"I’ll remember my time here as a late April afternoon of last year"Isobel Bickersteth

My version of Cambridge has always been a romanticised one. It’s black tie and balls, champagne and cloisters, books and bicycles with wicker baskets. It’s one informed from fiction, childhood impressions and media illusions: one created before I even came here. And, as with all preconceived ideas, it’s one not completely aligned with reality.

Love Letters to Cambridge

These are tough and uncertain times for us all, and a lot of us are left with little closure. Varsity are launching this series to give a platform to students reflecting on the parts of Cambridge they'll miss the most, and to gain some closure through writing. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with your idea!

Although I lived for May Week, and I loved a formal, there can be no denying that these are just one facet of life here. Beneath this there was unrelenting academic demands, disillusionment with my subject and disappointing people. As a former Editor of this paper, I grew to witness the vast, and specific, concerns of students – not least experience some of them myself. But the truth is, in spite of all this, I leave Cambridge with my romanticism for the city intact, something I largely put down to my love for the buildings, and the physical space I grew to inhabit.

In my memories, it’s always the city I return to. Buildings seem to form the backbone of all my experiences. It’s the wooden door and ivory arches which I darted in between, with increasing frequency, last Easter. It’s the cobbles on the corner of King’s Parade on which I paused, for a second, the moment before infatuation set in. It’s the purple lights of the sculpture spotted one October evening, right at the very beginning, a night extended far longer than expected on the basis of one person alone. And even though, in all of these, people and emotions lie at the heart, it’s the surroundings and the scenery which take the centre stage in my mind.

“Inconsequential moments become something greater.”

It’s the hill, which, in the flatness of Cambridge, took on an almost mythic awe among my peers. Living at Fitz, I can measure my time here by the unpredictability of the soggy walks home at the end of a night: one night comforting a friend in tears, the next engrossed in conversation with people I barely knew. My favourite of these walks came the morning after King’s Affair, when my friend and I took a diversion up Castle Mound. The last time I’d been here was for a damp Monday afternoon supervision, where we all read outloud Wordsworth’s ‘Cambridge’, struggling to match his enthusiasm for the city. This time, as we stood there in our glitter and sequins with all of Cambridge stretched out beneath us, open and expansive, twinkling with lights in the morning dawn, I got it.

Inconsequential moments become something greater. It’s all the times I cycled frantically down the hill to meet someone, castle mound in my periphery. It’s sitting in a punt by Magdalene, laughing with my friends as we watched drunken stragglers begin a walk up the hill. It’s waiting for a taxi on the wall outside Kings, and seeing a fox stalk across the grass – the outline of the chapel scratching the skyline. It’s bumping into an old friend beneath the Chapel Cloisters of Peterhouse, wondering if it will be the same, continuing on to a wood panelled room of polite conversation.

“...I felt a similar sense of nostalgia for the college, nostalgia present even before I left.”

My three years here also introduced a fondness for unexpected places. I loved the Grand Arcade for its normality. When I felt stressed, I slipped inside to window shop and browse – losing myself in a crowd of people who had concerns other than the University. My commute through Kings, which reduced it from a place of beauty to a convenient route from town to gown, taught me that even the grandest of places can become things of function. In my third year, as friendships grew tighter and the workload heavier, it was the end of day debrief in my friend’s room that tied us all together.

Within my college, romanticism met reality. It was home to both the hall where we dined in candlelight, and the room where I cried down the phone to my parents. It was both the lawn where I sipped cava on a cool summer’s evening, and the lawn I trudged across in darkness to finish an essay. And yet, every time I glanced down the tree lined avenue to the Grove, I felt a similar sense of nostalgia for the college, nostalgia present even before I left.


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Mountain View

Forgiving Cambridge

Sometimes, whether cycling down Trinity Street or walking through Market Square, I thought of all the previous versions of myself scattered across the city. And how, through all the emotions and worries present in these moments, the physical space remained the same. These buildings have been here before me, and they will be here for centuries to come. It is this, the constancy of the city, I take comfort in.

I’ll remember my time here as a late April afternoon of last year. Cambridge was bathed in a sky of dusty pink and, term not yet started, the streets were unusually empty. As I cycled over Orgasm Bridge, my basket brimmed with books, I paused to take a photo. The River Cam looked like a painting: the willow trees on the backs, the solitary punt, the hazy sky. For a brief moment, this was the Cambridge of my dreams: untouched, serene and perfect. The Cambridge of the past, and the present. The Cambridge which draws us in and makes us return, time and time again, regardless of what has come before.

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