“No one should escape our universities without knowing how little one knows.” — J. Robert Oppenheimer, graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge
What do Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Emma Thompson, and Prince Charles all have in common? They’re graduates of Cambridge University. This morning we headed north to see this historic college town. Macomb or DeKalb, the home of my two alma maters, it’s not.
Cambridge has been a center for intellectual thought since its founding in 1280 and its 31 colleges have been around for centuries. Clare College opened in 1326; King’s College in 1441; Trinity, founded by Henry VIII, in 1546. Each of Cambridge’s colleges has an impressive list of alums, including the co-discoverers of DNA, the author of Winnie the Pooh, and the namesake of Harvard University. I could keep name-dropping; I won’t.
We could have spent the day in stuffy chapels or scholarly libraries, but instead we did what Cambridge residents have done for ages. We punted the Cam.
A punt is a flat-bottomed river boat that floats down a section of the River Cam called the Backs. We wisely decided not to navigate the waters ourselves, poling a vessel downstream on our own and risking falling into the drink. Instead, we climbed aboard a boat — Scudamore’s — punting since 1908– commandeered by a young man who put his muscle into the maneuvering of the punt while providing commentary along the way.
We glided past the beautiful Clare College, under the Cambridge version of the Bridge of Sighs, past the Wren Library, the King’s College Chapel. The sun made an appearance while we floated along, and ducks and swans paddled along beside us. Our punter explained which buildings were part of what college, shared some local knowledge about Stephen Hawkings and a few other Cambridge grads, and told us the story of the mathematical bridge and other sights along the riverbank.
Walking the streets of Cambridge was nice, but I’m so glad we decided to punt.