Stansted Mountfitchet and Cambridge

30 June to 2 July – Stansted Mountfitchet (the last of the UK) – We made our farewells with Phillip and Heather, very sad to be leaving, but needing to push on. We had booked a couple of days in the village of Stansted Mountfitchet in north-west Essex, a convenient stopping off place to access Stansted Airport for a Ryanair flight to Marseille. Our accommodation was an annexe of a home and our host, Carol, very thoughtfully met us at the station and gave us a lift. On the map, it was only a walk of 800m or so but most of that was up a nasty hill, so we were grateful for her help. The annex was lovely and very comfortable, with a small outside area to keep us in touch with nature.

We were soon settled in and found the local Tesco to stock up on food. Carol did warn us that there would be a day long concert behind the house the next day, raising funds for the local school.

The news coming out of France was not good. The riots occurring at night over the police shooting of an African French teenager had escalated, and Marseille and Lyon had experienced overnight street violence. Moreover, the area that we were booked to stay in Marseille looked risky, and the Australian Government had upped their level of warning for travellers. Fortunately, we had only booked AirBnB accommodation that had late cancellation options so we made the decision to cancel both Marseille and Lyon and seek alternatives. We abandoned plans to explore some nearby villages and spent the time on the internet, making bookings. At one point, we thought about abandoning France altogether, and changing the Ryanair flight to Berlin and exploring parts of Germany we have not been to. What a joke! Good old Ryanair wanted $90 more per head to change the ticket compared to ignoring the Marseille flight and buying a new ticket altogether.  They listed the credit for the Marseille flight as $0 and added a $90 rebooking fee. No wonder people complain about them. Finally, we decided to stick with France, but change Marseille to Toulon, and Lyon to Grenoble, choosing less volatile locations.

Our homework done and future assured, we set off to explore the village. The first thing that one notices the age of the place. Many of the buildings date from the 16th Century, and the beautiful, thatched roofs delighted us. The village has both Roman and Saxon origins, as so many do, but this one is listed in the Doomsday Book and has links to the Magna Carta. On our wanderings, we sought out a butcher shop, having a hankering for some lamb chops. It is a hard thing to admit, but English lamb is a hell of a lot better than Australian lamb, in both tenderness and taste. The butcher was a keen fan of Master Chef Australia and we talked through quite a few episodes, carefully avoiding any talk of the cricket. We did try out a pub called “The Cock”, hoping to sit and watch a bit of cricket with some locals. The barmaid couldn’t manage to switch the TV off a soapie, saying she couldn’t find the cricket despite the sign on the wall saying “We Have BT Sports”. I think we were taking her away from her mobile phone too much.

Cambridge – A 40 minute train trip took us back north to Cambridge for the day, it being one of those ‘must see’ places in Britain. As soon as we stepped out of the station, it was clear that thousands of other people thought the same thing. The plaza outside was filled with tourist stands, most selling punting experiences (little boats, not betting). There were taxi touts, punters, audio guide sellers etc. We have not seen much of this tourism frenzy anywhere else, except perhaps in parts of London.

We joined the flowing stream of people along the main road towards the old part of town and the University area, which is the main reason for going to Cambridge. There is a sense of history wandering down the narrow alleyways lined with very old apartment buildings, knowing that many of the great scholars of history have walked the walk and lived in the area. I would like to say that everything is carefully preserved, but sadly, it is not the case. Cambridge presents with dirty streets and very broken pavements. The pot-holes in the streets are the worst we’ve seen. Many of the building look well past the point of important maintenance. Cambridge needs some money spent on infrastructure. Perhaps there are too many residents who don’t pay tax. It was also unfortunate that a couple of the big attractions, in Kings College and the Chapel were closed to the public, presumably for repairs, as there was a fair bit of scaffolding around the chapel. It would have been nice to be able to stroll inside the courtyard of Kings College, but it was worth seeing from the outside, and looked very familiar after seeing it portrayed in so many movies.

A vibrant market was set up in the Market Square, and we enjoyed a bite to eat from a stall, chatting to an Aussie student while we waited, and listening to a better than average busker play and sing while we ate.

The Corpus Clock was a big attraction. Intended more as an artwork than a practical timepiece, the clock’s face is a rippling 24-carat gold-plated stainless steel disc, about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in diameter. It has no hands or numerals, but displays the time by opening individual slits in the clock face backlit with blue LEDs; these slits are arranged in three concentric rings displaying hours, minutes, and seconds. A bizarre metal insect sits on top eating up time. The way it works, the clock is only accurate once every five minutes, reflecting life’s irregularity.

Then we made our way down to the punting area to watch the fun. The water was very crowded, with punts heading in all directions. The punts that had professional guides on them looked fine, but the ones where a family had decided to manage their own affairs looked a bit chaotic. One young woman came gliding along on a stand-up paddle board, looking very wet and cold. She tried to berth the board at the quay to get off but couldn’t manage, despite an attendant coming to help her. Eventually, she ended up back in the water. We voted against punting. It was more fun to watch.

We made our way back to the train and rode home, our minds already out of Britain and off to sunny French Riviera, after the horrors of Stansted Airport and Ryan Air that is.

  1. Oh that poor lady that kept falling in the water!!! Definitely sounds more fun to watch.

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