In the steps (and seats) of great physicists

The easiest way to get our bikes into central London was, as always, just to ride them. We picked a slightly longer route which followed the last little bit of the official Avenue Verte, it was actually pretty good cycling into the city on one of the ‘cycle superhighways’ (I love that phrase, I feel like I must bike at least several kilometres per hour faster when I’m on one just because of the name). Then we hit the city. Around Buckingham Palace the cycle lane somehow jumped across three lanes of traffic to go around a roundabout against the flow of the traffic. I will reserve overall judgement on cycling in London but based on our small experience I would say that there are some great cycle paths but also some high-risk, high-traffic linking sections. Happily we made it to the train station with no issues.

Bye bye London

On arrival in Cambridge we were met by my friend Hannah who I hadn’t seen in about three or four years. In the intervening time she has completed a PhD and is now a Junior Fellow at Trinity College. We didn’t really know much about the College system at Cambridge, Hannah did explain it to us. I have already kind of forgotten to be honest but I think the colleges employ a lot of research staff and sort of make up the University itself. Something like that…

Hannah managed to snag us a ‘Fellow’s Guest Room’ which was awesome. It meant we got to see a bit of the college, had access to the Fellow’s Lounge AND got breakfast in the Great Hall. Did I mention that the Fellow’s Lounge had an unlimited supply of biscuits? Andy was in heaven. As we crossed the main quad, Hannah pointed out where Isaac Newton’s bedroom had been. Trinity College was also the college of Ernest Rutherford, of $100 bank note fame.

The quad in Trinity College, Newton’s bedroom was somewhere in the corner to the left of the main gate apparently

FUN FACT: No one is allowed to walk on the grass of the quad, except Fellows. However, if you are walking alongside a Fellow, and in active conversation with them, you are allowed to walk on the grass. Hannah didn’t know what would happen if the conversation stopped halfway across and we didn’t test it out.

Andy and I had a bit of a wander around Cambridge that afternoon and then we met Hannah who gave us a bit more of a tour. We saw the old physics building which produced so many Nobel prizewinners and the Corpus Clock which is a sculptural pendulum clock that was apparently conceived as a work of public art. I just read the Wikipedia article and it is surprisingly interesting. My favourite line was about how people have described it as “hypnotically beautiful and deeply disturbing”. The whole design and working of it is fascinating and it’s not a long article so I would recommend it if you’re currently just sitting on your couch otherwise looking at Facebook.

We were also taken into the pub to see the location where Watson and Crick had their ‘eureka moment’ about the structure of DNA. There’s a plaque and everything. Given it’s the UK it does make sense that it happened in a pub. Apparently since the physics building has moved they haven’t won any Nobel prizes and some people blame it on the lack of a decent pub close to new location.

I didn’t take many photos in Cambridge but for some reason I really liked these buildings

Overall I was really struck by how much important scientific history there is in Cambridge and how casual the approach towards it is. So many amazing discoveries or breakthroughs have happened there that any individual one isn’t treated in a huge way. You can still sit on the same seat that Watson and Crick sat on and order a beer. I feel like in other places there might be a bit more of a palaver about seeing it.

It was really great to catch up with Hannah and she wanted the full breakdown of our trip to date which took pretty much an entire evening. It was the first time we had really run through the whole thing and it was almost surprising all of the things that we’ve done. Singapore seems like it was years ago now.

The next morning we visited the Scott Polar Museum which was awesome. It was my type of museum: interesting but small enough that you can see everything in about an hour. They had some really cool stuff too, like some of the original letters that Scott wrote while he was in his tent near the end of his failed expedition, knowing that he was going to die. Plus lots of info on indigenous people who live within the arctic circle. I was very taken by the kayaks made from wooden frames and animal skins, complete with a spray skirt of skin and a waterproof jacket made of animal gut. Ingenious.

Painting on the roof in the Scott Polar Museum

To let us continue chatting we also caught up with Hannah for lunch the next day and managed to try a traditional Chelsea bun which was delicious and super sweet. Thanks for hosting us Hannah! So good to catch up and hopefully we can meet for a UK tramp sometime next year when the weather starts to improve.

After a brief but satisfying visit to Cambridge we hopped back on our bikes for what would be the very last section of cycling of the trip. There was a pretty good cycle path the whole way to Ely, although it was a bit bumpy at times and we did at one point have to lift our bikes over a canal bridge with two flights of stairs. Not an easy task with fully loaded touring bikes.

We had booked an Airbnb in a place called Barway which is very near the city of Ely. It is officially a city because it has a cathedral, which seems to be the main attraction of what is apparently the second-smallest city in England.

We did visit Ely but at the cathedral we were put off by the (in our opinion) extortionate entry fee of £9.50. We had already seen a lot of cathedrals. So instead we visited the stained glass museum which was cheaper and since it was housed inside the cathedral we were able to poke our noses in a little bit further.

Ely Cathedral

The stained glass museum was surprisingly interesting. I had never thought all that much about stained glass but had certainly wondered a little bit about how it was made. The museum housed two informative videos as well as a big collection of different styles of stained glass. One thing I learnt was that stained glass has different styles just like painting does. It’s not all church scenes, there is modern stained glass as well.

One of the many windows on display

FUN FACT: Generally the colour of stained glass is just painted on the surface. To get shading, you paint on a dark paint substance and then scratch it off. However, the yellow colour is achieved by applying what is called ‘silver stain’ to the back of the glass and then it turns yellow when fired. So if you look really closely at stained glass you can see (through parallax error) that the yellow colour is on the back.

I may have gotten quite into stained glass for a very brief moment.

From Ely we had booked tickets on a train to Edinburgh. Which is in Sco… Wait a minute. I’m going to stop there right now. But we are so close to the end of Project Overland!! So close.

Scenery from the train

10 October 2017 Tooting, London to Cambridge (plus train) 18km
11 October 2017 Cambridge to Barway 33km
Total distance cycled: 3,338km

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