Outdoor and Open Spaces
Outdoor and Open Spaces
Oxford is a city close to nature – which was a big saviour during the lockdown months! When the weather is nice, there is no finer feeling than sitting in one of these locations with a picnic and watching students enjoy themselves, seeing dogs walking (presumably with their owners), and contemplating the serenity of Oxford’s dreaming spires.
University of Oxford Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are a charming way to immerse yourself in a diverse array of flora. Located just off the Highstreet, the Oxford Botanic Gardens are the UK’s oldest botanic gardens having opened in 1621. It is committed to educating people about the importance of plants, to help conserve plants around the world, and to support research and teaching within the University of Oxford. As you wander through the immaculately kept gardens, you can also learn about the variety of plants kept their and their importance in science, culture, and medicine.
Admission is £5 for adults, or free for students and alumni of the university.
Between Christchurch College and the Thames lies Christchurch Meadow. Walking around the meadow via Broad Walk is a picturesque stroll which passes by the beautiful façade of the college, grassy fields, and the rivers Thames and Cherwell. Along this section of the Thames (which, when passing through Oxford, is sometimes called the Isis) are the boathouses of many Oxford colleges. Early rises can see keen rowers training vigorously on frosty mornings.
The meadow itself is fenced off from the public. Although it is sometimes used as grazing land, its main purpose is to serve as a flood-meadow for the Thames during the heavy rains of the winter months. During a cold snap in December 2020, the flooded meadow froze over. I saw deer trying to cross it in a real Bambi moment!
Something of a hidden gem, tucked between Marston, and my alma mater, St. Catherine’s College, lies Mesopotamia. No, this isn’t the Mesopotamia of the classical era which lies between the Tigris and the Euphrates, though the etymology is the same. Mesopotamia means, “between the rivers” in Greek. Mesopotamia is a narrow walk which lies between the upper and lower levels of the Cherwell. Technically an ait, or narrow island (about 800m by 30m), Mesopotamia walk is a tree-lined path which makes you feel like you are walking through a secret passageway. For Oxford students seeking to punt their way to the Victoria Arms, there are rollers which allow punts to easily pass from the lower to upper levels of the Cherwell. Apparently, otters are abundant in the area, though I am yet to be fortunate enough to see any!
Port Meadow is a large water meadow which has been used as common grazing land for at least 4,000 years. The rights of Freemen of Oxford to graze cattle on the meadow is enshrined in the Domesday Book (an enormous survey of England ordered by William the Conqueror in 1086) and this right has been protected ever since. Rumour has it that the land on Port Meadow has never been ploughed. The meadow stretches for around 5km from Jericho the village of Wolvercote.
For most of the winter months, large swathes of Port Meadow are flooded. More adventurous Oxonians can be spotted at this time windsurfing across the shallow lake formed by the nearby Thames bursting its banks.
Located outside of the historic centre of Oxford, beyond Magdalen roundabout and at the far end of St. Clements lies South Park. It is the largest park within the Oxford city limits and is very popular with photographers, offering the best views of the dreaming spires in the city.
Once owned by the wealthy Morell family of Heading Hill Hall (now the law faculty of Oxford Brookes University), the park was acquired by the Oxford Preservation Trust in 1932 and gifted to the city of Oxford to preserve it as a public and open space.
In 2001, the park was host to a Radiohead concert attended by more than 40,000 people, which the New Yorker described as possibly the largest public gathering in Oxford’s history.
Originally owned by Merton College, University Parks were purchased by the central university in 1850. Tucked between the science area, Cherwell, and Norham Gardens, University Parks are one of the main recreational spaces for Oxford students. It is the main training ground of the Oxford cricket team. The cricket pavilion is a rather grand building designed by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson, best known for designing the Bridge of Sighs, in the centre of the city.
When visiting the park, make sure not to miss the beautiful Japanese Pagoda Tree and seven large sequoias which are dotted around the area. Also worth a gander is Parsons Pleasure, a swimming hole which, while now a part of the parks, was a male-only nude bathing area until 1991!
A new addition to Oxford’s outdoor spaces, Broad Meadow is an outdoor seating area built on Broad Street in the summer of 2021. The area was built from pallets which were previously used to deliver COVID-19 vaccines features lawns, wildflowers, and small trees. Although currently planned as a temporary structure for the summer of 2021, Oxford City Council is hoping to use the space as an experiment to gauge public interest. With any luck, the meadow will remain for many summers to come.