Skip to content

Norms in Cambridge // Punting on the River Cam

If the battle between Oxford and Cambridge was to be determined by the choice of the Norms, it looks like the latter may have won it. For here we see that the Norms have ventured as far as Cambridge where, on the delightful River Cam, they are idling their way through the afternoon on punts and pastures, picnicking, relaxing and generally enjoying life like a scene from a pointillist landscape by Seurat.

Cambridge Norms

Norms punting in Cambridge ©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper

Upon closer examination, one can see that a fair few of the Norms have a glass in hand or a bottle nearby. But then this is a university town, where hard work is followed swiftly by revel and play. The Norms have decided to skip the former stage and move straight onto the reveling. And why not? For as far as summertime indulgence goes, there aren’t many places better than Cambridge to do it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Advertisements

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Gardens of Eden

My post about the discovery of the secret garden of Peterhouse College in Cambridge will have left none of you in any doubt about my love for the gardens of Oxbridge. Be they less secret, the formal quads and extensive grounds of all the sprawling colleges are no less of a treat to behold. While my previous post concentrated on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, today I’m focusing in on the gardens which transform those places of learning into havens of tranquility. How life studying in these flower-filled Edens must differ from the smog-filled campus of my London university!

DSC01449DSC01399DSC01626DSC01686DSC01421DSC01712DSC01699DSC01611DSC01514DSC01370DSC01383DSC01639

As is evident from the photos I am sharing, we visited when the gardens of both Oxford and Cambridge were at their floral best. While my visit to Oxford was earlier in the year, and therefore decorated with the happy nodding heads of yellow daffodils and cautiously opening blossom, by the time of our April trip to Cambridge, tulips were abundant in a panoply of ravishingly colour, while blossom trees seemed to test the limits of their own staggering colour as they exploded in shades of arresting fuchsia pink.  Sloping green lawns, many alongside rivers and waterways, lushly demonstrate Britain’s great love of green and pleasant pastures, while extensive oaks and willow trees suggested through age that they had born witness to many a famous student passing through these grounds.

DSC01713DSC01290DSC01316DSC01277DSC01535DSC01474DSC01643DSC01678DSC01695DSC01306DSC01288DSC01687DSC01572DSC01400DSC01477

The presence of students quietly working in most of these gardens is evidence of their importance in providing the perfect level of concentration and tranquility to aid study and well-being. I only hope that study gives way to an unbridled appreciation of these magnificent grounds once the books are closed.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Colleges in abundance

Oxford and Cambridge are university cities, and perhaps more than any other university cities in the world, their character and urban geography are dominated by their colleges. When I was young, it was always something of conundrum to get my head around: do Oxford and Cambridge have one respective university or many, and if the former, why are they split into so many smaller units? Yet those units, or colleges, are evidentially what make these universities so special, and famous. As a student applying for either university, the applicant applies for the prestige of the whole, but the particular specialism, history or atmosphere of the relevant college. And it is precisely that individual character belonging to each of Oxford and Cambridge’s colleges which makes strolling around them such a joy.

Cambridge colleges

DSC01293DSC01305DSC01312DSC01656DSC01339DSC01510DSC01667DSC01622DSC01344DSC01410DSC01318DSC01711

While Oxford feels like more of a living city beyond its colleges, Cambridge is very much a city which has grown around the confines of each respective college. This makes walking around the city almost maze-like, as you attempt to ascertain which passages are public and which privately college owned. Even in the colleges themselves, there is a clear hierarchy at work, as sections are cordoned off for the sole respective enjoyment of students, fellows and finally, the public. Yet even in the public parts, one gets a real and immediate sense of the very tangible history imbued by these colleges in all their ochre stonework and architectural mastery.

In both Oxford and Cambridge, I loved strolling around the colleges which dominate both cities. Collectively, they hold examples of almost every architectural style since the medieval period. Their gardens (for which a separate post will be shared) are stunningly cared for and places of the utmost tranquility. Their great dining halls ooze tradition and Hogwarts-esque formality, and their chapels are a veritable museum of exquisite stained glass and biblical artworks.

Oxford colleges

DSC01028DSC00961DSC00987DSC01144DSC01030DSC01175DSC00946DSC01130DSC01029DSC01167DSC01157DSC00925DSC01197DSC01170DSC00962

I have not gone to the rather laborious task of labelling each of my photos in respect of their locations. Instead, I present something of a hodgepodge from each city. Amongst the Oxford photos are the colleges of Balliol, Christchurch, Trinity, Magdalen, Brasenose and New College. In Cambridge, you will see glimpses of Downing, Peterhouse, Sidney Sussex, Pembroke, Emmanuel and Corpus Christi amongst others. All combine to present these cities at their most beautiful and historical best – certainly worth visiting, even though, in some, an entry fee is very much a sign of more modern times.

