Avenue of London plane trees on Jesus GreenKosala Bandara, Flickr

At times, the Cambridge term can swallow you up: once inside it, absorbed into the strange confines of its jargon and traditions, and buffeted along by its ruthless rhythm, it can be very hard to see out into the real world again. Surrounded by the urgency of all the things we have to do, all the ideas we have to make sense of and all the information we have to retain, we rush from college to faculty and back again, in a relentless cycle of activity that repeats itself every day.

Walking or cycling from place to place can therefore become an unwelcome chore, a wasted unit of time which stalls the day’s progress, separating us from that coffee with a friend or that essay that needs to be finished. And so we hurry again and again through the familiar streets of our daily commute, allowing them to become less and less spectacular with each repetition. Caught up in the Cambridge bubble, we forget to look at what Cambridge really is.   

“It reminds you that there is a life outside and beyond Cambridge, that one day, all the worries, stresses and frustrations of now will have paled to insignificance”

I was definitely guilty of this stress-induced indifference, until one evening earlier this year, the various pressures of being here suddenly got to be too much, and I decided I needed to just stop, and go for a walk. So, wrapped up against the night chill, I took myself for a wander round Cambridge.

Starting on a bustling Bridge Street, I peered into steamed up restaurant windows, at the friends, families and couples who talked animatedly inside. It was comforting to catch a glimpse of these unknown lives, knowing that in a second I would walk on and they would retreat back from me towards their place in the real world: I felt like I was taking a welcome step outside of uni life, even if just for a moment.

After the lights and noise of Bridge Street, Jesus Green is like a long, slow breath of fresh air. Empty of people and things, it has a dark quietness which surges into the mind, unravelling knots of dead-end thoughts and allowing them to settle into some kind of sense.

“I’ve tried to go for an evening walk as often as possible, returning to the real world for an hour or so, and ducking out of the ever accelerating flow of the Cambridge term”

This silence is very different to the silences which populate a Cambridge degree. Our libraries may seem quiet, but their soundlessness can become ear-splittingly intense, as it whirs with the strained ticking of brains and laptops which haven’t been turned off since Christmas. In contrast, the stillness of the park at night is open, clear. It helps you to slow down, to be more mindful of your presence in a space which is in no way influenced by you. It makes you feel small, but in a good way.

Beginning a slow loop round now, I stroll through the neat terraces around Christ’s Pieces, seeking out lit windows like jewels in the darkness, and glancing surreptitiously into their warm domesticity. Seeing the softness of proper, lived-in houses, after weeks of slamming fire doors and oven-less gyp rooms, is like a soothing, if fleeting, trip home. It reminds you that there is a life outside and beyond Cambridge, that one day, all the worries, stresses and frustrations of now will have paled to insignificance, as time pushes you on into real adulthood.


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Then, passing by the little pubs tucked on the end of each street, I come out onto the main roads again, and, crossing Parker’s Piece, step back into the familiar rush of Regent Street. Back into the movement of the evening, after the calmness of the backstreets. Listening idly to the snippets of conversation that snap past me on my way, I meander along the busy pavement, until, finally, I’m back within the silent heaviness of university stone, stepping into that bubble once again, but feeling so much more grounded and peaceful than I did when I left it.

Since then I’ve tried to go for an evening walk as often as possible, returning to the real world for an hour or so, and ducking out of the ever accelerating flow of the Cambridge term. Although there are still stresses and tensions lurking somewhere in the shadows, the night-time streets which skirt the centre of Cambridge seem like a completely different place: a town turned dreamy and relaxed by the turning of the day. Their slowed pace centres your mind on the present moment, silencing the clamour of past regrets and future worries, and allowing life to be seen, fleetingly, in its true dimensions.

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