By Sam Sandham
It’s Easter term, and you’re in the middle of revision, or still doing summatives if your lecturers have no soul. While you’ve probably procrastinated too much already, we all know it is important to take breaks if you are to work effectively. As well as the usual pastimes of Durham students, namely bar crawls and seeing if you’ve been mentioned on Tindur, there are many walks that you can take around our historic city, which are a great way to relax, get some exercise and simply be outside.
After minutes of walking, you can easily be in the middle of woods, on a riverside path or surrounded by fields
For me, one of the highlights of Durham is its location. Being such a small city, it is so easy to escape the Durham bubble, which is a euphemism for getting away from your ‘friends’. After 10 minutes of walking, you can easily be in the middle of woods, on a riverside path or surrounded by fields.
At Durham, we have a huge advantage over universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, generally (of course) but also because of our proximity to rural areas. We should make the most of this, especially during our most stressful term.
One of my favourite walks is through the beautiful woods owned by the University. Durham University owns about 46 hectares of woodland, namely Great High Wood, Hollingside Wood and Blaid’s Wood. This network of trees stretches from opposite Maiden Castle to the end of South Road just past Butler, but it’s best to explore each one in its own right. In April and May, i.e. the start of Easter term, the woods are especially beautiful as the ground becomes carpeted with bluebells, their intense blue petals brightening both the normally-brown earth and your mood from revising/thinking about the University’s huge gender pay gap/the fact it’s less than a year till Brexit/Prêt closing in Durham.
Admire the biodiversity of the woods, including semi-ancient oaks and the abundance of wildlife that lives amongst the trees. The tapping of a treecreeper searching for insects, the flash of a wren as it disappears into the bushes, or the barking of a dog as it chases a squirrel, followed by the screaming of its owner as they realise they have lost all control.
If you are blessed with a sunny day, when temperatures might reach double figures, make the most of the weather with a 13km circuit that takes you right down to Croxdale. This walk has everything: distance and a beautiful grade I 12th-century chapel. The length of this walk also makes it perfect for a cross-country run or as a training ground for those living in Gilesgate next year. You start from The Rose Tree Inn and follow the river upstream, walking through woods with signs threatening to prosecute you if you even consider fishing in the neighbouring waterway. If/when it has been raining, you will need to bring your walking boots or wellies as the path can get extremely muddy. This walk takes you up a very steep path which comes out into High Butterby Farm, and then along a farm track to Croxdale Hall and its chapel. Being so far from the university, this more undisturbed area can feel so remote, perfect for clearing your head and enjoying the stillness and serenity of the outdoors. You then make your way back to civilisation along an incredibly straight track and through several fields until you join the path you started on at Shincliffe Hall.
My final suggestion is heading downstream along the Wear, starting from the medieval Framwellgate Bridge. Or, from your house, if you are not at the bridge already. About two and a half kilometres from the bridge is a meander in the river’s course, which has a small beach and an expanse of grass perfect for a picnic or being incapacitated by hayfever. You can walk along the river this way for about 6km, when the footpath inexplicably stops. It is at this point that I climbed over barbed wire fences and bounded through wheat fields, but if you’re not naughty enough you can walk back the way you came.
There is an increasing amount of research being done on the links between improved mental health and spending time outside
I encourage all of you to spend some time outside this term, because it is all too easy to have full days inside due to revision. There is an increasing amount of research being done on the links between improved mental health and spending time outside, so pre-exams are a good time to get those benefits. Make the most of the sunshine and enjoy the great outdoors, before the effects of climate change become too severe and irreversibly destroy the environment and make being outside unbearable.
Photographs: Sam Sandham