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Cambridge: remembering to notice what’s right under your nose

Saturday was a great impromptu day out. Food and coffee at the Fort St George, then a saunter along the river, followed by surreptitiously walking into the Colleges as if we belong there, talking about dissertations, as if they’re still to do.

Best though, was going up to the top of St Mary’s church, just behind the Market Place. I had kind of forgotten about it’s ‘best view in Cambridge tower’, but a memory whispered into my ear so off we went to find it (twice, having once completely forgotten about the idea whilst chattering away, then realising we were now sauntering in the opposite direction).

When we got into the church, where you pay to go up, the choir was rehearsing. This isn’t any ordinary choir. It’s 1/ a Cambridge choir and 2/ HUGE: we’re talking all the pews at the bottom and up the top at the sides, rammed with singers… all being conducted by a man who looks and sounds so quintessentially ‘Cambridge’ that it’s almost verging on ridiculous. I’m grinning my head off and have to take the opportunity to capture some of it on (phone) video as he requests they go from ‘D’, and make this or that bit more legato, or lighter, or brighter.

The man controlling tower numbers (aka St Mary’s Towers bouncer?!) starts to get a bit impatient because they need to keep track of numbers, so hurries us up from where we’re spying, to the tiny stone spiral staircase.


It’s not a straightforward ascent: whenever you meet someone coming in the other direction, you have to backtrack and find a little nook to crowd into altogether – like birds – until they (and however many more dozens of people behind them) get past.

Up you go a bit further, and the same again.. (luckily there a few demi-landings next to bell rooms, to crowd back into) until you get to the top, where a hobbit sized door (maybe, slimmer than hobbit size but definitely hobbit-height) opens up onto a chunky square roof and Cambridge unfolds before you on every side.


There’s a fellow (and he’s definitely a fellow, accent and all) sat on the bench in the middle of this straight lined roof, chatting away on his phone: “I tell you what, if you meet someone on the way up those stairs, you’d have to get so close that you’d need to marry them.”

We don’t tell him that there would have been a bit of a to-do at the ensuing wedding, having had six of us squeezed into one of the alcoves two minutes ago. I wonder if he managed to get all the way down again, without a close encounter of the marrying-a-person kind.

There are a couple of little square windows (okay so I know they’re not called windows in a church but I cannot think of the right terminology right now…okay I’ll try again..) square stone cut-outs (better?), on each side so the shorter (not quite hobbit sized) humans can see.

We make our way around each side, poking our heads out as the clock strikes quarter to four and the sun sets gold on Kings. There’s smoke coming out of chimneys behind, and mist clinging to the dark trees on the furthest horizon. I take a photo of Kings in silhouette and it renders like it could be Cambodia, not Cambridge.


A mystical history-steeped view over the rooftops. Truly spectacular. And right here, no more than an hour from home.

And just when you think the day can’t get any better, the first thing you see on leaving the lofty view and a tower of quiet secrets, is a black board heralding ‘Raclette & wine’. Well…as you’re offering…

No room at the Inn, but they have outdoor tables and blankets so +extra top, +scarf,+wooly hat (which I realise when I get home, also had my extra pair of socks inside it the entire time I was wearing it…lol), and…chink, lovely.

These are often my favourite days. The ones you don’t plan, that end up being brilliant, just because you listened to a whisper, were in good company and noticed what was right under your nose.



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