Some illustrious poets, writers and philosophers have sipped tea in this corner of England, finds out PANKAJA SRINIVASAN
Sylvia Plath stood right here on a stile, and in the light of dawn recited all that she could remember of Chaucer to a “fascinated audience”. That included Ted Hughes, who recorded this interlude in his poem Chaucer. “At the top of your voice, where you swayed on the top of a stile…Your voice went over the fields towards Grantchester. It must have sounded lost. But, the cows watched…enthralled”.
Earlier, another poet, Rupert Brooke had waxed eloquent and immortalised this place in his poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”.
Stands the church clock at ten-to-three,
And is there honey still for tea?
Indeed, there was. Honey, and plenty besides. The church stood next door, and it was half past two. We were at Grantchester at The Orchard, exactly where Rupert Brooke must have sipped his afternoon tea, and mulled over his lines.
A lovely ramble that began at Cambridge had led us past meadows and fields and ruminating cows to this picture-postcard village. In 1897, a group of students had walked the same route (referred to as the Grantchester Grind). They requested Mrs. Stevenson who lived and ran a tea room in the Edwardian Orchard House if she would so kindly serve them their beverage outside under the apple trees. She did, and thus began a wonderful Cambridge tradition.
So, here we were sitting under the apple blossoms, much like the remarkable bunch of people many years before us, who came to be known as the Grantchester Group, or, more interestingly, to use the nickname given to them by Virginia Woolf — the neo-pagans. They often hung out at The Orchard.
You would have bumped into the likes of E.M Forster, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, Augustus John, Maynard Keynes and, a long, long list of the Cambridge luminaries, that includes Jawaharlal Nehru, enjoying the “peace and holy quiet” here.
And, of course, Grantchester's most ardent admirer, Rupert Brooke, who lodged at The Orchard House as a young graduate of King's College, Cambridge. The story goes that he and Virginia Woolf once skinny-dipped in the moonlight, in a nearby pool.
The very same pool Lord Byron would swim in when he sauntered in from Cambridge.
Grantchester remains very much as it must have been when the likes of Newton, Darwin, Cromwell, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Marlow and Spenser walked, ridden or punted up the Granta to this village. You can still do that as punts are available on hire from Cambridge.
There were some scary moments in the 1980s property boom when it seemed very likely The Orchard would fall prey to bulldozers.
But, there was a surge of protest and support from the public and it is now here to stay, for people like us to just sit, “day-long and watch the Cambridge sky”.