Where I live – A mini tour of Barrington (Cambridgeshire)


Happy Belated New Blogging Year!  I hope 2014 turns out to be everything you hope it will be!  I thought I would start my blogging year off with a short post introducing you to where I live.

           view2   view   cricket   view3  trees

Barrington, thought to have the longest village green in England, lies around eight miles south-west of Cambridge.  It’s a very quiet, picturesque village with some interesting history and curiosities.

So, please join me on a short tour of the village.  Hope you enjoy!

Red Telephone boxes

telephone box                                                                           telephonebox

So, what do you with a redundant red telephone box these days? Barrington has two of these, both have been given a creative makeover inside.

Picture one, located by the village hall, is now a library! Books can be added or borrowed at any time. The second telephone box, close to the play area, is used by Barrington Primary School as an exhibition booth.  The theme of the exhibition changes frequently reflecting what the pupils have been working on.  Currently it contains a flashing Christmas tree, I can’t wait to see what appears when the new term starts!

Do you have a redundant telephone box, or something similar, where you live which is now being used creatively? I would love to hear about it 🙂

Royal Oak Pub

pub 3  pub pub2

The Royal Oak dates back to the 16th century and is Barrington’s only remaining pub (there used to be at least four others, way before my time though!) The pub has changed management many times, but continues to remain popular with villagers and visitors alike.  The food is lovely and their take away fish and chips is very tasty!

It is also a fantastic place to sit outside in the summer and relax and has a very ‘English’ feel to it, especially when there is a cricket match nearby. Once a month the pub hosts a local vintage car club, vintage cars and a few motorbikes take over the green opposite the pub, a fascinating sight.


fossils1 fossils2

These amazing fossils, and many others, have been excavated from a disused quarry at the edge of the village.  One of the most important finds was an Ichthyosaur fossil, a shark like ocean creature that would have lived alongside dinosaurs.  It is strange to think that this whole area was under water in the prehistoric era.

Last May I attended the annual archive open day in the village, the 2013 open day was fossil themed, including an exhibition of fossil work from the pupils at Barrington Primary School.  You can read more about the open day in an article I wrote for Local Secrets.

Barrington Primary School

The Primary School, opened in 1838, recently had part of its building re-thatched.  It is one of the last remaining schools in the UK with thatching.  A national newspaper picked up the story, you can read more about in this article. I was brought up here, so this used to be my local primary school, it has changed a lot since I was there, far too many years ago!

Barrington Church

I like churches when they are empty, they are fascinating to look round both inside and out.  This is my village church, you can read more about it here.


There is obviously a lot more to Barrington than I have included here, hope you have enjoyed the mini tour though.  I have moved away and moved back quite a few times and it always seems too quiet and not much happens, but at the same time I quite like it!

Posted in Cambridge, Food and Drink, History, Lifestyle, Travel | Leave a comment

Walking with Alpacas – Butlers Farm


Hello, hope you are all well?

I have been busy writing a few more articles for Local Secrets, which is great! I have added them to my articles page on here and my website, do have a look 🙂

The subject of this post is my new favourite animal – the Alpaca!  Look at the picture above, how can you not love them?

A few months ago one of my team mates from work saw a ‘Groupon’ deal for an Alpaca Experience’, we decided it was something we really had to do.

So last Sunday we made our way to Butlers Alpaca Farm in Ongar, Essex, and spent a fun couple of hours with a group of other voucher holders watching/learning about them and taking them for a relaxing, slightly chilly, stroll around some fields.


Me and Buster the Alpaca

That is me making friends with Buster! He was lovely, but a little intimidating at first.  When Sarah and I first started walking with him he felt like a coiled spring, I could visualise myself desperately holding on to him whilst he cantered (if that’s what Alpaca’s do!) in to the distance!  He calmed down a little when he got to the front of the pack apart from being spooked by something in the distance, he had good eye sight!

Alpaca’s enjoy being stroked, petted and hugged although Buster didn’t seem to like it much to start with.  However once we had all stopped in some very long grass, so the Alpacas could have lunch, he was much happier and relaxed.  I think he also began to trust us and was more than happy to be fussed over.  Alpacas have really warm bodies, which was very welcome on such a cold day!

Here are some more pictures, such lovely faces!

alpacas    alpacagroup   2alpacas   somealpacas

Alpacas originate from West Central South America and are closely related to Llamas.  Thankfully they don’t spit like Llamas, if they do it’s usually at each other!  You can find out more about Alpacas on the British Alpaca Society website.

Butlers Farm also has a shop with some gorgeous things made from Alpaca wool, which is so soft.  I might have to treat myself to a pair of Alpaca wool gloves this winter!