A bit more of Cambridge

DSC01709DSC01644DSC01704DSC01429DSC01386DSC01669DSC01540DSC01332DSC01365DSC01354DSC01617DSC01351DSC01516DSC01384

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: Garden of the Gonville Hotel

Cambridge is not all that far from London, but when we visited over the Easter weekend, we wanted to truly relax. And such a state was never going to be possible if we were day-tripping, with all the stress that repeated train travel would inevitably entail. Pampering campaign commenced and justified, we opted for a hotel stay in Cambridge, bedding down for the night at the Gonville Hotel, a delightfully appointed boutique establishment just off Parker’s Piece, one of the city’s largest stretches of green.

Our hotel stay was a real treat. The entire accommodation was designed with style in mind. Elegant colours, textures and fabrics combined with modern lighting, plush contemporary furniture, and all the mod cons to create an experience replete with comfort. Our bedroom had its own terrace, a soft lavish bed piled with mountains of snow-soft cushions, a little seating area, and even our first taste of Netflix. But best of all things, it had its own private garden, resplendent with a soft bouncy lawn, trees bursting into blossom, and a feel of careful but decadent neglect.

Gonville Garden sketch

Garden of the Gonville Hotel, ©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper

It was in that garden that we spent a good deal of time relaxing after the excitement of the city, taking the time out to rest in the sun, revel in the simple purity of birdsong, and drink some tea, as one must in England. It was there that I once again opened my travel sketchbook, drawing this sketch of that very garden.

It is a simple image, or perhaps the simplicity is in the collection of roughly piled bricks it depicts. But they were a sight which caught my eye when I saw them, late in the afternoon sun, dappled with sunlight and surrounded by trees not quite in bloom. The sketch started as something of an exercise of angles and shadows, and ended up being one of my favourites of my sketchbook.

It was a truly tranquil spot in which to engage in a little sketching, and a marvellous hotel in which to extend and augment our Cambridge stay.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Masterful Museums

Not all the nation’s artistic treasures are in London it seems. For Oxford and Cambridge play host to two of the most spectacular museums in the country. Both the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge hold stunning collections of art and antiquities which befit the learned character of their sponsor universities.

They are, in effect, like all the museums of London rolled into one, conveniently collected under one respective roof. Here, a plethora of ancient relics including treasures from ancient Syria, Egypt and Rome, sit alongside collections of art with a broad sweep across the ages, from Italian renaissance altarpieces to works by Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. They host temporary exhibitions so significant that they bring culture lovers from across the world to these alternative cultural capitals. And their collections are hosted in buildings so grand that they out-do some of the world’s most prominent palaces and museums.

Oxford’s Ashmolean

DSC01062DSC01055DSC01043DSC01069DSC01050DSC01045

It is on those buildings, and not the collections themselves, that this smaller set of photographs concentrates. Both buildings share a common theme, with ostentatiously grand classical facades imposing themselves upon the visitor with an immediate magnificence. Designed by Charles Cockerell in the 19th century, the yellow stone and marble mix of Oxdord’s Ashmoleon harmonise with the yellow colleges scattered about the city, but stands out for its unapologetic Palladion grandeur in amongst buildings fashioned out of medieval Britian.

The Fitzwilliam building was designed along similar lines, coincidentally with the contribution of the same architect, Charles Cockerell. It is whiter, grander almost from the outside, but here the real treasure is within – in an entrance hall of startling beauty, laced with gold, mosaic, stained glass and marble statutory, designed by Edward Middleton Barry and screaming with Victorian splendour. How can one choose between these two magnificent spectacles?

Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam

DSC01548DSC01559DSC01547DSC01565DSC01567DSC01557DSC01569DSC01542DSC01552

My photos focus on that Fitzwilliam interior, and on the yellow-stone exterior of the Ashmoleon (the latter view being conveniently enjoyed from the windows of my hotel room!). To see the magnificent collections contained within… you must visit, as soon as you can!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Punting Pleasures

While the archetypal image of Oxford and Cambridge may be a gown-donned student, mortar-board on head, rushing around on a bicycle with a book under the arm, another is the slightly more tranquil pursuit of punting. Whether it be on the calm, narrow bends of the River Cam in Cambridge, or on the tranquil and bucolic waters of the River Cherwell in Oxford, punting in either city is the ideal way to experience their charms from a unique and consistently stunning viewpoint.

Punting in Oxford

DSC01012IMG_9392DSC00997IMG_9441DSC01004DSC01016IMG_9415DSC00992IMG_9407DSC01000IMG_9389DSC01020

Much like taking a trip in a gondola in Venice, floating around on a punt is truly unique. Because the punt is traditionally a flat-bottomed boat designed for use in small rivers and shallow waters (hence the ability of the punter to steer the punt forwards by propelling a pole against the river bed), passengers enjoy the experience of lying back almost at the same level as the waters which immediately surround the punt, giving one the impression of skimming the surface of the water much like the ducks and swans which will invariably swim alongside you.

