Day Out: Cambridge

29 Oct

It’s not everyday I find myself in King’s College Chapel, listening to the Choir rehearse, weeping at the sound while the sun dapples multicolored waves over the vaulting stone.  A single deep basso echoes up from the foundations, while the haunting, arching soprano floats up and beyond the heavens.  It was a moment of pure presence.

My youngest sits down next to me and pats me on the hand.  “It’s like the ocean, Mommy.”  What a genius, my daughter.  Sunlight through the long stained glass windows shines like water through grasses and flowers and jellyfish.  The walls ripple in the illuminated air.  The delicate fanned tracery of the vaulted ceiling (the largest fan vault ceiling in the world, but that’s irrelevant in the moment) wave and wash over head like sea-foam.  “We’re like Ariel,” I reply.  “We’re under the sea looking up at the sky and the world above us.”


No photographs can possibly do justice to the moment, to that feeling of sound and light made physical.  It’s almost fantastical to realize the Chapel is a mere 289 feet long and 40 feet wide – it feels infinitely light and infinitely tall. The College has an online virtual tour which gives some idea of the space.

Or listen to one of the CDs of the Kings College Choir and contemplate Wordsworth:

Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely-calculated less or more;
So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense
These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof
Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,
Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
Lingering–and wandering on as loth to die;
Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
That they were born for immortality.

We took that eternal moment in the Choir, then a walk under the Organ Screen into the stalls and up to the altar for a view of Ruben’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’.  I had wanted to visit Kings College to see this masterwork, but after the overwhelming sound of the choir it was almost an afterthought.  To the left is a small jewel of a space called St Edward’s Chapel, reserved for private contemplation.

What a spot to muse over the bloody history of Lancaster and York, so entwined with the growth and building of the College (and which is conveniently described in an exhibit next to this chapel).

Other stops in town included the Mathematical Bridge:

Views of punters on the Cam:

Cows in the Backs:

Walks down medieval passageways:

Opening to peekaboo views:

Fleeing the all-powerful porters:

Dramatic vistas:

A stop for cupcakes (at Fitzbillies):

And ever-present bicycles:

We also discovered the secret to the perfectly manicured English lawn:

Middle child asked how old she would need to be to study at Cambridge.   I’d better start saving my pennies and pence.

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