DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Visit to Down House, Where Darwin Lived and Worked
Saturday 9th June 2012 Return to Alumni Events
The trip to the home and workplace of Charles Darwin had been planned for a long time with obvious reverence for those of our college, many of which consider it a pilgrimage rather than a visit. So it was that we set off after months of planning with 37 people including a record 5 professors, one of which was our Master.
The first glitch to appear occurred at the Trumpington pick-up where recent road- and verge-works had made the original coach pick-up point rather difficult to access. However prior communication sorted that out and, as everyone had arrived on time, we were on our way according to schedule. The coach company had suggested allowing enough time to be held up in that speed limiter, the M25, but this day we sailed through and considerably early we approached the juction to the booked restaurant and soon turned off. This was the point that no planning can account for and there is a danger that the whole trip will be remembered for the wrong reason. Our coach driver faithfuly followed his GPS guide which soon brought us to a typical rural road of Kent with high green, hedges, a few homes of the rich and road banks. This would have been very pleasant excepting that the road width was barely, and at some times less, than the width of the coach which slowly scraped and bumped it's way for 2-3 miles including a 10 minute interlude trying to negotiate a very tight chicane, which it did by using the coach to plough through the tree branches. Eventually we popped out at the restaurant which was located on the junction of our road and a main road! The best remark was made by one of our guests who said that it was the nearest she had been to wildlife without leaving a coach.
Despite the excitement we were still early at the Shampan, Spinning Wheel Restaurant in Westerham where we were in for a treat of some of the best prepared Indian food served efficiently, and politely in very nice surroundings and which was very good value. Definately a place to be recommended.
We had plenty of time to eat and enjoy the food and conversation but still managed to be a little late starting out for the short trip to Down House. This was compounded by the driver ignoring the brown "Down House" notice and turning down a residential road with lots of parked cars until he came to a notice saying "Not suitable for large vehicles". All courtesy of his GPS. Turning round and retracing our route back to the brown notice took even more time so we were nearly 25 minutes late at Down House which the driver blithely shot past despite the cries from the bus and took a further 15 minutes to find a place to turn round and return.
The Down House officials and volunteers rapidely made up for the lateness and we quickly re-ordered the schedule for what became a lovely experience for the rest of the day. The day before had been so windy that the gardens had been closed but this day was beautiful and the gardens were at their best. Typically DCS had once again found a lovely window in a violent month of weather. The lower floor of the house had been beautifully restored with many of the original items in place and many more which were identical to those which Charles Darwin and his family would have been familiar. We were provided with headphones so we could listen to David Attenborough giving us a very factual tour of the ground floor rooms and the personal headsets enabled us to browse and study at our leisure. The upper floor was laid out as an interactive modern museum exhibit covering simpler and more basic aspects of Darwin's life which in general was probably not very new to all of us who had immersed ourselves in the Charles Darwin year, but was probably ideal for those new to Charles Darwin or younger children. This seemed to be a successful way of arranging the house.
The gardens were quite spectacular and our party now in ones, twos or threes kept coming across little aspects faithfully kept, which reminded them of the events chronicled about the family like the mulberry tree now very old and propped up somewhat. In amongst the gardens was Charles Darwin's greenhouse containing many of the species of plant that he studied and his small laboratory and at the end was the sandy path he walked every day to think. At the beginning (and end) of the circular part, English Heritage had left 5 stones to remind us of how he kicked one at every circuit and how his children would hide and replace the stones so he would do extra circuits. In fact the gardens and views over the countryside brought back so many memories of such a famous and careful scientist and gentle family man that it felt as if it was us returning to our homes of yesterday. Quite delightful!
The whole site closed at 5.00 p.m. so we left having eked the last seconds of a most enjoyable afternoon and (wonderfully ) arrived back in Cambridge quickly and without any problems.
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