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pia jane bijkerkDreaming spires - pia jane bijkerk

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Dreaming spires
Posted in Uncategorized October 2nd, 2009 by zoe

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“This winter-eve is warm,

Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring,

The tender purple spray on copse and briers!

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,

She needs not June for beauty’s heightening”

–Matthew Arnold

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This summer I spent several glorious weeks roaming the “pleasant pastures” and “mountains green” of the English countryside. Along the way I spent a couple of memorable, though damp, days in a town so steeped in history and knowledge you can almost feel it oozing from the beautiful golden sandstone facades.

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The “dreaming spires” of Oxford are dreamy indeed – a more beautiful centre of learning you would be hard pressed to find. The thought of 700 years of students crossing the threshold of the hallowed college halls is awe-inspiring. I’m pretty sure you absorb wisdom just being here, if only by osmosis.

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Shall I show you around? We can start in the neighbouring village of Kidlington, where we leave our luggage at the cosy, perfectly English, 300-year-old cottage of our “home away from home” in Oxford. Later, we can take a sneaky peek through the hedges and daydream of owning one ourselves.

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A short bus ride into the centre of town and we find the Cornmarket, where the 900-year-old tower of St Michael at the Northgate still stands. We can climb to the top of the Carfax tower on the corner, and gaze out over the skyline with its myriad clock towers and church spires that so inspired Matthew Arnold.

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A short wander down St Aldate’s takes us past the imposing Town Hall to the Old Tom clock tower, entrance to the majestic Christ Church college, with the cathedral and refectory buildings visible through the archway. As the sun peeks through the clouds, the War Memorial Gardens beckon, their summer roses and frothy campanula spilling over the warm rock walls.

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The Meadows, one of the residential buildings of Christ Church looks out over the Christ Church Meadow, where the University’s sheep and cattle are still set out to graze.

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The oldest botanic gardens in Britain are still a repository for exotic specimens, and a peaceful place for a stroll down to the riverside, where the punts bob gently on the water.

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I don’t know about you, but all this rambling has me hankering for a warm scone with homemade jam and rich clotted cream – the vaulted cellars and churchyard gardens of St Mary’s look like the perfect spot for a pick-me-up. Across Radcliffe Square, the imposing Radcliffe Camera houses the famous Bodleian Library, while the lane leads past yet more college quads and down to the Sheldonian Theatre where those much-anticipated graduation certificates are awarded.

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For a closer look at the stately college Halls, we can peek into the chapel and cloisters of New College (who’s 600-year history belies its name), made famous by the Harry Potter movies, and tread the worn threshold of the imposing dining hall, where the walls echo with the voices of hundreds of students and eminent academics of the past.

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The grounds of New College are among the most beautiful of all the colleges, and stretch out along the only remnant of the ancient city wall still standing. The peaceful wooded walks and sweetly-scented herbaceous borders are a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of a busy university schedule. Or sight-seeing schedule. Perhaps I’ll see you there again sometime!

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all words and photographs by zoë yule


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6 Comments

  1. Mariah says

    This is my home town 🙂
    I’m moving back there in two months after living in Japan for two years…
    These pictures make me realise I can’t wait 🙂
    Thanks!

    October 2nd, 2009 | #

  2. Laura says

    Love these pictures… thank you for sharing them. Now I am daydreaming of libraries and tea. 🙂

    October 2nd, 2009 | #

  3. mlle paradis says

    what a nice nice photoessay! you have really captured it!

    October 2nd, 2009 | #

  4. josephine says

    lovely poem and photos! matthew arnold’s Dover Beach is one of my favorite poems.

    October 2nd, 2009 | #

  5. Molly says

    I loved this post. Thank you.

    October 5th, 2009 | #

  6. Paris Parfait says

    Lovely images, Zoe. I’ll be in Oxford next week!

    October 6th, 2009 | #


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