"I would sit by the river or perch on the windowsill of the folly"Rosie Caddy

I first found Hodson’s Folly in Sheep’s Green as a fresher, seeking a place of calm and quiet during the frenetic first few weeks of term. Just a few hundred metres from Fen Causeway and Trumpington Street, this abandoned old concrete structure feels a world away from the Cambridge bubble and all its attendant stresses. The Cam flows by slowly, a few people might walk along the path on the opposite bank of the river, but it’s rare to see anyone else in Hodson’s Folly itself, separated as it is from Sheep’s Green by a bramble-covered brick wall.

When I moved to Cambridge in October 2019, I was prepared for the academic challenges I would face. However, I did not expect to struggle so much with the city aspect of life at university. The village where my home is has four streetlights and one shop, and my dislocation to this urban area made me feel that, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, flowers are as common at home as people are in Cambridge, if not more so.

“Having a retreat from it all was essential in this period of unwanted isolation.”

It wasn’t a sense of isolation, exactly - more a feeling of constant tension, or being hemmed in. Cambridge is beautiful, but it’s a very different kind of beauty to what I was used to. Doing circuits of Parker’s Piece doesn’t provide the same freedom as an hour’s walk through the woods without seeing anyone, to put it lightly.

This left me seeking somewhere that could remind me of home, where sheep congregate at the bottom of the garden and vehicles clank over cattle grids all day. Obviously, there was nowhere in Cambridge which perfectly replicated the sights and the sounds of home, but Sheep’s Green came the closest. I would sit by the river or perch on the windowsill of the folly, listening to music and trying to block out the noise of the city at my back. It wasn’t the same, but it helped enormously to pretend that I was at home, away from the hustle and bustle of Cambridge and all its expectations and pressures.

In my first two terms at Cambridge, walking to Sheep’s Green and sitting in the folly for a few minutes of peace was a luxury. By Michaelmas 2020, it became a necessity.

We all grew accustomed to the routine of daily walks during the first lockdown, but the November period of confinement meant that outdoor exercise took on a new social importance. I walked round Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green countless times last term, with a rotating cast of companions. Bringing new people to this place, ‘introducing’ them to it, felt like sharing a fundamental part of my life in Cambridge. After several outings with one friend, we started bringing Trivial Pursuit questions with us because the surroundings had lost almost all novelty.

“University is about the people you meet, but it’s also the places you discover.”

Despite this newfound social role of the folly, I continued to return to Sheep’s Green and the folly by myself, sitting and watching the water drift past when the merry-go-round of the Cambridge existence became too much. Having a retreat from it all, a reminder that there’s more to life than deadlines and COVID tests and Zoom meetings, was essential in this period of unwanted isolation. On one particularly miserable day, I went to the folly and sat on the sill of an empty window for an hour. It was a cold, grey day, with the sun half-set by the time I left the house to seek refuge. For that one restorative hour, I watched a line of ducks swim past, their movements sending little waves rippling across the water, while the autumn leaves fell onto the steadily swaying river.


Mountain View

How to fall in love with Cambridge

This stretch of the Cam is not solely somewhere to which I withdraw in times of angst. At the very end of Michaelmas term, a friend and I made the spontaneous decision to go swimming in the Cam – specifically the Paradise Local Nature Reserve section, just upstream from Hodson’s Folly. About ten minutes after her final supervision of term, we made our way to the river and, telling ourselves firmly that we were not regretting our decision, jumped in.

Of course, it was freezing – what else would you expect from Cambridge in December? – but, with the right attitude, it was refreshing, even enjoyable. This was one of the last memories I have from Michaelmas 2020, and one of the best of the entire term. With Lent term online and Easter looking uncertain, I’m glad I took the time to commemorate Sheep’s Green and the folly. University is about the people you meet, but it’s also the places you discover.

I mentioned before that Sheep’s Green was like a piece of home in Cambridge during my first year. Since spending significantly more time at home, where the sight of fields and cows is mundane rather than reassuring, I have missed the folly and what it represents. Surrounded by nature, it is easy to find a similar river or stream, but not so simple to imbue it with the same significance.