As these photos show, punting in either city is both a popular and a beautiful experience. Though in so far as the cities compete, I must give Oxford the gold medal in this race. For in Oxford I was able to punt relatively cheaply and with the tranquil luxury of having very few people around. By contrast, in Cambridge the cost was so exorbitant – and based on being ferried around in a shared punt with at least half a dozen others – that I decided to give punting a miss. One should never be made to punt with strangers. And probably just as well we gave it a miss, given the frequent collisions we bore witness to as the punts came around the narrow bends near St. John’s.

Punting in Cambridge

DSC01424DSC01299DSC01443DSC01391DSC01427DSC01367DSC01357DSC01296DSC01440

But whether it be in Oxford, in Cambridge or in both, if you have the opportunity to indulge in a little punting, I urge you to do so. It’s so rare these days to have the chance to truly unwind, and watch the world around you from the unique and somniferous perspective of water.

IMG_9503

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: St John’s College, Cambridge

It’s been some time since I opened up the pages of my travel sketchbook. I had to wipe from the cover a layer of dust accumulated since I was last inspired to sketch, under the trees of Clapham Common last summer. The delay between sketches can’t be helped. I am largely creatively barren in the winter, as the minimal light and the discomfort of cold place something of a turgid dampener upon my creative energies. When the sun (and the summertime) came back last weekend, my sketchbook opened up with it. It just so happened that I was in Cambridge when this moment occurred, and I was inspired to make this little sketch with my customary pen and paper method.

St Johns sketch

St John’s College, Cambridge (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

While the method has little tolerance for errors, I like the spontaneity of applying pen directly to the paper. It allows me to progress rapidly on site, although this particular sketch was completed a little afterwards, in the tranquil surroundings of our leafy hotel garden. I think the tranquility of both the original spot, and the subsequent finishing-place rubbed off on this image. It is one which sums up the historical magnificence of one of Cambridge’s most famous sights – the Bridge of Sighs of St. John’s College – while the still waters and leafy river bank are characteristic of what is a very green and halcyon city.

It was a perfect spot for sketching, and one apt in which to begin a new season of Travel Sketchbooking.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Paradise at Peterhouse

I continue my Oxbridge season with a focus in on one of the cities in particular, and on one of its colleges to be exact: Peterhouse College in Cambrige. The colleges of Cambridge are many, mighty and almost universally magnificent, and on our recent visit we spent  two days utterly engrossed in just a few of these historical gems. It would be hard to pick a favourite, such is the mix of architecture they offer, the grandeur of their halls and chapels, and the cosiness of the gardens and quads they all inevitably exhibit. However, one college which really struck me like a charmed arrow of Cupid was Peterhouse. This impact was not so much because of the college buildings (which were, by the way, quite stunning); but because of its gardens.

We caught a glimpse of the Peterhouse garden from inside the grand Fitzwilliam museum. We had just been having a look at the museum’s impressive collection of art, including impressionist masterpieces by the likes of Sisley and Whistler. It was perhaps with those paintings imprinted on my mind’s eye that, when through the filter of a blind I saw a paradise garden of wild flowers and picnicking students through a series of windows forming a backdrop to the museum’s collection of antiquities, I naturally assumed that the view was some kind of manmade projection of a painting. It was only when I blinked again that I realised that the garden was real, and we set about trying to find it.

DSC01577DSC01594DSC01605DSC01592DSC01580DSC01609DSC01590DSC01599

Like all promises of paradise, this one was not an easy find. A walk around the museum’s perimeter met with several dead ends against frustratingly impenetrable high brick walls. Then when we entered the grounds of Peterhouse next door, we were met only with a couple of small carefully manicured courtyards. It was only when, at the dark end of a small corridor, we saw an old wooden door, that our curiosity was peaked, and we tried the old antique latch appended to the timbers. The door opened, and like the entrance onto a fairy-tale, a magical, golden light seeped through. Ducking to pass through the 5ft (or lower) door, like Alice walking into her Wonderland having grown big on “eat me” treats, we came across a winding path which led, as if by magic, to that very same floral paradise we had glimpsed from the museum. We had found our paradise garden.

These photos don’t do justice to the true ensnaring wonder of that place, although they go some way to express the extent of floral wonder which met us in that sun-filled Elysium. Long grasses, wild flowers, bees and butterflies created a scene straight from a nursery rhyme. And just in case we suspected that we had somehow become lost in the pages of that same otherworldly tale, small smatterings of students sat within the grass, revising and chatting quietly before us, as though to prove that the place was real. It was like a painted Arcadia, a land where only happiness could pervade.

