Text and Photos by Iqbal Ahmed
The mentor groups at Durham University hosted a fabulous trip to Carlisle for nearly 30 Postgraduate mentees on Saturday, 18 November 2017. Gwynyth Purvis, a mentor since 1996, coordinated the trip.
On a weekend morning that cold, most students probably would have been enjoying the comfort of their own warm bed. Yet, those who had signed up to go to Carlisle, braved the weather and were rewarded with an experience to remember. When the bus took us to the Northumberland National Park for a quick tour of the Hadrian’s Wall, a remnant of the Roman Empire, a fierce cold and wind reminded all mentees and staff of how brutal Northern England weather can be during winter. “It could have been worse”, joked one of the tour guides at the Park, although not everybody was convinced of this.
Built by a force of 3,000 Roman men, the Wall spanned for more than 80 miles along the coast near Northern England. According to the tour guide, the Hadrian’s Wall was not erected for protection but to divide people and keep them from entering and re-entering the borders of the then Roman Empire. This little fact caused murmurs among the mentees. “Oh, it was like the Berlin Wall”, someone said.
Near the Wall stood nearly the 280 tall summit Peel Crags. The mentees were awed by the sheer size of it. There was no established plan to scale the summit but it was decided almost unanimously that we could not miss out and needed to go to the top of the summit. The cold and wind long forgotten, the entire group proceeded to climb the summit. Every step of the way was a sight and experience to remember and although at times the ascend was nearly vertical, everyone helped each other and had fun.
After visiting the Hadrian’s Wall, the group set off to Carlisle, a UK city in the district of Cumbria. The city boasts a historic Cathedral built in the 12th Century and an 11th Century Castle. The mentees split into two groups, one went to see the Carlisle City Centre and the other went to see the Cathedral and the Castle. I was with the latter group. We first stopped at the Castle cafe for a cup of tea. Some of us went into the Castle while others chatted outside and took photographs of the Castle. Then we set off for the Cathedral. The 11th Century Cathedral gave us an opportunity to learn about the Roman Fort which had been fortified through the centuries by the rulers Edward I, Henry II and Henry VII. While it’s not among the biggest cathedrals in the UK, it has stood the test of time on the border between England and Scotland for 900 years, making it a unique experience in its own right.
The sun was setting when we neared the end the end of the trip. A spectacular glaze of the sunset on the Northern England skyline reminded us that it was time to go back.
The trip to Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall was a reminder for the international students that a lot to be learned and seen in UK besides academic work. “At the same time, trips like this provide opportunities for students to get to know each other and create ‘intimate relationships’ with one another”, said Helena Liu, an Economics postgraduate student from China. “These trips open up new approaches to know each other and learn about the local culture”. She then clarifies, “In addition, the mentorship programs give students a chance to learn about the daily rituals of UK life and build a sense of belonging in the community”.
Helena’s view echoes with that of Gwynyth Purvis, the mentor who coordinated the trip. For her, such trips are a way of learning about the world from students who come to UK from all over the world. “I have travelled many countries and it is very enriching to interact with these students and learn about their own cultures and rituals.”
While the trip was fun, there was one downside – the weather. “It was the coldest day of my life. I am not used to this cold”, mentions Helena but it is said with a smile.
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