Posted in Miscellaneous, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Local and Community History Month – Exploring Burwell Museum


I have been on holiday from work this week, it has been a very productive and enjoyable week writing and researching possible ideas.  The weather has been brilliant and progressively lovelier throughout the week.

At the beginning of the week my new website went ‘live’, you can view it at mariahopwoodfreelancewriting.co.uk, please do have a look, feedback is very welcome 🙂

May is Local and Community History month, my latest Local Secrets article looks at how to get the best out of researching your local history in the Cambridgeshire area, but is worth reading if you are interested in researching local history anywhere.

I decided to visit a few local museums this week, which has been very interesting from a local history perspective.

Yesterday I visited the lovely village of Burwell, which lies ten miles North East of Cambridge. The photo at the top of this post is of the very pretty Burwell Church, we also enjoyed a tasty pub lunch in The Five Bells garden.  However, my main reason for my trip was to explore the Museum of Fen-edge Village life, which is a fascinating look in to Burwell’s past.

view1  view

The open air museum is organised into themed displays with an exciting treasure trove, which includes ancient artefacts, farmland machinery, vintage exhibits ranging from vehicles to clothes, old household accessories and not so old retro objects, such as dial-up telephones!

Many of the items in the museum have been donated, some of the objects are very random but fit perfectly with everything else, there is always something that catches the eye. I loved wandering around, some of my favourite exhibits included a mock-up of a shop, a pottery exhibition with mannequin potters, a telephone exchange with the retro telephones included and all the old bits and pieces donated from people’s homes.

The museum also has a dedicated archive room, which includes films of Burwell.  Viewers can sit on rows of old battered green cinema seats, which are another of my favourite things on show!

telexch shop  shop2  potter2  potter

vintagevehicles  bus

The museum also includes Steven’s Mill which is currently undergoing restoration work over a period of thirty months, made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund award.  Once completed it is intended the windmill will be returned to working order, you can read about the restoration project in a dedicated blog.

Staffs are very friendly and happy to chat to you, or show you how things work.  Make sure you look at the summer-house near the entrance, it was built as a moving summer-house so wherever the sun was it could be turned towards it, clever! One of the museum staff were happy to demonstrate how it worked by fully turning it around.

Burwell museum is definitely a great place to visit if you are interested in local history and artefacts, check the opening days/times as it is only open on certain days.

Posted in Cambridge, Customs and Traditions, History, Museums, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magdalene College/Pepys Library, Cambridge


Hello! Well, my blog is two years old!  It doesn’t seem that long ago I celebrated its first birthday!  Isn’t it scary how quickly time goes!

Since my last post I have been commissioned to write three more pieces for Local Secrets, which is very exciting!   I have the week off from work this week, I had nothing planned (apart from having a lazy week!) so I can spend it pretending I’m a full-time writer, haha!

I will update you on my articles in my next post.  I am also setting up a basic website which I hope will go live by the end of this week so look out for that too!

Anyway, back to blogging, the subject of this post is Magdalene College and the Pepys Library.

IMAG0231                                                           IMAG0247                                                           IMAG0233

Magdalene (pronounced ‘Maudlyn’) College is situated in the Quayside area of Cambridge, the college site started off life, in 1428, as a hostel for Benedictine Monks and has expanded over the centuries.  As with most of the colleges it is free to look around the parts that aren’t private, it also has a lovely fellows garden which is open to everyone and takes you on a short riverside stroll.

IMAG0239        IMAG0246

Within the grounds is the fascinating Pepys Library, which houses three thousand books belonging to famous diarist, and graduate of the college, Samuel Pepys. Pepys bequeathed his library to the college, although it only came to the college after his nephew’s death.

Pepys’ books, housed in twelve beautiful seventeenth century oak book cases, are in height order, the smallest first, the largest last.  The book cases, known as presses, are fascinating in themselves as they are known to be the first of their kind.  They were made specially for Pepys, beforehand books would always have been kept flat in chests.

The library is also home to many other artefacts belonging to him, including six volumes of his famous diaries.  Pepys was also Secretary to Admiralty and his navy collection is a big part of the library, with illustrations of ships, including The Mary Rose on display. Framed portraits, calligraphy, maps and music are also on display.

There is always a member of staff on hand in the library, who will give you a guided talk and answer any questions you might have.

It is a very interesting historical record of Pepys’ life and worth a visit.  The library is only open at certain times of the year, so check the website for information.


Posted in 101 challenges, Cambridge, Cities, History, Museums, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge


Hello everyone 🙂 I have been trying to write this post for absolutely ages! If you are reading this I have finally posted it! Yay!

I recently spent a couple of weeks researching and writing an unrelated article for a Local Secrets (a website/online magazine for Cambridgeshire).  I was very excited to see it published on their site on Monday!  The article is primarily aimed at local people but would be helpful for anyone looking for ideas of things to do/places to see in Cambridge.

