Yesterday, Bekah took me to Port Meadow, a 300-acre area northwest of the Oxford city center. The excursion was part break from study, part celebration of my upcoming birthday. Either way, it was an enjoyable and refreshing twenty-minute walk to the meadow, an experience far surpassed by the wild beauty of the place itself.
Port Meadow was granted by Alfred the Great to the residents of Oxford in the 10th century in gratitude for their defense of the area from Danish incursions – both facts recorded in the Domesday Book of 1068. Bordered to the west by the Thames, the meadow floods in the winter, forming a large skating rink for locals.
But in the summer – at least in recent years – the meadow is host to a large herd of cattle and the odd hundred passing geese. Among its other uses, the meadow has been the site of rock concerts in the 1980s, a post-Dunkirk camp for convalescing British soldiers, a WWI airfield, 17th century horse racing, the siege of Oxford during the English Civil War, and several Iron and Bronze age settlements. Those latter remains are still studied by archaeologists today; because the meadow has never been plowed, its ruins have had a remarkable longevity.
From what we saw, it seems that presently, the meadow serves a variety of purposes. Bikers and walkers pass through, dogs are trained, and one of the colleges’ (or perhaps the University’s) rowing squad pulls laps in the nearby river. It also appears that private citizens may keep their own cows in the meadow (the original purpose of Alfred’s gifting, in fact). Either that, or one local man has bonded with a particular small brown heifer.
Towards the end of our visit, I got the idea to startle the flock of nearly two hundred geese. (My urge to startle geese is a longstanding character flaw) This was rather successful, save for the fleck of excrement which landed upon my face in the process. Thankfully, a handkerchief was at the ready to do battle.
On the way back, we saw the headquarters of the Oxford University Press. So influential for the local economy was it that in the 19th century the neighborhood surrounding the press was built specifically for its workers. Known today as Jericho, the area retains a whiff of working-class sensibilities.
Altogether a wonderful day.