A Day in Cambridge

Day in Cambridge

Last Friday, I spent a fabulous day in Cambridge going to one of the Cambridge Literary Festival talks and exploring the city and beautiful colleges. It was so much fun to hop on a train at King’s Cross and be in Cambridge 45 minutes later. Out of all the ways to travel, going by train is definitely my favourite. I always pack a few snacks and a good book, and it’s a great way to enjoy some quiet time to myself, without feeling like I should be getting on with something supposedly more productive instead.

I was so excited to attend the Cambridge Literary Festival event, which was a discussion between Priya Parmer and Philippa Gregory, centring on Priya’s latest novel Vanessa and Her Sister and historical fiction writing as a whole. I’ll be publishing a review of Vanessa and Her Sister later this week and will also write a little more about the Cambridge event then, but for now I’ll say that I was absolutely fascinated by the conversation between Philippa and Priya. I have to admit that, in general, historical fiction is definitely not my genre, although I am very interested in the first half of the 20th Century and am fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group, so Vanessa and Her Sister was definitely my cup of tea. I was, however, completely engrossed by the authors’ discussion of the difficulties surrounding writing novels which are historically sound, but still allow creative interpretation and freedom, and of their own experience in imagining a world now past. I’m tempted to try reading some more historical fiction and will definitely start with a Philippa Gregory novel. Do any of you have any specific recommendations for which of her novels I should try first?

After the talk, I met up with my friend Arthur, who very kindly agreed to show me around Cambridge a little. I’d been to Cambridge once before, but a few years ago, so it was great to have some company. Arthur is an old friend from London, but as he spent a year doing his Masters in Cambridge, he knows the area well and was the perfect guide. He took me on a tour of some of the colleges (Magdalene and St John’s were, I thought, especially lovely), and it was wonderful to catch up whilst exploring such a beautiful city on a sunny spring day. Blossom and daffodils seemed to be around every corner, and people were taking advantage of the sunshine to punt along the river. It was beautifully picturesque, and of course I had to pull my camera out!

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Isn’t Cambridge gorgeous? I know April in Paris is all the rage, but April in Cambridge certainly isn’t too shabby either.  After all our walking about, we were ready for a cup of tea at Fitzbillies, which is apparently quite the Cambridge institution and particularly famed for its Chelsea buns. Although I was tempted by the impressive display of cakes, I contented myself with a pot of peppermint tea before catching the train back to London. Spending a day in Cambridge was so much fun, I can’t wait to go back again sometime soon.

Have any of you been to the Cambridge Literary Festival, or explored the city at all? Do you have any tips for when I next visit? I’d love to know!

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  • Lizzie

    Glad you had a nice time!
    I was part of a team that hosted Philippa Gregory at an author event a while ago, and very nice she was too. I read most of her books in prep, and they’re all enjoyable. My favourite was The Virgin’s Lover, as I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between Elizabeth the 1st and Robert Dudley, and I thought this book presented an entirely plausible alternative view of history.
    Her most famous novel is, of course, The Other Boleyn Girl, although ironically that for me is an example of getting tha balance wrong, and prioritising plot over factual accounts. The three Boleyn siblings as represented by that book occur in no other book of Tudor history. (The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir is far better, although I completely concede it has far less bodice-ripping than the fictional version!)
    Are you planning to visit the mother of all literary festivals, Hay?

    • Oh I’ll have to look for The Lady in the Tower now too. The Virgina’s Lover sounds good – I may start with that one! I am not sure about Hay this year, but I’m very tempted to the Charleston festival…. xxx

  • Lizzie

    btw, have you heard of a website called Fantastic Fiction? It’s an incredibly useful (and comprehensive) site that lists books in order of series. Very useful when you are getting interested in a new author and aren’t sure where to start. Here’s the Philippa Gregory page:

    • Oh yes I have heard of it, but hadn’t thought to look up Philippa Gregory – thanks so much for reminding me of this site! xxx

  • Wow, these pictures are so beautiful! I’ve never b,een before but I’d love to go. It sounds like a really fun trip although I was sad I didn’t get to see you at the last Next event! 😉

    Tara x

  • Wow, Cambridge is gorgeous…it looks like a fairytale there! Absolutely beautiful photos!

  • mary

    King’s College evensong always rounds the day off for me, even though I’m not a churchgoer.

  • Cee

    I always think that Cambridge looks so utterly charming, and it is no exception in your photos – I hope to have the chance to see it with my own eyes one day 🙂

  • beautiful photos. I have never been the literary festival but it sounds fun, I love books and enjoy hearing authors speak about their novels. I think you end up taking more away from a book when you know the process behind it. And I’m also a big fan of historical fiction. Enjoy the book!

  • I live near Cambridge, it’s beautiful isn’t it? Well, the old part – just don’t go left as you leave the station as the most hideous modern development has been allowed. 🙁

    Did you make it ot Heffers book shop? it’s a Cambridge institution.

    • It is so beautiful! How nice to live nearby. No I didn’t make it to Heffers – obviously, I have to go back 🙂 xxx

  • I love Philippa Gregory so I would have totally geeked out to see her! xx

  • sunday taylor

    I’ve never been to Cambridge and how lovely it looks in the spring! Taking the train there sounds like a great idea. How lucky you were to hear the discussion between Philippa Gregory and Priya Parmer. I haven’t read anything by Phillipa Gregory (hard to believe!) but I recently read Priya’s wonderful book Vanessa and Her Sister and absolutely adored it. Looking forward to your review!

    • Thanks so much Sunday – I should be posting the review tomorrow 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the book too – I just loved it. Cambridge is gorgeous – I hope you get the chance to visit yourself soon. It is so easy to get there by train from London! xxx

  • Great pics of Cambridge. I think it’s one of the loveliest English cities. I went in the summer so punting was in order, of course!

    • Oh, punting is so fun! I’ve only punted in Oxford – I’d definitely like to try it in Cambridge sometime 🙂 xxx

  • The photo you took with the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge is so beautiful. I also love the green nature in Cambridge. It seems like spring is spreading through Cambridge and gives us a lot of vitality.

    • Yes, it’s so beautiful in the spring, isn’t it?! It was so green and full of daffodils and blossom which was just gorgeous. xxx

  • Oh my, I just love small towns in England! And Cambridge just looks particularly lovely! I know that a lot of people really love The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. I didn’t really manage to get into Gregory’s writing style myself, but maybe I just didn’t give it enough of a chance! 😉 I can definitely imagine, though, how a talk between two eloquent writers could be very fascinating, especially if you’re interested in writing yourself! 🙂

    • Cambridge really is stunning! It was such a lovely afternoon getting to wander around it. It was such a fascinating talk, and yes, I love hearing authors speak! It’s always inspiring. xxx

  • It’s so lovely to see Cambridge through your lens! You certainly did the right thing by stopping in Fitzbillies (I had one of their Chelsea buns on my offerholders’ day, and enjoyed many a hot chocolate from there before lectures!) and you’re right, Magdalene is gorgeous. Johns is lovely to wander but everyone in Cambridge pretends to hate them for being so rich 😉 Pembroke and Jesus are particular favourites of mine – if I ever go back for a Masters, I’d apply to one of them! x

    • Ha, my friend said something similar about Johns! We walked by Pembroke but didn’t have time to have a look around – it’s definitely one I’d love to see though 🙂 xxx

  • Kristina Collins

    April in Cambridge looks amazing! It’s been over 15 years since I’ve been–must go back! And I once dated a boy from Magdalene 😉 xx

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