We started our day by clambering onto the coach, exhausted from the amazing Alumni dinner we had the night before, but excited for the day ahead.
After a smooth ride, we reached the famous Epping Forrest. The sheer grandeur and rusticity of it left us in awe as we stepped of the coach. Like the past few days we had in London, we were once again blessed with good weather. Sunlight bounced off the frosted leaves littered on the ground, sending out shimmering rays of gold. Through Alicia’s sharing, we found out more about the history of Epping Forest. The forest stretches partly across London and Essex. During the Great War it was used as a refuge for civilians. Unfortunately that did not spare it from the incessant bombing carried out. As a result, some of the beautiful lakes are actually former bomb craters. This brief history of Epping Forest was impactful to me because Epping was no longer just a spectacular natural site, but also a living and breathing forest with a past and its fair share of historical memories.
After spending some time frolicking about the forest, we made our way to “Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting lodge” nearby. The lodge was built in 1543 during the Tudor period (1485 to 1603) built under the orders of King Henry VIII as a base where guests or other royal members could hunt from. The upper level of the lodge provides a supreme view for the occupants of the lodge to look out of.
Through the displays in the lodge we got the opportunity to find out more about the lifestyle people had during the Tudor era. The lodge has many visuals to help us imagine what life was like then. I’ve always taken an interest in all sorts of history hence learning more about English history was a real treat for me. For example one thing I learnt was that food was often served in large portions and paraded past less important guests at the dining table as a show of hierarchy and economic worth. We were also given the opportunity to dress up in Tudor-era clothing, which gave us a slightly better feel of how it would feel like if one were to jump straight into the Tudor era. Indeed we had a great time pulling on furry hats and large coats.
Like typical tourists, we were all looking forward to the gift shop nearby, eager to grab trinkets that would allow us to take away a small part of Epping with us. At the shop, I noticed something quite encouraging and heart-warming. Much like many of the museums and historical sites we visited, Epping Forest relies on donations and proceeds from purchases made at the gift shop to supplement its maintenance . There were various donation boxes placed round the shop – some directing funds to the protection of forests in the Greater London area, some directed towards the maintenance of Epping Forest and so on. Unlike most profit-based shops in Singapore, I also noticed how local artists were allowed to display their artworks for free in the gift shops. Any money collected from the purchases of these artworks goes directly to the artists themselves. England has successfully developed a culture of support and appreciation for the arts. Little gestures and practices like these show how more emphasis is placed on the value rather than price of things. Indeed, there is much that Singapore can learn from England in terms of cultivating social mind-sets. We need to teach our young how to take the initiative to preserve things that are important to our culture and existence as a Singaporean people.
Before we knew it, it was time to head off to Cambridge. As pre-university students many of us were curious and elated at the prospect of having the opportunity to take a peek at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Along the way to Cambridge we passed by a small town called Thaxted, it was very different from the other towns we’d seen. Its thatched roofs, vintage cars, tiny shops lined along the street and traditional windmill made us feel as if we were transported back in time.
We arrived at Cambridge in the afternoon. We strolled down the entrance to the town, dwarfed by the grand and stately structures. After a few minutes of walking and gaping at the sheer scale of Cambridge University, we found ourselves at the market square where we were to have lunch.
The market square was filled with tents and crowded stalls. The stalls sold everything from scented candles to glittery jewellery to hot food. The smell of fresh meat being cooked on grills and steamy spicy paella being scooped out of the pan were enough to send our stomachs growling. While the ‘Ostrich Burger’ was recommended to us, I went for the ‘German Hamburger’ instead. Devouring hot food whilst walking the streets of Cambridge in the cold is just about one of the best feelings in the world.
After lunch, we proceeded for a tour of Cambridge with our guides. Janet (our guide), was just about the most good-natured and passionate guides we had the honour of meeting. Through her sharing we learnt of the old feud between Oxford and Cambridge; and as Janet said with conviction, “Oxford is older, but Cambridge is BETTER!”
Through my observations I realised that Cambridge still keeps many of its age old traditions and practices. The buildings in Cambridge are very traditional and gothic-Victorian in style. The cream coloured, water stained walls have intricate carvings of prominent figures and faces on them; a stark contrast to the smooth glossy glass skyscrapers that fill most of Singapore. According to Janet, tall, modern buildings are not allowed to be built so as to maintain Cambridge’s heritage. Additionally when new students enter the school, painters are sent to each college’s dorm to hand paint the names of the new occupants.
If one were to spend enough time walking round Cambridge, you would notice various plaques on the walls around the campus. Each of these plaques commemorates notable achievements or alumni. For example, the splitting of electrons was first discovered by Lord Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University. Iconic scientists such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Alan Turing, that shaped the world of today studied behind the walls of the university. The importance and significance of the place left me a little intimidated, yet awe-inspired. It was almost surreal to be at the very site where geniuses were born.
Janet was also very eager to tell us more about student life in Cambridge. Students are provided with a beautiful, breath-taking campus where they have their own chapel, dining hall and library. But, of course like all good things, they come with a price, a price of hard work to be exact. Students have morning lectures six days a week and numerous tutorials to hand in to their Director do Studies to review. According to an alumnus who joined us later in the tour around Cambridge, most of the school year is very busy and packed with heavy workloads.
Before we knew it our tour with Janet had ended and it was time to bid goodbye to her and the picturesque city of Cambridge.
The experience was both eye-opening and inspiring. It has made me want to work harder and find my way back to Cambridge based on my academic merit. Cambridge is so full of life and excitement, bustling with the greatest minds and talents. It is definitely a not-so-distant goal I wish to work towards.
We ended our day with dinner at “Toby’s Carvery” where we students were spoilt with a wide selection of meats from honey roasted pork to succulent British Turkey and mashed potatoes. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, talking about our hilarious experiences during the trip while devouring the delicious food before us. The best part about the restaurant is that the meat is sliced freshly on the spot for you. More importantly you get to choose the different types of gravy and sides you want to go with your selected meats.
Today was one of the best days of our trip in my opinion. As a city girl, the rich greenery of Epping Forest and the beauty of Cambridge city provided a sense of boundless hope, freedom and opportunity. I am actually quite upset that we are nearing the end of our stay in London, overall it has been such an enriching experience and a timely reminder of how there is a huge world beyond our tiny island nation.