Here is the link to my article Please do have a read 🙂

So, on to the main point of this post…

It is possible I have mentioned this before, one of my favourite things to do in Cambridge is spend time wandering around the grounds of the colleges in Cambridge.  I love that you can be in the middle of a busy, noisy city and then transported somewhere peaceful and completely different in an instant.  Every time I leave I find myself wishing I was a student! Although all of that studying and research might give me second thoughts!

The university is made up of thirty-one colleges, each one unique, dotted about the city with several on the outskirts.

Following on from my previous post I decided this post would be about King’s College and its famous Chapel.

IMAG0187  IMAG0188  IMAG0186  IMAG0191 IMAG0192

Founded by King Henry vi in 1441, King’s College and its chapel (which was built later, building started in 1446) are one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings.  Some of my photos above show the amazing architecture in the grounds.

Although most of the college is out-of-bounds to the public a little wander around the grounds does give you an insight in to what it might be like inside.  It would be lovely to be able to have a look round all the buildings but that’s just me being very nosey!

The college has a library which is open to the public, I haven’t been in there yet, but look forward to visiting.

The chapel, which took a century to build, is definitely worth visiting.  It’s a fascinating place, there is a lot to see and learn whilst wandering around, it is also very warm which was very welcome the day we were there!


Whilst exploring don’t forget to look up for an amazing view of the fan vaulting, which is the largest in the world.  Not sure what fan vaulting is?  Here is a history of fan vaulting should you want to know more!  Alternatively here is a pic I took, which doesn’t do it justice but gives you an idea of what it looks like!


There used to be a no photos policy in the chapel, but visitors can now take photos as long as there is no flash photography.  The signs also show ‘no mobiles’ but as most visitors use their phones as cameras they seem to be fine with that, as long as you don’t make calls on them inside.

Here are a few more of my photos.  I love stained glass windows, as you might have noticed!

IMAG0179  IMAG0165   IMAG0170  IMAG0169  IMAG0177

The King’s College choir, famous for its Christmas Eve festival of Nine lessons, uses the chapel on a daily basis.  The choir also receives invitations to perform around the world.  The choir has been an important part of the college since Henry iv introduced it, specifying that the choisters should be young poor boys who would be provided with meals and clothing.

As you can see the chapel has always been a very important  of the college, and remains tha way.  There is so much more to it than I have posted about here.  If you are unable to visit I can recommend the virtual tour.

It is posible to work as a volunteer at the chapel, so something to think about if you are local or visiting for an extended period of time!  I’m thinking of applying to volunteer this year.

 My next post, which I hope won’t take me as long!, will be about Magdalene College.  I am thinking about writing more college related posts in future.  Would you be interested in finding out more about the other colleges?  Let me know what you think 🙂

Posted in 101 challenges, Cambridge, Cities, Customs and Traditions, History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

King’s Parade, Cambridge

A belated Happy New Year to my readers!

I hope 2013 has been good to you so far? After a little blogging break I am back!  My first post of 2013 is dedicated to one of my favourite streets in Cambridge – King’s Parade (and its immediate surrounds).

King’s Parade, once Cambridge’s main high street, is a picturesque and atmospheric street in the centre of the city.  This busy street has its own unique and exciting atmosphere, bustling with tourists, students and thriving with cafe’s, restaurants and shops. During it’s quite periods it still has an exciting, yet gentile, atmosphere which allows you take in its history and architecture, at a slower pace.

The focal point of the street is the world-famous King’s College and its chapel (more about that later).  However, it also has many other fascinating buildings and unusual things to look at, which you can find out about below. There are some lovely little streets you can walk through, from the main area of the city, to get to King’s Parade. A couple of those streets lead through from the Market Square, which is where I will start for the purposes of this post!

On the right, as you enter King’s Parade, is Gonville and Caius College and Trinity Street (where you can find the brilliant Heffers Book Shop!, it’s been there since 1876!).

Senate Housesenate house

Just before you get to Gonville and Caius is Senate House Hill, which is not actually a hill! This is where, as the name suggests, you will find the Senate House, built between 1722 & 1730.  The Senate House is the University parliament building, mainly used now for graduation ceremonies.

Great St Mary’s Church

Close by is St Mary’s Church, which I previously posted about after walking up its 123 steps (phew!).  A church has been situated on the site for over 800 years, the current version was rebuilt in the late 15th century. The church, which looks out over both King’s Parade and the Market Square, also became known as the ‘university church’ as the University originally used it for their ceremonies and official meetings.

