February. Week seven of term. Thursday, 8:30am.
In every other second term that’s ever been, right about now you would start to feel like maybe you’re coming down with something. Legs aching in the aftermath of another Wednesday Players and a deep-set lingering hangover, the only place you’d feel like hobbling to is the nearest Tesco. You’d pick up the essentials: bread, lozenges and fresh orange juice (if the budget allowed). Then you would retreat limply to your bed, emerging only for essential purposes: seminars or the Swan, potentially attending both in pyjamas.
But this is not any other second term, this is second term in Lockdown. Weary limbs and pounding headaches have been seamlessly replaced by creeping claustrophobia and chronic cabin-fever. A slump on the sofa sounds stifling, a day spent indoors seems oppressive. You need an escape, and quick. Otherwise, as much as you absolutely adore your housemates, you may be forced, through no fault of your own, to kill them.
If this sounds remotely familiar (hopefully omitting the murderous thoughts part) then I believe I have found the solution:
A good walk.
And yes, I will readily admit, this is far from a novel concept. However, seeking solace in pretty much our only remaining legal pastime, I took up walking in a big way this January. And I have not been disappointed. So, whether you’re looking for some open-air exercise, an escape, or just a new mode of procrastination, here are three of my favourite Durham walking routes you should try…
An amble and a ramble:
Duration: 35 minutes of casual strolling.
From Market Square head up the Bailey towards the cathedral. Pop into Flat White to grab a coffee or, if you’re keen to avoid a lengthy and babbling que of semi-familiar faces and it happens to be the weekend try Café-dral, just a little further up on your right. Then continue up the Bailey, turn left just after Hatfield (not into Hatfield, fortunately!) and mosey on down one of the more scenic side streets in Durham before crossing over the SU bridge. Turn right along the road before turning right again as though you’re going to Church (don’t worry, you’re not). Stick to the little path that drops down to the left behind the graveyard (scenic) and follow it down towards the river, keeping an eye out for the little waterfall on your left. Turn right over the Prebends bridge before following the path to your left, following the right forks until you pop out on Palace green, meandering across to re-join the Bailey heading back into town.
Just beyond the river bend!:
Duration: 45 minutes, at a steady pace.
Starting at Framwellgate bridge, head towards Market Square. If you’re keen for coffee, check out Treats, the slender fluorescent turquoise establishment on your left (literally impossible to miss!) and you won’t regret it (sidenote: their cherry and almond scone is actually life changing – no word of a lie. You’re welcome). Pass through Market Square and head up the Bailey, turning left over Elvet bridge, tactically avoiding the mournful gaze of The Swan’s darkened windows. Continue straight up Elvet road past the philosophy and sociology departments before turning left, down a short flight of oddly spaced steps and along a path that joins the river and turn right towards the mildly intimidating metal cow (if anyone knows the meaning of this mysterious beast, I am most intrigued). Continue on until you meet the Durham boat club on your left. Emerging through a potholey carpark, take the path to your left through a thick cluster of trees and continue along the river towards Maiden Castle. Cross rickety wooden plank bridge (rickety is a compliment here, walk swiftly with any droppable possessions held firmly in your pockets. And be gentle, don’t enrage her – she is bouncy, and you will fall over). Turn left and loop back along the path keeping the river on your left. Pass Hild Bede before crossing over the green bridge and winding up the short road to your right to re-join Elvet road, heading back towards town.
The Long Boi – not for the faint hearted:
Duration: About a two-hour stride.
Start on Framwellgate bridge and head towards the viaduct up Crossgate (expect your calves to burn here, even on a good day). Continue straight on past the Ye Old Elm Tree until you reach the traffic lights. Then turn left along Margery Lane and past the allotments, looking to your left to see the cathedral poking up above rectangles of horticultural prowess. At the school take the road straight on rather than the blind bend to your right, dipping down to your right through the trees to join the river path. Continue on the path past the Prebends bridge and emerge at the church yard. Turn right up towards the Billy B and then at the traffic lights turn left along the main road (nipping into Whitechurch for a coffee at this point is highly recommended). Continue straight on, passing the gaggle of boys lifting weights in their front yard turned home gym (gains), and at the roundabout take the third exit (I appear to have become a human satnav, apologies).
Just as you emerge from the tunnel of trees, turn right onto a footpath that runs along the edge of the wood away from town. Carry on down this path until you are starting to get really rather concerned that you might be lost (Don’t worry, you’re not). The path will bend to the left along the base of the woodland, and you will meet Hougall farm lane, at which point turn left and then continue straight on, after a while passing a horse stables on your right. Eventually you will emerge at Shincliffe bridge. Turn right onto the road, over the bridge and keep walking until you meet the traffic lights. Then take the left-hand road. Stick on this road, taking the turning left onto a stony path that winds up the hill into the fields.
When you meet the tarmac drive turn left and you should see the cathedral and city in front of you (if not then this time you are lost). Follow the drive as it winds down the hill and say hi to the nosey llamas on the right. Just after the llamas there is a footpath continuing on down the hill between the farmhouse and outbuildings. Head down there, pass the mysterious high-walled garden on your right, and carry on until you meet the river. Keep right and trundle back along the river past Hild Bede. Head over the green bridge and then Elvet bridge, turning immediately right before Tin of Sardines and down the steep stone steps. Then turn away from Jimmy’s (for now, unfortunately) and loop back under Elvet bridge to the right and continue on with the river on your left. Beware, you may well encounter multiple treacherous puddles here – make sure to follow suitable puddle-skirting etiquette, allowing forth coming walkers to take their turn shimmying along the half inch of dry land. Once safely on your way again, follow the path around the bend of the river, under the Prebends bridge before ascending the long stone steps, past Riverview on your left, to return to your starting point. If you made it to the end, fair play.