Swans and Cows: University Parks Redux

Swan on the move

Swan on the move

Bekah and I spent the 10th of October walking the Magdalen College grounds and the University Parks. On Saturday the 11th, we returned to the University Parks for a day of reading and relaxation, and to feed the waterfowl.

The birds gather at the north end of the park where a large pond provides them habitat. Before arriving, we ate our lunch under a large horse chestnut tree some distance from the pond so as not to attract unwanted avian attention. Unfortunately, we did attract the attention of a squirrel which began cutting down bunches of horse chestnuts so that they fell on our heads. I found a large stick, ran, and sent it spinning up into the tree; the dropping of bombs upon our heads ceased and we finished our meal in peace.

As we began feeding the birds, the swans which had been cruising on the pond heaved themselves up the bank and approached. While ducks make themselves pests whilst being fed, they aren’t really dangerous. The swans came nearly to our heads and in addition, made rather alarming noises when they found they couldn’t be fed; bread dropped on the ground was quickly eaten by ducks, the swans made no effort to catch tossed bread, and the one attempt I made at hand-feeding resulted in my fingers being bit.

As the video suggests, I soon realized the swans *ahem, not geese* could be fed by placing their bread on top of the bench. This put it within their reach but outside that of the swarming ducks.

Soon, we wished to be done; the ducks didn’t. Bekah started to walk off towards a bench and was doggedly followed:

Eventually, they left us in peace and we began reading our books. After a half hour or so, I looked up to see a lone duck waddling quickly towards us. Whether left out of the feeding frenzy or just curious, I felt she needed to be fed, so gave her some of my lunch leftovers.

IMG_1870After an hour on the bench, the wind had picked up and was quite chilled. We decided to seek a warmer area and set off across the River Cherwell into the unincorporated grazing land beyond the river. Soon we found an area, about the size of a large city block, surrounded by windbreak trees. We found evidence of cows (large, wet paddies of evidence), but didn’t see any. We settled our blanket in the centre of the field and read for several hours.

The sun was warm, the breeze (muted) chill, and the weather glorious. I read a book I’d ordered a few weeks ago, Rhodes Scholars, Oxford, and the Creation of an America Elite. It’s a fascinating and entertaining book, recounting the entire history of the Rhodes Scholars program, warts and all. One particularly enjoyable anecdote about Edwin Hubble of astronomical fame:

Other Americans went to the opposite extreme. They donned plus-fours, carried canes, and affected British accents. What were natural habits for the British became artificial mannerisms for their American emulators. One of the most outlandish of these specimens was Edwin Hubble (Rhodes Scholar, 1910). Soon after he moved into Queen’s, he adopted a British accent that he would keep the remainder of his life. He punctuated every sentence with anglicisms like “jolly,” “ripping,” “splendid fellows,” “chap,” and “bah Jove.” When he arrived back home in America, his family was shocked to see him in plus fours and a flowing cape (50).

Bekah read a book for her seminar, “Magic and the Occult in Western Europe, 1500-1800.”

Grazing land across the Cherwell from University Parks

Grazing land across the Cherwell from University Parks

Several hours after arriving, Bekah looked up for her reading and remarked, “oh, there are the cows.” Sure enough, a small group of cows had appeared at the windbreak about one hundred yards away.

The Cows Appear

The Cows Appear

I nonchalantly took a short video, assuming that after I would go back to my reading:

A few minutes later though, the cows began to walk. With but short breaks, they steadily moved towards us. Eventually, their purposeful pace prompted us to pack our things, continually more hurriedly as they came nearer and nearer. In the video, the perspective is off due to the use of zoom, but when we finally had our things together and started to walk, the cows were about twenty feed from us, steadily approaching.

We traversed our little field, went through the gate into the next, and cross that one, heading for a small footbridge – one of many which cross the meandering splinters of the River Cherwell. The cows pursued:

Finally, with both of us on the bridge, the cows stopped, content to crowd around the entrance and block our way out. I never sensed they were dangerous or mad, but it is slightly disconcerting to have a herd of 800 pound animals lumbering after you. They seemed more curious and perplexed than anything else, and perhaps hoped we would feed them.

After about five minutes, a couple came along who obviously had more experience with the cows than we. They shooed them away, allowing us to cross back to where we had come from. With the cows dispersing across their new field, Bekah and I headed back to our original spot and read out the afternoon in peace.

It's Bekah's fault!

It’s Bekah’s fault!

One comment

  1. […] Friday and Saturday (October 10 and 11) Bekah and I walked Oxford, principally at Magdalen College and the University […]


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