By Rebecca Bouveng, Senior Tutor.
I miss walking to St John’s in the morning. It’s a lovely walk from my village Framwellgate Moor through the Aykley Heads nature reserve, along a ground path which – sort of – transports you one or two centuries back, to a time before cars and smart phones and zoom meetings. Birds sing exultantly, bunny rabbits hop across the path unbothered, and quite often, you can spot deer and pheasants. Of course, you also meet quite a few dogs with their owners out for that first morning walk. I am thankful for the current restrictions that I no longer have to stop and pretend I enjoy over-friendly creatures jumping up and slavering on my hands, but can smile politely and keep my distance as I pass.
After a passing by a small forest filled with bluebells in spring, a majestic view of the valleys and hills surrounding Durham city opens up, with the silhouette of the Norman cathedral rising up in the distant horizon. As St John’s is located just behind that distant cathedral, it can seem in that moment a rather long walk on foot, but actually takes just around three quarters of an hour. Half way, the path leads out to Durham County Council, and a busy road leading into the city, at which point the sounds and atmosphere change and you feel more energy in the air. Here I usually feel sorry for all the commuters stuck in their cars, fighting to get to the parking lots in time, and missing out on the calming, contemplative experience of walking to work.
Soon, after trotting down the hill near the train station, you see the city’s familiar buildings and houses towering up together. Walking across Framwellgate Bridge, with the same busker always playing the accordion, I look up at the ancient Castle (still housing current students of University College) and feel fortunate to be here. Striding up the steep Windy Gap shortcut is a sure way to get your heat rate up, and then you have finally reached Palace Green and the Cathedral. I cut across the grass rather than following the road: I love walking close to the Cathedral’s sandy, ancient stones and I imagine that both of us are contemplating life and the passing of time together. I hop down onto the Bailey and from here, you can see the quirky, familiar row of houses that make up St John’s. By now, you usually bump into familiar faces, some of whom seem to have become part of the fabric of Durham. I usually arrive up the steps of Haughton House just in time for cooked college breakfast and sunny smiles from the catering team: a delightful reward after starting the day right.