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Virtual Walk North Oxford

Oxfordshire Mind’s Physical Activity Team are offering a weekly ‘virtual walk’ this week the team are cycling around the canals and meadows in North Oxford.

Most days, weather permitting, I go out for my bike escape. It has become my personal healing ritual I must confess.

My route starts by the canal. Under the current circumstances I would normally avoid using the towpath because it is not wide enough as to keep more than 2 meters apart from other pedestrians; however, there are certain times of the day when it is practically deserted, and the quietness involves you along the reflection of the vegetation in the water.

And I let myself go with what I see and hear. A couple pleasantly rowing a canoe. Two friends singing together, sitting on each bank of the canal.

Soon I reach the Frenchay Road Bridge which announces, with its painted murals, the presence of The Trap Grounds wildlife site. A hidden gem. At this intersection I get off the bike and leave it behind for a while. And I just let my feet guide me intuitively into this place of labyrinthine intimacy.

The Swan Pond feels particularly quiet these days. Ethel and Ernest (the mute swan couple that inhabit it) must be very busy with their nesting work – I have managed to discern it within the reedbed, from the other side of the pond.

Walking in parallel to the Frog Lane, and turning left along the boardwalk, my gaze follows a cute family of ducks, a mum with nine chicks, in expedition across the algae.

After passing by the Frog Pond, just by the Dragonfly Pool, the robin and the goldfinch are the soloists of the finest choir.

My steps go through a new pathway every time. No matter how many times I visit this place, there’s always something new, someone new, to discover. Including my inner self, like a transitory cloud. Exactly like those clouds quietly sleeping in the Kingfisher Pool. In this hidden spot, I practice some active listening, going deep into a polyphonic chant by the chiffchaff, the dunnock and the wren.

Makes no sense to trace my steps back. Just follow them through another path that will nevertheless lead me back to where my bike awaits me. And I continue pedaling along the towpath for just some further meters to get the first diversion to the right hand, a shortcut leading to Aristotle Lane and Aristotle Bridge, directly to Port Meadow.

Just before reaching the gate, it’s worth to stop for a few seconds to contemplate the majestic and peaceful views from above, and between the old hawthorns by the stream. The bright green grass and the horses, tiny in the distance. This vastness confers me the sense of freedom and meditative calmness I look for. When I need it, here I find it.

I like to follow along the paved lane that goes in parallel to the wetland towards the Burgess Field gate. Just on that corner, the small plateau, a privileged spot for bird watching, peaceful panoramic, sunset salutations… From there, sometimes one can glimpse the heron and the swan walking together across the wetland.

The Burgess Field and its secrets. Admirable. This piece of land is a recovered landfill turned into a nature reserve, and for me it encapsulates the very meaning of ‘resilience’.

The bench at the entrance is an invitation, an invocation, for discovery. For connection. Because solitude and loneliness are not equivalent concepts.

Across this wavy land and its pathways of circumlocution, the intimacy and the wildness are just one. The biodiversity and its multiple expressions.

Across this wavy land carpeted in purple joy by the bugle.

Across this wavy land of goldfinches, chirping around, and birds of prey, looking down in relentless circles. Numerous families of wild rabbits are out for dinner and quickly they vanish amongst the bushes as soon as our presence gets closer.

Time to stop for a few seconds to admire the cherry trees in bloom; this is for sure one of my favourite hidden spots. Following day by day the whole transition from nudeness, whiteness to green exuberance brings to me one of the purest forms of joy.

This tends to be the landmark for the end of my route. My gaze is driven back to the wetland in Port Meadow. The sun is lower now. A flock of widgeons creates an unsettled dance against a backlight before alighting. And the horses, the horses will go on their way full of whispers, towards the North whilst I pedal my way back through Aristotle Bridge, feeling my breath full of calmness.