Walking in Oxford

Last week I flew to the UK to visit an old friend who is now living in Oxford. He spent the past year travelling in Asia but got sick and had to fly home. He just made it too, as he suffered kidney failure. Although we had been in touch, I hadn’t seen him in three years, so I decided to visit. Fortunately, he’s a serious walker, an activity that is helping him regain his strength and facilitating his recovery. We spent most of our time visiting the well-tended grounds of the more famous colleges. Undoubtedly, Magdalen College, where Oscar Wilde studied, is the most beautiful.

Once inside, you can visit the stunningly beautiful deer park.

or soak up the exquisite setting.

While not quite as beautiful, Christ Church College is the most popular of the colleges because Harry Potter was filmed there.

They also have a lovely meadow that is surprisingly quiet, making it a great place to walk and reflect on one’s life. Frankly, I preferred the park.

There’s also a large park at University College that is worth visiting. I’ve been to Oxford several times, so I didn’t mind spending my time walking about with my friend and chatting. We also had a few delicious meals at the Quod Brasserie on High Street.

We actually sat at that table directly in the middle. Despite all that, my favorite place to visit is Blackwell.

A web friend who is another bibliophile had a wonderful suggestion: she proposed that Blackwell open a B&B so that guests could spend their evenings browsing the shelves at their leisure, or simply reading from the incredible selection of the world’s best books in English. Believe me, I spent quite a bit of time in that bookstore. One great find was The Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros.

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I especially like the following blurb from Verso’s website:

By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history … The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.

Walking does provide a sense of freedom, a sense of living, or being in time. It’s not that one is trying to reach a destination; rather one can simply enjoy the feeling of the body in motion, making one’s way through life, with the mind free to go where it will. One can mull over various tidbits of life, but at the same time, perhaps because one is in motion, one can more easily let go of unwanted baggage. It’s as if the thoughts fall away into the atmosphere. There’s also real pleasure in walking in a beautiful, natural setting. At times I’m almost overwhelmed by the miracle of it all. Evidently, many of the colleges of Oxford University understands how  a green space for quiet contemplation enhances one’s education. Just think of all those famous writers like Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, W.H. Auden, Dorothy Sayers, Iris Murdoch, and Hermione Lee, who all probably rambled through these parks and across the meadows.

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2 thoughts on “Walking in Oxford

  1. Walking is a wonderful thing to do when one wants to think and to forget “the baggage” as you say. I used to walk a lot in Paris along the bouevard Saint-Germain, very often, as it was part of my way home in the evening. The pavement is wide and I could walk ithout having to think about the other passers-by. I never noted that my speed was always increasing but it was a very good way to leave one worls to enter another. Some sort of no- man’s land devoted to thought. Sometimes when it was spring I wouuld look at the trees or go to the Jardin du Luxembourg where I was less absorbed in thoughts and walk and more alert to flowers, birds, fountains, nature in a garden. I have always enjoyed Christchurch meadow for the same reason. I know far less Magdalene College, and it is a pity.
    It seems that your week in Oxford was very fruitful: what could be better than this environment, friends, good meals, talks, books, walks, thought and a breath of distanciation from every day life? This is Omar Kayyâm with Blakwell’s added! New bliss….

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  2. Oxford looks beautiful, and it is a rarer pleasure in our cyber age to browse a well-stocked bookstore. A Blackwell’s b&b is a great thought and brought back memories of a long gone bookstore cafe in Baltimore called Louies, that alas, did not have overnight accommodations, but should have, given its prime location. 🙂 The philosophy of walking sounds like a wonderful book.

    Diane

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