College Town

So we were finally able to pry ourselves away from our campsite and go explore one of England’s two most impressive college cities – Cambridge.

As with most English cities, parking for motorhomes is next to non-existent so we drove to the outskirts of the city and parked in one of the “park-n-ride” lots. This way we could not only park in a lot set up for large vehicles, but we could take a bus into the city center for less money and way less aggravation then if we had tried to drive into the city ourselves.

Besides having some 30-odd colleges in the city, including the alma mater of Sir Isaac Newton (of the falling apple fame) but also of a river that flows behind the colleges where the number one pastime is punting. This isn’t the punting of American football but rather boating. Think of a small flat bottom boat, similar to a long canoe propelled not with oars by rather with a long pole that pushes you forward.

This may sound simple, but in practice it appears not even close. It goes like this, you get a bunch of your friends to split the cost of renting a punt, then you take turns standing on the rear deck of the thing trying to push yourselves forwards using a 12 foot pole. Asking one of the longtime punt operators about how easy it was, he told us that about 2,000 people fall into the water every year – but not surprisingly most fall off during the hot summer months :).

We walked around the colleges, ate lunch and bought ice cream from a couple of the many food stalls around town, then headed back to our vehicle. Since was nearly 5pm when we got back from town, we choose to return to our campsite where we spent yet another night.

We have plans to visit some friends in the town of Ely on Sunday (only about 45 minutes away) so we decided to just go out and explore the nearby countryside today. We are now members of English Heritage which is a bit similar to buying a Park Pass for the national parks in the USA. So we started off by visiting a small chapel/hospital that was built around 1100 AD.

We then took back roads to the city of Bury St. Edmonson. This is also the location of a couple of more Heritage sites that we wanted to visit. For some 500 years, there was a HUGE monastery/abbey here that was, as it happened, the site where the Magna Carta was signed. It was a bastion of power, which was eventually dissolved by Henry VIII (8th) during the reformation. This was when the Catholic Church was kicked out of England in favor of Protestantism. Now all that is left is a bunch of ruined pillars that don’t really show you how big the complex was. But today, being a beautiful, sunny day – we’re told that it was the warmest day yet of the year – the grounds of the abbey, which is now a large park, were full of people just out enjoying the day. It also doesn’t hurt that this is the last weekend of spring break either.

We then headed north to another smaller Heritage site that we hoped would make a good overnight camp. We found the parking area and spoke with a policewomen who happened to be there. Although she told us that it was OK to park overnight, there was a better spot just a few miles away in the forest.

Yes, England does have a few forests, remember Sherwood Forest. This one is called Thetford Forest, which brings out a laugh in us. You see, Thetford is the name of the manufacturer of our camper TOILET. We hoped the forest wasn’t just another T…, and fortunately it wasn’t. It was peaceful and quiet, a perfect place for a BBQ and a camp.

Well, we just finished up visiting a couple of friends of ours near Ely – Bill and Linda whom we met last September at a gathering of the Silk Route Motorcaravan club. We parked up for the night at the end of their street and passed the time swapping stories, eating and drinking well, and doing a bit of sightseeing during the day as the city has a great cathedral. After two days, we really had to pull ourselves away, UK awaits! Thanks for a great welcome, we look forward to seeing you both again.

This eastern part of England is basically flat land that is called fenlands. Basically this area was all swamp, marsh and bogs until it was drained by the Dutch during the middle ages. For instance, the people straightened one river to make it a canal, and dug an adjoining canal so that the water would drain off of the land making it good for farming and grazing. This was no small feat considering that the canals run for over 60 miles to the sea!


After leaving our friends, we turned inland and, following their recommendation, headed towards the very middle of the country, to the Peak District National Park and the Derbyshire moors. Driving through the villages, we passed cathedrals, a few half-timbered houses, lots of thatched roofed homes and cute towns.

We parked for the night in the small village of Matlock Bath (they have some thermal springs –but they’re still only about 70°F). It’s a nice quiet spot, and the trains are going slow enough next to our parking area that they don’t make much noise.

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