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July 2012 Meeting Report

Visit to St John’s College and its Gardens, Cambridge

This was very much a raincoat and brolly outing although fortunately, after about the first fifteen minutes, neither were required.  We were met by Adam, the head gardener, who had been a gardener with St John’s for over 20 years.

Adam explained that the present gardens were laid out in the mid 19th century, when the Master’s Lodge was built.  The brick red walls were covered in a quite spectacular display of white hydrangeas.  We also admired the floral borders and the wisteria around the porch.

In the Master’s garden there was an enormous plane tree and a horse chestnut - sadly the latter was in a bad state and may have to be cut down within a few years.  There were over 100 pure white rose clusters along the wall of the lodge.  The students' accommodation building was completely covered in ivy, even obscuring the windows.

After 'admiring' the modern Cripps building, built during the 60’s and now being renovated at considerable expense, we crossed the handsome Wren bridge over the Cam.  There was an avenue of tall limes with their characteristic strong smell, with yew hedges on each side, crossing the “backs” leading down to the Queen's Road gate of the College.  Next to these were the Fellow's Garden and Fellow's Wilderness, which were believed to have been landscaped by none other than Capability Brown.  The wild-flower garden is a haven for a wide variety of wildlife, including rare birds such as woodpeckers and kingfishers.  We meandered through a number of enclosed lawns and gardens, including the Scholars' Garden where the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' was being performed. We also saw a monument in Taiwanese sandstone to a Chinese scholar and poet, Dr Louis Chen.  At the furthest point of our enjoyable tour was the School of Pythagoras, the oldest building in Cambridge, now being renovated.

One of the highlights of the tour (for me, anyway) was being able to walk across the iconic 'Bridge of Sighs', inspired by the bridge in Venice where the prisoners were taken to the cells after being tried and sentenced in the Doge's Palace.  We joked with some of the punters, one of whom was one of our previous speakers.  Our route then led through the majestic 3rd, 2nd and 1st Courts, with the Great Gate providing the spectacular exit onto St Johns Street, proudly displaying the coat of arms of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry V11 and thus the Tudor dynasty.  At the side of the 1st Court we admired the splendid St Johns Chapel, home to one of the famous Cambridge choirs.  Walking across the immaculately cut lawn , attracting some considerable attention, was a fine furry feline fellow who deigned to allow some photos to be taken.

In spite of the indifferent weather this was yet another very enjoyable and interesting outing, efficiently organised by Liz Dockerill who, on our behalf, thanked Adam for giving us such an interesting tour of St John's.
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