We recently purchased an inflatable canoe and decided to take it to Cambridge and float along the Cam. The original idea was to paddle out from the city centre, but as we drove through Grantchester we spotted boats being launched behind the Old Vicarage. We parked near The Orchard and made our way back there on foot. It’s hard to pass Rupert Brook’s statue at the vicarage without looking across at the church to see if the clock still stands at ten to three – the place is full of famous and creative ghosts.
As we headed downstream to Cambridge the gentle splash of paddles gradually replaced the drone of traffic from the M11. I spotted a kingfisher within the first five minutes. The philosopher Wittgenstein used to paddle this tranquil stretch in an attempt to relax his permanently buzzing brain. I hope it worked, because even just reading his work frazzled my brain when I tried to study it.
We stopped for a picnic at Grantchester Meadows. I thought about Syd Barrett, the creative genius behind Pink Floyd, who used to play there as a child. Unfortunately Eleanor then slipped on the muddy bank and took a full tumble into the water. She had no spare clothes – luckily I did. She looked just the part in my shirt and trousers – a blue-stocking in the mould of Virginia Woolf, another well-known user of the river.
We went into town as far as the Backs then paddled back to the Orchard Tea Rooms at Grantchester. This is based round the boathouse where Rupert Brook lodged before moving to the vicarage. In the early 20th century he was the central figure of an intellectual and artistic group which met there, including Woolf, EM Forster, Bertrand Russell and Augustus John, who maintained two sets of wives and children in nearby gypsy caravans. It must have been an extraordinary gathering with a unique atmosphere. Having coffee on an old green deckchair in the original orchard was the perfect way to end our adventure, looking around and enjoying the company of some very interesting and eccentric looking Cambridge characters – mind you, they were probably thinking just the same about us!