Oxfordshire Mind’s Physical Activity team are offering a weekly ‘virtual walk’ this week the team are visiting Christ Church:
Thank you for joining us today for our walk around Christ Church Meadows, the tranquil green oasis right at the heart of Oxford. Right now we’re standing outside the huge iron gates on St Aldates that lead into the meadows. Behind us is one of the busiest streets in the entire city, crowded with buses and taxis and cyclists, but once we step through these gates, we will suddenly be transported to a place where all the noise and chaos entirely fades away. It’s like the portal to another world.
Perhaps that’s why this is the spot where so many fictional universes were born- from Wonderland to Narnia to Middle Earth. Let’s hope we find a little of that enchantment today as we stroll through the landscape that inspired our best-loved stories.
After pausing to admire the immaculately landscaped memorial gardens, we ascend some steps and come out in the meadows proper, in front of the entrance to the college itself. There are crowds of admiring tourists stopped in front of the ivy-covered facade, taking pictures. You can hardly blame them, really. It is a stunning sight. As locals we can become a little jaded, I think, to the beauty of our city. We get used to seeing wondrous sights every day, and we struggle to understand the impulse that makes people travel across the world to see them. But I’d invite you to see this walk through the eyes of a tourist today, with the same sense of wonder and enjoyment, the same curiosity, as if it were all brand new.
Let’s go straight ahead, along the broad, straight path. There are people having picnics on the grass on either side. Look at them, leaning back on their elbows and laughing at something one of their companions has said, or else lying on top of their blankets with one hand over their eyes, basking in the sunshine. Everyone looks so relaxed and at ease. I wonder what brings these little groups together? Are they families? Housemates? Friends? It’s fun to imagine what conversations they might be having, what jokes they might be sharing, that are making them smile like that.
We come to the end of the path and make a right, along the winding path that runs along the banks of the River Cherwell. People are punting here- rather inexpertly, it has to be said. The air is full of laughter, shouting and the occasional shriek as somebody rams into another boat or nearly tips into the water.
The sounds of this chaos follow us as we continue along the Cherwell. There are lots of people out on the path today — walking their dogs, taking in the sights, or just out for an afternoon stroll. Everyone gives a friendly nod of their head and a smile as we pass. Oh, and there’s a jogger, puffing away as they weave in and out of the groups of people. Good for them. What better way to motivate yourself than exercising in a beautiful location like this one?
Several cows are grazing in the meadow to our right. They’re English Longhorn Cattle, the college’s special herd, and they’re the most pampered bovines you could possibly imagine. All they have to do all day is wander around some of the most picturesque fields in the entire country, grazing and looking pretty. Not a bad life. Each winter they even go away on their holidays to a local farm near Binsey. Did you know cows have best friends? Well, they have members of their herd who they prefer to hang out with, and they get upset when they are separated from them. Who would have thought it? Even cows are more interesting than you might expect.
There’s a large felled tree trunk by the side of the path here, ideally placed to rest your tired legs. It’s been worn smooth by hundreds of passers-by stopping to sit on it over the years, and it seems almost rude not to take advantage. Let’s pause for a moment and just take it all in. If we turn around and sit the other way, with our backs to the path, we get a beautiful view of Oxford’s dreaming spires, with the water meadow spread out at their feet.
See that splash of white and grey amidst the tall grass, right in front of us? A heron. You might not have spotted her at first. She’s standing so very, very still. She might seem like she’s doing nothing, but really she’s concentrating with every fibre of her being, waiting for the moment when some little creature will stray across her path and she can pounce. We can all learn from the heron’s stillness and patience. Sometimes standing still can be more productive than it seems.
It would be lovely to stay in this tranquil spot forever, but unfortunately at some point we’ll have to move on. Whenever you’re ready, let’s keep on following the river until the point where it flows into the Thames. Here we have a choice- take the bridge to the left, to the college boathouses, or the main path round to the right, which takes us towards Folly Bridge, and to the turning back up to the college.
Shall we go right? Here the river spreads out in a glittering expanse, and the light reflecting off it dazzles our eyes. The Thames. In Oxford, of course, we call it the Isis, and perhaps the name change is fitting, because it’s a gentler, kinder river here than the muddy, murky waterway it becomes in London– a river of cheerfully painted houseboats and ducks floating serenely on the current.
There’s always a gaggle of geese on this section of the path, and predictably they’re here now as well. They glare at us with their beady little eyes as they waddle out of the way, as if annoyed with us for invading their territory. Another couple of them honk loudly as they land on the water, like miniature jumbo jets touching down on a runway.
Now let’s turn down the broad path that’s coming up on our right, that cuts straight back up to the college where we started. It’s a beautiful, shady walkway, lined with big, mature trees, and it’s a pleasant way to spend our last few minutes in the meadows.
Now here we are, back at the college. In a moment, we’ll duck out those big iron gates and go for an ice cream in the cafe across the street. But let’s stop for a moment for a last lingering look at the beauty before us. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the walk. I certainly have. There is always something else to see, something new to discover, even in places you know like the back of your hand.