Last week, on a whim, and more unfortunately on a Greater Anglia train (the cheapest option, and for a reason), the Resident Australian and I went to Cambridge, a city in which I once spent many windswept days visiting fellow enthusiasts of various media properties, and which the Resident Australian had never had the privilege of seeing.
Greater Anglia trains can best be summed up by the knowledge that we were half an hour late when we arrived and that the fist seat I sat on fell to pieces. Less of a means of public transport and more of a “possibly viable alternative to walking”, and I never thought I’d find myself wishing I was on a First Capita Connect train instead.
Many were the perambulations we took about the city, and many were the colleges we peered at from the pavement while refusing to pay £4.50 for the privilege of looking at a place where other people are studying, in part because at various points in my life I’ve had friends studying at Kings, Johns, Trinity, Caius and Gonville, Queens, and Darwin, and I resent the idea that I now have to fork out change to go to places I’ve previously just wandered into with friends. We did pop into one or two churches, noteably the surprisingly secluded St Botolph’s:
We lurched about, dodging ten thousand young men trying to drum up business for Scudamore’s, and made our way down to the river via Silver Street and The Mill, where on the corner at Coe Fen we found a cow chilling out right at the junction of two paths, untroubled by throngs of people, and barely interested in flicking away flies. It was an exceptionally tolerant cow.
But what of the title of the post? Wasn’t there some mention of the Cambridge Botanic Gardens?
Oh right, them. Obviously not as interesting as a cow (which on later research turns out to be a Red Poll bullock), but still pretty hip. And swinging. And radical.
We arrived about 2.5 hours before closing, because that’s how we roll, and because the gardens were about a mile from where we were at that point, but handily a mere ten minutes from the station, making them a great stop on the way home. Apart from the bit where you do a lot of walking and we already had done. Well-planned there, I feel.
We took in the greenhouses, because I wanted to look at the mini jungle (and at the gate we’d been told one of the huge lotuses was in flower) and the Resident Australian has a thing for cactuses (for a moment, trudging along behind someone with an expensive camera who has to take a photo of every single cactus, it was almost as if my grandfather was still alive); we took in the rock garden, which has a tiny labyrinth and a semi-circular bench in it, and a little lake which was full of immature moorhens gallumphing about on the lilypads.
We wandered down to the rose garden, which was alas finished with blooming, collapsed on the grass for a while, and levered ourselves up so that I could go and win a flawless victory with definitely no cheating at all over a maze made of sedge grass (it’s not cheating if you don’t scratch yourself stepping over the bit you’re not supposed to step over), and found ourselves face-to-face with an innovative display of low-water plants called the “dry garden”; excited to discover that apparently grapes fall into this category, even if immature grape bunches look strangely otherworldly.
Further collapse was staved off by a visit to the cafe and an elderflower and rose sparkling drink (what more appropriate beverage can there be for a garden than bits of the garden? Sadly my co-conspirator did not oblige and keep up her end of the bargain by drinking mint tea or anything), and we bravely struck out for the Scent Garden.
In the Scent Garden we squeezed the leaves of every single plant and were treated to a medley of smells ranging from the really quite pleasant (lemon balm, mint, rosemary, something which smelled very strongly of aniseed), the unexpected (curry plant!), and the utterly revolting… I wish I could remember the name of the disgusting-smelling stuff but it had us running back to the rosemary, lavender, and lemon balm to clean it off our hands.
We left via the Chronological Beds, which helpfully divided up various plants into the time periods when they’d first been introduced to our shores. Some definite surprises – tobacco before the potato? Almonds centuries before scarlet runner beans? – and an unfortunate run-in with the aptly-named Prickly Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus), and some unfamiliar faces as well as the very familiar black-eyed susans.
While I’m recounting our sedate, middle-class adventure around the botanic gardens I should point out that the entry fee was far from middle-class and in fact for someone used to the eyebrow-raising expense of getting into the much larger and more exhausting Kew Gardens it felt like a treat to only pay £4.50 to see such variety (and the beautifully-designed dancing fountains in the centre of it all).
The gardens alone were well worth suffering Greater Anglia trains “service” (and at least we got to look at the narrowboats clustering at Roydon), but it was definitely the cow that really made that trip.