Garret Hostel Lane: “as I think back to the times I have trod that path, I am compelled to think ahead”Oxyman

Just a few short weeks ago I finished my last ever supervision essay. To quietly celebrate in the midst of tiredness, I took a walk. Walking has always helped me to listen, celebrate, and reflect – this time, I walked to celebrate term’s end, and to reflect on the fast approach of graduation.

I took a left as I reached the Backs from Clare Avenue. I wandered down Garrett Hostel Lane, enjoying the evening light, and I was surprised by what rose to the surface of my mind: memories of walking down this path at four years old, five, seven, ten, fifteen, and as a student.

“Because reminiscence is never just about looking back; it is more often about looking forward”

When I was very young, I lived in Cambridge with my family. Between moving away when I was five years old and coming back as a student, we’ve always visited Cambridge. We’d park on the free roads near the sports grounds and walk to church past the University Library, across the Backs, and down Garret Hostel Lane.

I can remember being shorter than the railings on either side of that path, my arms reaching high to grasp my parents’ hands. At a young age I loved that nondescript walkway, because to walk it was to know that I was in Cambridge, a place of joyful memories and a deep sense of wonder. I had memories there of friends and family, church and learning, school and stories – and a feeling of wonder as I neared those grand buildings of King’s Parade. As a small child, those honey-coloured, castled buildings were the dwellings of magic. Stories were written there. Cambridge, and the path leading up to it, came to symbolise both rootedness and the vast expanse of things that I would explore when I grew up.

Garret Hostel Lane at sunsetHannah Fytche

As I grew up, that walk across the Backs and down the Lane never lost its sense of wonder and rootedness. Especially as a teenager awkwardly trying to scope out her own identity, I enjoyed returning to a place that never changed even as I did, and that still promised a sense of new things to be explored, even as I grew above those railings on either side.

This was comforting when I came back as a fresher. My favourite bridge became the one next door – Clare Bridge – but I still treasured those walks with my parents and my sister. Posing for a photo on Garret Hostel Bridge just before my first May Ball, I remembered and smiled over how much this place has always meant to me, and how much more it was coming to mean to me while a student. Memory and wonder, combined in my Christian faith, rooted me.

It is the walk once more down Garret Hostel Lane, having written my last undergraduate essay, that brings all this reflection to the fore. Because reminiscence is never just about looking back; it is more often about looking forward. As I think back to the times I have trod that path, I am compelled to think ahead: my sense of rootedness paves the way for confidence and trust for the future. A future of exploring the expanse of the unknown still out there.


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Bursting the bubble and staying grounded

As I contemplate the end of my first three years in Cambridge, I can hold on to all the moments in which I’ve made lifelong friends and learnt more academically than I ever imagined – especially as a five-year-old gazing up at those storied buildings of King’s Parade. I can hold onto these moments and take them into life beyond graduation, knowing that this pattern of memory and meaning, worn into who I am by the pilgrimage-like journey across the Backs and down the Lane, will hold me firm through change and newness.

In the words of a millennia-old, anonymous writer: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). I have this hope of both rootedness and newness, constancy and adventure – and I am reminded of this hope as I wander once more those favourite paths of Cambridge.

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