Last week I was asked to give a tour of Oxford and of Cambridge on the same day. I had not heard of anyone doing such a tour before, but I was willing to give it a go. The group was a Malaysian family who were staying in London and who travelled up to Oxford for mid-morning last Saturday.
The Oxford tour was a fairly standard one, but unfortunately more than a usual number of colleges were closed on what was a very busy day with tourists.
After a light lunch in the Covered Market - always good value and fun - we went off on their very comfortable mini-coach to Cambridge. Given that this is a notoriously awkward journey the driver made good time and we were there in two hours (it is 3 hours 40 minutes on the usual coach service).
We were dropped off on the Backs, and made our way through Trinity and Trinity Lane to the city centre. I have shown friends around Cambridge before, but this was the first time I have taken a party round, and, though I say so myself, I think it went well. We worked down from St John's and Trinity to the Senate House, where we had the bonus of a Degree day ceremony to see forming up outside, before taking on Great St Mary's, King's, St Catherine's, Corpus Christi, Queen's and distant views of Pembroke, Peterhouse and the Fitzwilliam before heading back to the coach. Cambridge seemed just as busy as Oxford, but the weather was fine, and the mood relaxed with many punts on the Cam. I think my group enjoyed the experience.
We then set off to London, the plan being to drop me off to get transport back to Oxford. Coming on from the Essex side - which is surprisingly wooded alongside the M11 - we got a distant view of the modern skyline of London - Canary Wharf, the Shard, the Green Gherkin, the Nat West tower et al. as we drove in I saw parts of the capital I knew hitherto only as names.
The first surprise was a medieval parish church wedged between modern roads. This was Bow church - not the church of Bow bells I should add - and from the parish of Straford atte Bow mentioned by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. There is an online account of it at Bow Church.
We passed through Mile End, with shades of the young King Richard II negotiating with the Essex rebels here in 1381. This led on to Whitechapel, the sinister territory of Jack the Ripper. Arriving at the Tower I was on more familiar territory as we went through the City, only to be held up by the current roadworks on the Embankment as we approached Westminster. I was most conveniently dropped off by the coach stop for Oxford, arriving back at 10.30, almost exactly twelve hours after we began.
I suppose Oxford and Cambridge in one day may be slightly unusual combination, but I was pleased to find that such a tour was indeed possible and enjoyable.