Rambling Through Oxford


Oxford is a quintessential walking city. It is made for foot traffic and bicycles, not cars or even public transit. My morning commute to Harris Manchester College consists of a thirty minute walk through a series of meadows. Along the way, I am passed by numerous bicyclists. There’s a playground, manicured lawns and gardens, several small bridges going across creeks, and so many fields of wild flowers. At one point there is a pasture for horses. At several others there are spots where pedestrians are advised to be on the lookout for cows (I haven’t seen any yet).

I took Sunday off from archival research and spent the entire day rambling through Oxford. I walked over ten miles in all.

My ramble started with a visit to the Oxford Unitarians. They hold their weekly services in the chapel at Harris Manchester. At the moment, they don’t have a regular minister. That position has traditionally been filled by the college’s Chaplain. The most recent Chaplain was Anglican and wasn’t interested in leading a Unitarian service. So, they have had guest preachers for awhile.

The guest preacher was a layman named Gavin Lloyd. He has been a member of the chapel for fifty years and gave what I thought was quite a good classical Christian Unitarian sermon on the nature of the church (it should aspire to be a community of love). The meeting was small–I counted 17 people including myself, the preacher, and the organist–but I found it lovely. The organ music was excellent and the chapel itself is simply gorgeous. The stained glass windows are all by William Morris. Each of them is a thing of beauty to behold.

Overall, the iconography of the chapel was also classically Christian Unitarian. The images were all of the life of Jesus, rather than crucifixion, resurrection, or death. One thing I found striking was the fact that in the big window depicting Jesus and his disciples pride of place was given to women. On Jesus’s right was his mother and on his left was Mary of Magdala.

After the service, I went to the Covered Market for lunch. It has become my standard lunch spot. There are a great number of different little stands selling food and much of it is very good. The best place is probably the pizza joint–which easily beats any pizza in Houston, with the possible exception for the Gypsy Poet. Of course, I haven’t tried all of the places yet so I might revise my decision in the future.

Lunch was followed by a very long walk through the city. I stopped at Modern Art Oxford where I saw an exhibit of Ruth Asawa. I’ve seen her material in group shows before but never as a solo one. The geometric complexity of many of her pieces reminded me of nothing so much as the nests of parakeets–the kind that are everywhere in Hyde Park (Chicago) and make huge complexes out of woven twigs.

I left the museum and proceeded to the Christ Church meadows. One of the most wonderful things about Oxford is the utter amount of green space. Ancient meadows are everywhere, intermixed with medieval architecture and the occasional hyper modern building. It took me almost an hour to walk through the meadows before I arrived at the Oxford Botanical Garden.

It cost a little bit to enter but it was simply fabulous. English gardens are some of the most beautiful and this was no exception. The glass houses, especially the ones containing water lilies, were spectacular. As were a number of meandering paths along stone walls, amongst early summer flowers, and by gnarled trees. The garden is over three hundred years old. One of the things about being in such a space is that it made me realize what an intergenerational project gardening can be. The mature trees planted there were planted by gardeners who knew they would never seem them in their full majesty.

My time in the garden was followed by a visit to Magdalen College and its meadows. It took me another hour or so to walk through them. I was one of the very few people in them–despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon on a weekend. I particularly enjoyed the Fellows Garden which all the way at the end of the meadows and about as remote as you can get in the middle of a bustling city.

I finished the day at the Magdalen Arms. Considered one of the city’s best gastro pubs, I had a simple meal of fish soup followed by homemade pasta. I started with one of their gin and tonics, which featured gin made by the pub, and had a small glass of wine to accompany it.

After my meal I walked back to my AirBnB. Along the way I stopped for a half pint of cider and saw the most magnificent rainbow I’ve seen in many years. It was actually a double rainbow. It was so brilliant that people–including myself–stopped in the street or came out of their houses to watch it. It felt like a blessing to the end of a delightful day.

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1 comment

  • You have a wonderful way of describing your surroundings that allows the reader to visualize the scene and be right there with you. Thank you for sharing. English gardens are one of my favorite things. It is good to know you are not just all work and no play.

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