Mental Health Walk Michaelmas: Christ Church Meadows and Oxford Botanic Gardens

“Amanda’s mental health is regularly in a worse state than Catz accommodation.”

— my tutorial partner from last year, this morning

To the new freshers– welcome, and to everyone returning– welcome back! Hope you aren’t afflicted with freshers flu like I am and that you’ve made it through zeroth week relatively unscathed. But if you haven’t (mentally, at least), then this column is for you! 

I am unashamedly a New Yorker (and annoyingly so) and have gotten used to many a mental health walk over the years, during bad days and good days alike. Yet the differences between Oxford and NYC do not end at Oxford’s lack of gray, but also include the small town aspect of life that I never really enjoyed. You know everyone here, and it’s so difficult to find a public private place that’s a change of scenery from your small cramped room or your college quad where somehow every tutor you’ve ever had ever is wandering at all given times. NYC gives you a sense of privacy through not knowing anyone– you can sob on the subway and no one will stare– making mental health walk locations easily findable. At Oxford, though,  I’ve been judged multiple times when crying on my way back from a bad tute, and it feels shameful to speak about mental health here, let alone express it. So here I am, finding all the best mental health walks for us to take, ranked by cryability, seclusion, fun, helpfulness, and time-consuming ness.

This week, I was more than a little stressed, with varying deadline and society work that were urgent, plus freshers week events and the looming threat of sickness. By the time it reached the weekend, I was at my breaking point, plus my throat started to get sore. Luckily, I’d scheduled a mental health walk/catch up session Sunday morning with my friend through Christ Church Meadows (CCM) and the Botanic Garden. 

CCM and the Botanic Garden are connected through a series of gates, and the complex stretches from Christ Church all the way down to Magdalen on the High Street.  We walked for about an hour and a half, getting in about seven thousand steps in the meanwhile. The CCM section was first, taking a loop from Christ Church past their cows (which my friend told me are killed and served at formal—the joy of seeing a cow kind of dissipated after that. Please tell me it isn’t true), by the river, and through a little trail in the trees, eventually looping back to Christ Church or heading on to the Botanic Garden depending on which path you take. Despite the large number of tourists in Christ Church, there were less people walking the meadows, and we only ran into two people during our walk. The sunshine was beautiful, the breeze cooled me down from my slightly sweaty jog over, and the nature was a nice escape from the beige that afflicts our lives in the old colleges. CCM is quiet enough to hear your thoughts but not quiet enough that you worry about being lost. I talked through my problems (when I’m alone on this walk, I listen to music) and felt better by the time we got to the ducks near the Botanic Garden turn. CCM has many bridges and trees, and if you walk by the river in the early morning, you can see rowers going out for their first sessions of the day. Overall, CCM is a good place to chill and escape from academic life, especially if you are pressed for time. A walk around the loop is only thirty minutes long! 

We then went through the cattle gate to head to the Botanic Garden, walking through the side path into the admission area (free if you show your bodcard!) and then through to the garden. It was my first time there, and I realized that it was a great place to work, with benches everywhere and even a cafe  within the gardens selling Jericho Coffee Traders drinks. As a walking location, though? There were definitely more people here as casual tourists than as wanderers, and it was mostly silent, so our conversation echoed and at times it felt like we were being eavesdropped on. It ended up becoming more of a topical conversation about the plants we were seeing while we entered the lush greenhouses than a mental health walk. The outside gardens were a bit better, though still more crowded than CCM. Perhaps it was the size of the gardens compared to the meadows, or maybe we just got there during the afternoon rush. Either way, the plants were cool but the walk less so, and the long walk back to College proved a better walk than the garden. 

Overall, that hour and a half was a helpful walk, and I think if you want to take your first walk around Oxford, CCM is a great place to go. Our welfare reps always offer to take us on a CCM walk and for good reason! Plus there are so many hidden turns and corners that will make a walk here never boring. Try it out and hopefully you’ll feel much more relaxed after this walk!

 Christ Church Meadows

Cryability: 8, Seclusion: 5, Fun: 10, Helpfulness:10, Quickness: 8

Oxford Botanic Garden

Cryability: 2,  Seclusion: 2, Fun: 8, Helpfulness: 6, Quickness: 4