I’ve come to the pleasures of walking late. Gone are the days when my family had to pull me out of the house with a rope around my neck. I’ve been converted. Two weeks ago a bright Sunday coaxed me outdoors. As I had just had coffee with an old friend from York High (those were the days), and he suggested a number of excursions, I thought I’d take meself off to Port Meadow, which had wonderful suggestions of sweet wine and rolling around in the grass. I experienced neither, but it was the perfect thing nonetheless.
I went up the Woodstock Road, past Jericho, and found it quite easily about half an hour out. I took the long way around, walked across the meadow, which was neither rolling hill nor flat field, but something in the middle. Groups of walkers in twos and threes and cyclists covered the footpaths, and happy blond children in jumpers gamboled and fell over each other on the hillocks.
I walked across the lock where the Thames crosses and past the few buildings (I must return to the Perch, which apparently is a prize-winning pub and has peacocks in the garden).
Fancy the river life? Step aboard...
Wondering if I had missed Binsey I asked a woman for directions on the road. Ten minutes further, she said. The road was deserted aside from an older gentleman on a bicycle (tweed coat, cap, and collie trotting beside) who did not acknowledge me, and a motorer or two.
To my delight, there were sheep.
And the Burrow!
Also swallows and very large cows. Eventually I found the church, St. Margaret’s, with goats grazing outside in a pen.
I did not go into the church but I did look around the graveyard and explored the healing well, an ancient site of pilgrimage attributed to St. Margaret (or of Oxford's patron St. Frideswide), supposed to be the inspiration for the treacle well in Alice in Wonderland. Instead of looking like a place where dessert is found, the well looked like a place bodies might rot for a very long time a la Lady Audley’s Secret, so I left.
I’m embarrassed to say I brought Brideshead Revisited (the dorkiest thing you can carry on your person in Oxford) with me. It seemed that sort of day. But I hid it close to myself and read it as I walked. I found the most apt exultant statement – I wish I’d hit upon it myself:
“...it was a day of peculiar splendour, such as our climate affords once or twice a year, when leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit stone and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God…”