I never quite had the same green, nature-centred childhood that kids here seem to have had – instead, I filled my time with Enid Blyton books, blissfully ignorant that these landscapes I was reading and dreaming about were actual landscapes that other children my age were getting to experience. Moving to the UK was a shock to the system. I had never seen this much expansive greenery. Three years down the line, journeys through the countryside still fill me with awe.
Cambridge has its share of parks and fields, and I’ve been on beautiful walks around the outskirts where there’s nothing but nature surrounding me for miles and miles. But getting that far out takes time and planning, and there’s often no time to dedicate a chunk of a day to simply having a nice, freeing walk. So, Castle Hill has been my favourite close-by nature escape instead.
When I tell you I love Castle Hill, I have very little to compare it to. The primary hill related experience in my life before I discovered Castle Hill in my second year was a misguided hillwalking expedition with CU Hillwalking Club in one of my very first weeks here. The uphill slog through the sleet with my thighs in agony and overwhelming breathlessness still gives me nightmares. Perhaps this is why Castle Hill, and its benign little hump is so appealing – I’m still out of breath when I get to the top, but the struggle is far lesser.
My memories of it all blur into one – somehow I’ve only been there at night, endless time spent atop what students at hill colleges apparently call ‘The Mound’ – lots of laughter, catching up, drinking, smoking, and inevitably shivering. There is something about looking at the quiet industry of the city from the hill that is breathtaking. The various rigs and construction elements don’t point towards anything but they just glint in the gentle glare of the moon and remind me that there is so much beyond the stress-bubble that is Cambridge. Whenever friends come to visit I drag them here, and they always love it – not because they’re doing what I am, which is taking a break from my university on ground level, but because it feels removed from everything and everyone else. It feels like we could be the only people in the whole city.
It’s really not as far as you think, especially if you’ve got a bike. It can be part of a longer trip too – I once had a fight with a friend and sad-cycled well past it in the middle of the night, only to turn around and end my night there. A couple of blankets go a long way, and if you were forward-thinking enough to own a flask, it would definitely be worth bringing some tea or hot chocolate to keep you going too.
I have always been a sucker for the sunrise. I’m the person who forces everyone in the friendship group to wake up at some ungodly hour in a bid to let the rays of the morning wash all over us, pink and orange. I have seen many sunrises in Cambridge: one too many essay all-nighters, a few accidental mornings, May Balls, parties that last an age, but surprisingly I’ve never seen one from Castle Hill. So, it’ll likely be my sunrise pit stop next term. Let me know if you’d care to come.