DSC01611DSC01607DSC01585DSC01604DSC01596DSC01595DSC01588

Sadly the passing of time meant that we had to leave this heavenly place soon after discovering it. But now we know where to find it, our return will be all the sweeter…if, of course, it turns out that this wonderland was real after all, and not just a figment of our wildest imagination.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Gargoyles and Gothic

The Daily Norm has been off air of late. The Norms have been busy blobbing their gelatinous way through the winter, and I have been doing likewise, although hopefully with less blob and more muscle (I live in hope). Finally the months of darkness seem to have come to an end, as I start to enjoy my home in hours of daylight, and gradually strip off multiple layers of scarfs and other winter accoutrements. While the onset of Summer means that an exciting array of travels are due, I have been exercising something of the fashionable “Staycation” of late, starting with two of England’s most attractive and famous cities… Oxford and Cambridge.

Renowned of course for hosting two of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, the cities of Oxford and Cambridge (collectively labelled with the epithet “Oxbridge”) tend to engender a staunch form of loyalty for one city over the other. Whether it be because of a family connection, their own studies, a historical reason or a traditional choice in the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race, partiality for either of the cities can lead to strong emotions and the kind of alacrity held by football fans for their club. I must admit that I have tended to waver in my favouritism. While my Sister has connections with Oxford, I have found myself almost subconsciously  drawn to the light blues of Cambridge. So with the weather at its Spring time best as Winter faded away from these Isles, I took the opportunity to explore both cities afresh, to settle my preference once and for all.

Oxford Gargoyles

DSC00974DSC00933DSC01123DSC01150DSC01021DSC01109DSC01149DSC01113DSC00957DSC01107DSC00941DSC00950DSC00954

Both stays have enabled me to conclude one thing for definite: that Oxford and Cambridge, so rich in historical significance and architectural splendour, are true beauties to behold. With their predominantly yellow stone and wealth of architectural styles dominating their respective cities with barely a modern intervention to spoil them, the university buildings of both cities are stunning. Seen against blue skies, they create a vision of very English magnificence, but also import a range of styles from Italian baroque to Palladian Neo-classicim.

Cambridge Gothic

DSC01390DSC01379DSC01489DSC01614DSC01651DSC01664DSC01431DSC01495DSC01719DSC01453DSC01437DSC013882DSC01658

In the first of a series of posts in which I aim to share my photographs of Oxbridge, I am starting with a look at some of the Medieval and Gothic features which characterise both cities. These photos in turn concentrate on some of the lovable creatures which are most dominant in Oxford especially – the gargoyles, features which the recent tragic fire at Paris’ Notre Dame remind us are treasures of a bygone age, which should be admired and never missed, despite their characteristic timidity, hidden among the eaves, the roofs and the windows of buildings which easily overshadow them.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Venice 201618

The Daily Norm is kicking off 2019 (better late than never!) with something of a carnival-coloured bang, by bringing to your screens a glimpse of Venice to knock back the winter blues, and add something of the decadence and Casanova spirit of La Serenissima into this bleak mid-winter. This I do with the introduction of my newest painting: “Venice 201618”. The title of the work references the fact that this painting has something of a lengthy history which pans an interesting period in my art.

I started the work shortly after returning from Venice at the very beginning of 2016. But just as I started the work, my attention was diverted by the very significant pull of Kandinsky and Las Meninas, and my period of interpretative abstracts began. Since the new Venice work no longer fitted into that line of simplified, more abstract works, I deserted the canvas and set it to one side.

Unable to dispose of this unfinished work, I brought the canvas back with me to England when we returned from Mallorca, in case the day should come when I would return to the more figurative style of painting which had dominated my pre-2016 work. That moment came late on in 2018 when, excited by the prospect of a 2019 trip to Venice, I brought out the unfinished canvas and continued with the work. It was a deeply cathartic exercise as I took this work to new levels beyond which the 2016 planning had gone, adding, for example, energetic new ripples to the centre of the work, designed to resemble the marble reflections bouncing off Venetian canals, as well as the marbled ink paper which is a typical product of the city.

Venice FINAL

Venice 201618 (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

For me, the finished work encapsulates touches of the many aspects of the Venice I love – the gondolier waiting patiently for some passengers, his glittering gondola moored nearby;  the predominance of the turquoise green of the canals, contrasting with the pinky red of the buildings; the masks of the carnevale flittering nearby like dancers whisked around the dance floor of a masquerade ball; and the steadily crumbling facades and algae-covered steps which characterise the city.

I’m delighted I was able to resurrect this work, and present it today as my true homage to a unique city.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the art of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com