wait for our train home rather than making a last-minute dash for the station just in time to catch it. Some sat in the coffee lounge; I watched the trains. I was interested to see that the direct trains from Cambridge to Brighton would make a neat connection with trains from Stamford ... hmm.

Our train home was on time and again there was plenty of room for us although the reserved one-person-per-seating-bay seats had to be ignored. We raced back across the fens in the evening sun and were soon at Stamford and dispersing across the town to our various homes. The day had been a successful restart of the group outings and there had been much discussion on the way back about where we might go for the next one. Unfortunately these are still quite hard to arrange at present with the Covid restrictions, but something will be advertised soon to those on my mailing list.

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