How to spoil the best view in England
This picture shows ‘The Backs’ in Cambridge on a good and relatively traffic-free Sunday afternoon. For those of you who don’t know the town well, The Backs -- as the name suggests – is the stretch of ground that runs along the backs of the big old colleges (King’s, Clare, Trinity etc), with the river Cam wandering along the middle.
Cliché as this may sound (and even with those silly rick-shaws), it is a totally uplifting sight, with buds and crocuses and wonderful golden leaves in the autumn – and it works for me every time even after 30 years here. This is also where you get that canonical view of King’s College Chapel (here seen over the top of passing cars).
Or you would get the canonical view, if it wasn’t almost totally blocked by vast coaches for large parts of the day during the summer months.
The trouble is that a very large number of coaches arrive in Cambridge each day and the road that runs along The Backs (Queens’ Road) is good and wide. It’s an obvious place for ‘de-busing’. To be fair, the local Council does see the problem and has some long term 'wildlife strategies' for the area. It also technically restricts coach parking to just 10 minutes and to the slightly less scenic end of the road (by an undistinguished new building put up by Queens’ college, and a large piece of grass). Once they have got rid of their passengers, the coaches are supposed to park somewhere out of sight, and come back to collect later.
It’s a nice scheme, thwarted by the fact that there are simply too many coaches to fit the space allocated. So at peak periods, coaches back up along the length of the road (including the real Michelin three star bit) waiting their turn, and blocking the rest of the traffic for whom this is a major through route (the parallel alternative street has recently been traffic-calmed out of existence). The result is the best view in England (and I’d stand by that – amongst urban views, at least) is totally obscured by vast 50+ seater monsters, the sort that make an SUV look like an ant.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to keep the tourists out of town on any ‘keep the good views for the dons’ kind of principle. But there must be something better than this - -though I don’t know what it is.
Scenically, it would be better to put the coaches and other parking on the other side of the road. But it would hardy be sensible to de-bus 50 French teenagers and then expect them to cross the stream of traffic. People have already been killed along here in the last couple of decades…that idea would turn Queens’ Road into a killing field.
Perhaps in the end a kind of touristic Malthusian logic will come into play. The view will get so unviewable that no one will come to see it any more .. and it will then get viewable again. A comforting thought, but it hasn’t worked in Florence yet