To Cambridge! Drizzle, Fishy Chats, and Horseshoes

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’ll attempt to make brief daily notes about our long, long, long weekend in Cambridge (and surrounds.) The alternative is to have grand designs on restaurant reviews, photographic mapping, and all sorts … which I ultimately never have time to complete.

We got up as if it were a work day this morning, out of bed at 06:00 and ready for the train by 07:00. A 07:15 from Rickmansworth got us to Kings Cross just before 08:00, just enough time to buy tickets from a machine and pop onto the 08:15 Cambridge express. We got a tiny bit lost in Kings Cross station and didn’t have time for a coffee, not even a quick-n-bad one, so I found myself arriving in Cambridge just after 09:00 and uncaffeinated. The trip was certainly speedy, 45 minutes all up and a good first exposure to train travel between London and Cambridge.

The first thing we realised on exiting the train was that it was damn cold, slightly damp, and windy. Typical English joy. Websites are predicting a minumum of -5 this weekend with possible snow. Spring! Anyway, we hopped onto a bus that took us to Cambridge Car and Van Rental on Newmarket Road, they’re directly opposite the National/Alamo car hire branch. (A vendor of cars that I’ll never use again since the branch in Watford ripped me off claiming I’d returned the car short on fuel even though they’d checked it in my presence when I dropped it off and ticked everything off. The branch claimed the charge wasn’t on their books, the head office said it was the branch’s responsibility, after several unfulfilled promises of action I gave up since the 20 quid wasn’t worth it. Abysmal customer service means they’ll never get any business from me again. Anyway…) We picked up our little red Mini Cooper D and hit the road for a 2 minute drive to a shopping-centre car-park to get our bearings. Then 5 minutes to dump the car at the hotel (too early for check-in) and a drizzly wander and bus ride into Cambridge centre.

In town we did my usual first-day thing and just wandered the streets, though the weather had us bouncing in and out of cafés (none good, mostly chains.) We browsed the permanent market found, sensibly, at Market Square. Wandered past the fronts of the main colleges and down a few narrow and intriguing alleys. Did a loop around the back of the colleges, crossing the Cam twice and spying a few rained-upon tourists taking punt-tours (I guess they’d taken a punt on the weather clearing a little … not their morning.)

After a couple of hours of this wandering and espresso-hopping we found ourselves at the Fitzwilliam Museum, a welcome refuge. The Fitzwilliam is, it seems, a museum worth either devoting either a whole day to (very tiring), or several visits. We only explored the Egyptian collection in detail before skimming over the more modern ancients and the ceramics collection. A couple of hours was enough to take in the Egyptian rooms in some detail and give Greece and Rome a reasonable treatment too. On the way out we took in a little of the porcelain, pottery, far east, and armoury collections and they’d be worth revisiting.

Now it was about 16:00 and we were both rather hungry! I was suggesting we grab something quick at a sandwich bar, but the Kat spied fish. The wander from the museum back to the main bus stops leads you past Loch Fyne, a purveyor of fishy delights (so you’re lead to believe, they’re actually one of a largish chain of seafood restaurants based around the Loch Fyne branding.) There are two sides to the Loch Fyne story, and I’ll start with the food – it wasn’t false marketing, they are rather good. While we didn’t try the “Probably the best Fish & Chips in Cambridge” we did go their Thai Mussel Pot, it was well done though a few of the shell dwellers were on the gritty side. We also had a second course each. Kat went for a Dressed Crab, this simple dish met with her approval – and it’s reassuring to know your crab isn’t rude. I had char-grilled lightly smoked salmon with a shellfish, mushroom, and whisky sauce (a creamy reduction), very rich and highly recommended. I must admit though that my meal was really a bit much for lunch (even at 16:30) and this was of some concern since I’d booked a table in a restaurant for 19:30! Oops!

The second side to the Loch Fyne story isn’t at all fishy. Shortly after we were seated an older gentleman was seated quite near us. He was eating alone and overheard us chatting about the food and gave us some suggestions, it seems he’s a regular and knew the menu well. Anyway, we got to talking and had a far ranging discussion over our meals, it was quite joyous. My life seriously lacks good discussions. It turns out the chap is an architect, both professionally and academically – he’s responsible for a lot of design around the University, especially music venues. He has his own firm (in partnership) and also teaches at Cambridge. He’s travelled a lot, seems to know a great many notable people (probably hard not to after a lifetime in Cambridge, and I suspect he has a titled, or at least highly moneyed, family background.) The discussion ranged from architecture, of course, to business, economics, politics, and sociology. Covering the near, Cambridge’s history and place in British politics and economics, to the far, far-east economics & sociology, and problems in Africa. This chance encounter alone has raised my interest in Cambridge phenomenally, and after less than a day in the city.

Our architect had a lot of advice to offer about Cambridge too, and brought the direct Cambridge to Liverpool Street Station rail link to my attention and the news that higher speed links are planned for it. This could bring living in (or nearer to) Cambridge into the realm of possibility, since Kat’s work (and the City in general) is a short walk from Liverpool Street Station. He also had a lot of advice on where to eat (by chance we’d wandered into one of the best as far as he was concerned), where to stay, what to see, and even where to buy a house (as if we could afford that!)

Eventually we had to move on, we said our goodbyes and best wishes then headed for the buses. First we caught the wrong bus and rode a full loop of its route, a little interesting but mostly a waste of time. We eventually got back to the hotel at around 19:00, checked in, then jumped in the car to head out for dinner.

Dinner was at a place nearby that was recommended by a friend: The Three Horseshoes in Madingly. It’s a small pub up the front and a restaurant out the back and is only about a 5 to 10 minute drive from central Cambridge. The recommendation was a good one, we enjoyed our dinner (as hard as it was to squeeze it in on top of lunch.) The hour grows late so I’ll have to rush this, though I think the place deserves a more detailed treatment. First I had a carpaccio of seared peppered tuna – quite brilliant. Kat had mozzarella, with asparagus and rocket – each component near perfect, though a very large amount of mozzarella for an “antipasti.” For a main I had char grilled veal liver on a warm legume salad – the liver was juicy and pink (and I verified in advance that it was British veal), very good but quite a large serve. Kat had Gnocchi alla Romana – these were quite unlike “normal” gnocchi and Kat seemed unimpressed, though that could mainly be down to their overzealous salting (crystals of sea salt on top, probably a bit too much really, and Kat likes salty food.) Since they make their own desserts we had to give something a go, and that was the pannacotta with prunes in grappa. Divine pannacotta! I’m a bit indifferent to the prunes. We ventured espresso, it was good but too long, the usual story – I suspect that these quite decent restaurants in England get good coffee and good machines but then go and make espresso as it is expected to be by the English (too long by far.)

All in all it’s been a good day.