If you like a challenge do take the steps up the tower, there are great views at the top!view from top

Cambridge University Press Book Shop

Whilst you are wandering around the area have a mooch around the Cambridge University Press Book Shop.  The shop is situated on the oldest book shop site in the country, books have been sold on the site since 1582.  However, the current shop has been open since 1992. Read more about Cambridge University Press and the books it publishes here.

Architecture and Businesses


As you continue your walk down King’s Parade you will arrive at the shop, cafe’s and restaurants. Take time to look up as you will see some lovely architecture, also take time to have a look at the shops, cafe’s and restaurants as you’ll find some interesting places.  Benets of Cambridge is worth stopping at for a bite to eat, especially if you are craving something sweet! The Copper Kettle is another good place if you are hungry, there’s also Rainbow Cafe if you are vegetarian.

One of my favourite places to go on King’s Parade is Inner Space, which is a meditation space and shop.  They run meditation sessions, retreats and seminars, it is definitely worth a visit if you are staying in Cambridge for a while and in need of some relaxation!  I attended their meditation sessions on Tuesday evenings for a while, it was a great experience, definitely worth giving it a go! Inner Space is directly opposite the entrance of King’s College.  The meditation room is upstairs, when you look out of the window the view you get of King’s College is amazing.

Meditating at Inner Space is quite a challenge when you are a learner, it’s a very busy street!  When you meditate you are supposed to be able to block out any noise and think of nothing, which proves quite tricky when you can hear people below and the chimes of the King’s College clock!  However, I aways enjoyed my meditation experience there, I haven’t been for a while, I must go back!

King’s College

Kings College

King’s College needs a whole blog post to itself, watch this space! For now here is a (very!) short description!

The college was founded in 1441, replacing houses which were situated on the site.  In 1446 work began on building the its chapel, one hundred years later it was finished! The iconic chapel is home to the Festival of Nine Lessons, broadcast each Christmas Eve.  People queue out for hours, in all weathers, to be able to get in to the service.

Visitors are welcome, admission times can be found here.  I took the tour around the chapel and grounds a couple of years ago and really enjoyed looking round it, I recommend it.  I think another visit is in order for blogging purposes!



King’s Parade leads on to Trumpington Street, to get there you will need to walk past a very odd clock!  It is called The Chronophage (meaning ‘time eater’) and was unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008. You can read more about it in this link to the BBC news website. It’s a great talking point, there are always a big groups of people hanging around fascinated by it.

I feel there is a lot more to the King’s Parade area than this post has highlighted.  However, I hope it has interested you enough to want to discover it for yourself.

Posted in 101 challenges, Cambridge, Cities, Food and Drink, History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

101 Challenges

Lists…not the most exciting subject for a blog post but I thought I would tell you about the list of challenges I have recently set myself.

I am the sort of person who loves challenges and deadlines, so what better way to mix the two than by taking part in the Day Zero Project. You can read my list on another page in this blog.

It’s not the first time I have set myself 101 challenges to achieve, I tried this a few years ago.   I only managed to tick off about a quarter of the things on my list last time, partly because some of the things on the list weren’t really achievable and partly because I concentrated on the writing challenges.

When I was considering doing more challenges I thought about doing a ‘bucket list’ this time, but I like the 1001 days deadline of the Day Zero Project.  I am a contradiction in that I am prone to procrastination until I finally get my teeth in to something, then the impatient part of me takes over and I want to get something done now rather than later!  A bucket list would either never get done or I’d start it and want to do everything straight away, so a deadline of 1001 days is perfect for me!

I feel the challenges are achievable this time (although a few may turn out to be a bit tricky!) and will involve writing in some way. I plan to write about my experiences as I go along, including how I achieved them, things I discover whilst doing them, where the challenges take me, what they lead to, that kind of thing.

It’s an experiment aswell as a challenge I suppose.  I’m looking forward to the unexpected.  Many of the challenges I tick off will probably appear here as blog posts, so watch this space 🙂  I hope to turn my experience in to a book at the end (it’s on the list!), which will be a fun thing to achieve!

Another challenge that appears on my list is The Curiosity Project Box Swap, which appealed to me very much.  I registered to take part a few weeks ago, I received the name and address of the mystery person I will be sending a box to this week, very exciting! I will be collecting lovely things to put in the box over the next weeks.  I really can’t wait to see what is in the box I receive from my mystery sender.  Check out the website, it’s full of creative ideas, I love it! Make sure you have a look at the lovely photos from last years box swap, maybe you could join in next year!

I would love to hear about your experiences with these kind of lists, or maybe you are the kind of person who writes lists for anything and everything.  Why do you like to write lists? Or perhaps there’s a way you can can help me achieve something on my list, which would be amazing!

Here’s a history of ‘to do’ lists I just came across, which is quite interesting!

Posted in 101 challenges | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment