My name is Amelia and I applied and have been accepted to study history at Cambridge University’s history summer program. Being able to study in a country so full of historical memory was an experience too good to pass up.
I started my adventure two weeks before the program began. I took the horrendously long flight from Sydney to the UK and touched down in London exactly two weeks before the Cambridge Summer History program began. This allowed for some travel around England.
I crammed a lot into the two weeks of travelling I had. There is plenty to see and do in the UK, but I’ll share with you just a few of my highlights! I spent a fair bit of time visiting London’s historic sites such as Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Westminster Abbey is the home of royal coronations and royal weddings. It is also home to around 3,300 graves including Queen Elizabeth the 1st’s and Sir Isaac Newton’s.
While I was in London, I was lucky enough to do a few day trips. It doesn’t take long by bus or train to get to sites such as Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Bath or Hampton Court. Windsor Castle is a gorgeous palace with decorated state rooms and the beautiful St George’s chapel (the one made famous by Prince Harry and Meghan Markel’s recent royal wedding).
Stonehenge is a must do sight-seeing experience. For me, it was a place I had always wanted to see up close as I had seen pictures of Stonehenge in textbooks at school. The fact that it is such an old structure and we still haven’t really figured out how or why they constructed it adds to the awe you experience while standing in its shadow. On the same bus trip I took to see Stonehenge I also made a stop at the city of Bath. The ancient Roman Baths that have been preserved here are truly incredible. Exploring the Baths by foot was easy, and a tip I have to anyone planning to visit, is to opt for the audio guide!
Another great destination to visit on a day trip from London is Hampton Court. It is a less busy attraction than the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey, but is just as historic, and it’s surrounded by beautiful gardens. Hampton Court was a palace occupied by Henry VIII. The palace has actors and actresses so crowds can meet Henry VIII and one or all of his famous 6 wives.
Cambridge is about an hour out of London by train, and it’s simply stunning. The most popular site in Cambridge has to be Kings College Chapel. It is a breathtaking view and a real feet of engineering with its vaulted ceilings. There is a spot in Cambridge which is known as Castle Mound - it’s a bit of a walk to get there but it is worth it. Castle mound was an old site for a castle that was created by William the Conqueror. The mound still exists and if you make the climb up it, you are treated to a lovely view over the skyline of Cambridge. It’s a must-do experience!
Another must while sight-seeing is to go on a river punt. I did this with a tour guide, this way they did all the hard work and I got to sit back and relax while they discussed the origins of some of the most famous colleges.
We hit the ground running on the Cambridge History Summer Program. On day one, I got checked into the beautiful Selwyn College, and it was off to the opening welcome drinks. Breakfast and dinner are served in your colleges dining hall. Selwyn’s dining hall has a beautifully decorated ceiling. The daily schedule starts with a morning plenary which is themed this year around reputations. Every morning, different guest lecturers who are experts in their topics share their knowledge at morning plenary. Then, it’s a short break before your elected topic class, my first one this week has been on Winston Churchill. Lunch is then followed by your elected afternoon class. My afternoon class has been on the Supernatural in Tudor and Stuart England. I was lucky enough at the end of the week to go on an excursion with my Churchill class to visit Churchill College in Cambridge. Here, we got to go into the archives, where they have all of the original documents, letters and photos pertaining to Winston Churchill. How lucky were we!?
On some afternoons, there have been activities like the ceilidh dancing (a social event with Scottish and Irish folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling), a great way to get to know new people while attempting to dance. The Cambridge university ceilidh band played music for us and we had a group of students showing us how to perform the dances to differing degrees of success. There were a lot of laughs and was overall a great night!
Amongst all the learning and sight-seeing, we also made time to enjoy the English summer by attending a garden party hosted by St Johns college. St Johns is one of the older colleges in Cambridge, the buildings are wrapped in ivy and the leaves are slowly changing colour from green to red. At the garden party, we got to socialize over cake and champagne. The garden was right on the water’s edge so we watched ducks and the river punters float by as the evening went on.
James Grime and the Enigma Machine demonstration
Then finally, to round out a full day there is an evening talk. One of the absolute highlights so far has been an evening talk by mathematician James Grime on Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine. James Grime was a guest speaker for the night and brought in an original Enigma Machine that was used during World War Two. What was even more amazing was he showed us how the NAZIS had used it to send codes, and how the British had figured out how to decode it.
This first week has gone by in such a rush and I can’t wait to see what next week brings!
Hi my name is Amelia, I am 21 and from the coastal town of Newcastle, NSW. I am in my 3rd year of a Bachelor of Teaching Humanities, with a major in Modern History. I have always loved history and like most uni students, I have a healthy love for coffee! This program means I have the opportunity to study what I love in a country I have always wanted to visit!