Saturday, 20 July 2013
An afternoon by the boathouses
and the river, watching life go by
My week in Cambridge ended as it began: walking by the river, enjoying the sunshine, and enjoying the sight of people in boats on the water.
Having left my bags at the Porters’ Lodge in Sidney Sussex College on Friday afternoon [19 July 2013], I walked around the corner into Jesus Lane, and on to the junction with Maid’s Causeway and Victoria Avenue to Midsummer Common, on the north-east of the inner city.
This vast stretch of common land stretches for over 33 acres (13.4 hectares) along the banks of the River Cam, from Victoria Bridge to Elizabeth Way. Until Victoria Avenue was cut through the common in 1890, there was an even larger expanse of open land that included Jesus Green.
Although Midsummer Common is open common land, it looks more like a vast city park, with street lighting, tarmac paths and cycle lanes, and all the human problems that city parks attract.
I crossed Midsummer Common to the south side of the river, where houseboats are moored along the bank, while most of the boathouses of Cambridge colleges and town clubs on the north side.
In between the swans and young people learning to row and to scull, a small narrowboat, the Rosie, was chugging up and down the river, taking small groups of people on river tours.
I crossed the river at Clare Footbridge, and walked back and forth along the north bank of the Cam, in and out between the boathouses.
There are about 30 colleges in Cambridge, each with its own boat club on the Cam, interspersed with a the boathouses of a number of town clubs and the premises of the Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs, which manages college rowing on the Cam and running university races, such as the Lent and May bumps but not the Fairbairn Cup. There are clubs too for medical students at Addenbrooke’s and students at the Veterinary School.
Close to Clare Footbridge, Sidney Sussex shares a boathouse with Girton College, Corpus Christi and Wolfson. The Sidney Sussex club’s blades are dark blue with red stripes. Sidney alumni race as the Lord Protector Club – well, Oliver Cromwell was a Sidney alumnus.
The other clubs on the river include the Cambridge ’99 Boat Club, the Cantabrigian Rowing Club, the City of Cambridge Rowing Club, the Rob Roy Boat Club, the X-Press Boat Club and the Champion of the Thames Boat Club, some of them based in the boathouse of the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association.
Some of the boathouses have names that have become part of Cambridge lore. The Goldie boathouse is the home of the Cambridge University Boat Club. The boathouse is named after JHD Goldie, of Saint John’s and CUBC.
The Boat Club of Saint John’s College is known as Lady Margaret. According to Cambridge myth, the name Lady Margaret was adopted after the Saint John’s Boat Club was banned from using that name. However, the club was probably named after its boat, as was custom in the formative years of college rowing. The alumni race as Lady Somerset Boat Club.
The names of some town clubs are associated with well-known pubs in Cambridge.
The X-Press Boat Club was once the boat club of the Free Press Public House, but is now it is associated with The Cambridge Blue after the landlord switched pubs. The name of the club was supposed to change to the Cambridge Blue Boat Club, but this was blocked after objections were raised by the university.
The Champion of the Thames Boat Club has boasted its unusual name since 1995, and is sponsored by The Champion of the Thames, a pub on King Street, near Sidney Sussex College. The pub, in turn, is named after an oarsman who won a race on the Thames on 1860, moved to Cambridge and ever after had all correspondence addressed to “The Champion of the Thames, King Street, Cambridge.”
I crossed the river again at Peterhouse Footbridge, and close to the houseboats, across from the Peterhouse boat club, I stopped for a cool glass of wine in the Fort St George, an old sprawling pub on the south bank of the river.
To give the pub its full name, this is The Fort St George In England, and is the oldest public house on the Cam. It is a Grade II listed timber-framed building and dates from the 16th century. The pub got is unusual name because it is said to look like the East India Company’s Fort St George in Madras (Chennai).
I could have lost all sense of time in the afternoon sunshine on the river bank, until a friend from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies joined me at the table, and conversation turned to reality.
I strolled back along the south side of the river, where the people who live on the houseboats have their own sense of community and call themselves the Camboaters.
Christ’s College Boat Club is housed in the oldest wooden-framed boathouse on the river, and this is the nearest to Jesus Lock.
As I continued on to Jesus Lock, people were sunbathing on the banks of the river, enjoying this unusually warm and bright summer weather. There were lengthy queues too at the Lido to get into the Jesus Green Swimming Pool.
I crossed the river once again at the Jesus Lock Footbridge, at Chesterton Road, and walked on back along Chesterton Lane, and Magdalene Street and Bridge Street to Sidney Sussex College. My week in Cambridge was coming to an end.
Some other boathouses on the River Cam:
The Boat Club of St John’s College is known as Lady Margaret, after the founder of the college, Lady Margaret Beaufort.
Jesus College Boat Club is responsible for Fairbairns, the favourite event in Michaelmas term. Jesus alumni race as the Disciples.
Downing College boathouse has been close to the water in more ways than its member may care to remember ... the boathouse flooded while it was still being built.
The Champion of the Thames Boat Club is not a London club, but a Cambridge club. It takes its name from a pub in King Street and uses the the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association boathouse.