Bursting the bubble
In defence of escaping
One timeless Cambridge-ism that has been passed down through the ages is "the bubble" metaphor. This is the idea that the University of Cambridge is an isolated alternative society suspended within the normal world – an emulsion, if you will. Or perhaps "the bubble" envisages Cambridge as its own little republic, like the Vatican City, with Vice-Chancellor Toope in the role of Pope.
It is an apt description. Cambridge has its own distinct lifestyle. We play by unique rules. We participate in objectively bizarre traditions like wearing gowns to all formal events. We even speak a language which sounds eerily like standard English, but is jarring to an untrained ear – NatScis, Englings, Mathmos, Mainsbury's, bop, bedder, DoS, gyp…
The bubble isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is a big part of why studying here is such a unique and exciting experience. The intensity, the sense of carmaraderie, the fact that everything is within walking distance (unless you're at Girton) are some of the key reasons why I love being a Cantab.
But everyone needs to burst the bubble sometimes. It is incredibly natural to develop a sense of claustrophobia in Cambridge. Eight weeks feels like six months, and it's not long before your convenient sphere of influence between college, faculty, and the city centre becomes an oppressively narrow circle.
This feeling is nothing to be ashamed of. There should not be a stigma against 'camstrophobia'. More importantly, it should not feel like a competition to stay in the bubble for the longest; the amount of time spent within this small area is not directly proportional to your commitment, hard work, or grades. It is easy to forget this.
Therefore, before we all get sucked in further and begin waving a Cambridge tricolour flag or composing a 'GDBO' national anthem, I want to reiterate one thing: escaping is okay. My advice to fresher and post-grad alike is to burst the bubble whenever you can.
The great escape doesn't have to take you far away at all. You can breach the ceiling of the bubble by climbing to the top of Castle Mound (10-minute walk from Market Square) – be reminded of the beauty of the city from a healthy distance. The Botanic Gardens are only a 20-minute walk from Market Square but feel a world apart from the library or lab (also FREE to cam-card holders!). A personal favourite escape route is a leisurely walk along the river ending up in Logan's Meadow (25-minute walk from MS). Alternatively, walk, jog, cycle, or punt your way to Grantchester Meadows and befriend the cows (30-minute walk from MS).
For more severe cases of 'camstrophobia', it is easy to put greater distance between you and your demons. In my experience, running for an hour or so away from the city in any direction is the cure to all ills. Grantchester and Chesterton are both small, friendly towns on the outskirts of the city with a plethora of pubs and cafés to explore. Or just follow the river – The Plough pub comes highly recommended.
If you're in need of more than a quick fix, a day trip (or even overnight…be bold) doesn't have to be difficult or too expensive. Ely is only 20 minutes on the train, both London and Peterborough trains take an hour, and Norwich is about an hour and a half away.
This is not a criticism of Cambridge, or to say that you will definitely feel claustrophobic. I am simply a fellow Cantab saying that it is okay to want to escape.
I love Cambridge but I also have to run away from time to time. What's wrong with that?