Port Meadow is a common pasture just outside the Oxford city centre; it’s a completely unremarkable patch of land, covered in cow and horse and bird dung, for most of the year, but occasionally either rain or other weather conditions turn it into something quite magical. Couple of years ago, the whole meadow was flooded for weeks, turning it into a lake hundreds of acres wide, full of birds. The flooding this year hasn’t been nowhere nearly as severe, but the meadow is still doing its job, catching the overflow before it reaches the city. Thousands of birds – ducks, geese, mallards, gulls of many kind, waders – feed on the meadow when it’s flooded, making it an amazing place for wildlife watching. I have seen herons, crested grebes, cormorants, a stray pelican… there are apparently kingfishers there too, though I have never seen them. Sometimes there are empty mussel shells on the riverbank, and there are also perches, pikes and trouts in the river – not to mention the big animals, cows and horses. The time to catch the myriad of wildlife is really during the winter and spring months – once the floods recede, the meadow will turn into hot, dusty pastureland, with nothing much going on.
On a sunny weekend day, don’t expect to be alone. Sometimes it feels like the whole town (and half the tourists, in the their designer sneakers or high heel boots, trying very hard to not to step on the ever-present mud) is there. The local sailing club will host races on most weekend afternoons, and the meadow side will will be full of people training dogs, flying kites and playing with the radio control planes and drones. The Binsey side is more interesting (and with less cows), so that’s the way I tend to go.
The last leftover snowdrops, and some early signs of spring.
I am the photographer who still can’t take a continuous focus shot to save my life. The greylag geese are not very graceful birds, and they take to flight with great noise and effort, but once they are in the air, they are powerful and rather beautiful.
So. Many. Geese.
The bright, sunny day faded into perfect pink dusk, a bit of mist rising from the river. I love horses, but there’s something almost feral and terrifying about these fellas, a herd of dozens of happy, muddy ponies and heavy draft horses. In that perfect, purple evening, there was something magical about how they roamed the meadow, galloping in the water.
The perfect sunset.
Is it autumn yet? has been the question my friends and I have been asking a lot lately. Some cling to summer, while others, like me, rejoice in the autumn. Late summer – that brown, dull, lagging, almost-but-not-quite warm season of cobwebs and rain – is, together with late winter (also brown, dull, lagging and almost-but-not-quite warm) my least favourite season. Autumn promises new harvest, colour, gently darkening evenings. In the autumn the year begins anew – will we ever break that cycle of school year in our minds?
Hearty meals. Red wine. Candlelit dinners and asters.
And rain. Somehow autumn rain isn’t quite as disheartening as summer rain. It belongs. It brings mushrooms, and gives permission to stay indoors. To wear warm clothes and wellies. To feel a bit sad, but in a cosy, forgiving way.
There are also all the autumn walks in breezy, sunny days, the dramatic cloudy skies, and landscapes ripe and dry.
And all those autumn flowers – every seasons seems to have its colour, and the colour of autumn flowers is purple. Michaelmas daisies, asters, crocuses, morning glories, oh my.
I didn’t really mean to take this picture – my finger hit the button by accident when I was putting the phone away. A rather happy mistake.
Turner’s cows, Constable’s clouds. They both stood here, looked at this same view, and were inspired. How could one not be?
The peacock of The Trout. Every pub should have one.
Off the bucket list: walking home through Port Meadow at night. We had the perfect evening for it, even a nearly-full moon.
I love, love Victoria and Albert Museum. I’m a bad museum goer in that I never learn anything, I just admire the aesthetics of the displays. And I’m drawn to the same displays over and over again, like the Egyptian gallery in the Ashmolean and the performing arts gallery in V&A. The model of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach is new since my last visit.
I finally finished reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels last Saturday – I started this project at Christmas, so it has taken me rather embarrassingly long time. I think Jane Marple really would deserve her own post, but until then: Sleeping Murder is still my favourite. They do it with mirrors is the weakest of the 12 novels, even if I do love the adaptation, with Penelope Wilton and Joan Collins playing somewhat implausible sisters. I could remember most random details from The mirror crack’d from side to side, and after finishing that novel, went around for weeks ordering daiquiris in bars. Now I just need a new project…
When Instagram introduced this new feature, I resisted pretty hard. Guess what happened next? I call this photo hipster breakfast – the eggs are from organic chestnut maran chickens, the toast is NY sourdough, there’s coffee and Palomino Blackwing pencil and knitting, and all the colours match the plums. I’m morphing into one of them.
Carousel horses. St Giles fair is over and gone for another year, and the summer is over.
The spring marches on – the past week may have been cold, but the daffodils keep creeping north. Watch out, Kate D! for they are coming for you.
Crocuses at Magdalen College. It has been both quiet and very busy couple of weeks. Many exciting things happening – I have planned travels, bought tickets, heard wonderful music, met people, fallen in love with old friends all over again, been inspired and exhausted. Holidays are so close I can smell them, and my head is heavy from lack of sleep. So many things to look forward to! and summer is just one of them.
My secret place. I love this cemetery (I know, I know); it’s a small haven of quiet in the middle of the city, and has the best flowers of any season – a carpet of snowdrops in February, awash with cowparsley and bluebells in May. And there is a lilac tree in the shadow.
Another visit to the butterflies of the Natural History Museum…
…and a day out with a friend. The pie lunch was a sweet, delicious mistake.
The Port Meadow lake is gone, and I miss its shining waters.
Read about my “interesting” visit to Stratford-upon-Avon and about my Shakespeare project in here.
Spring daffodil. The tulip season is over, so my flat now smells of daffodils. They such cheerful, almost vulgar flowers, full of sunshine and completely unrepentant.
I’m not quite what to say about these photos – early flowers of an early spring. We have enjoyed two phenomenal weekends now, warm, sunny, dry. The landscape is still a bit dreary – no leaves on trees, and the flooding has left a layer of gray dirt over everything – one good spring rain, and the leaves will burst and the greenness be restored. I walked up the towpath today, and nothing is left of the shining waters of just couple of weeks ago. Seeing how high riverbank is now one really realises the volume of the flooding, the desperation of the situation in areas without large floodplains like Port Meadow.
More January tulips. The season is nearly over, sadly.
I had my birthday in February, and a good friend took me out for tea to celebrate, as well as giving me a a cushion she had made, all wrapped in bunting. So, so lovely!
Cake and sparklers – I don’t usually have birthday parties these days, but this year I joined forces with a pair of my fellow knitwits for a celebration.
What I in theory did during the half term.
What I really did during the half term – the Natural History Museum in Oxford opened mid-February, and I was glad to be back there, after year and half (or so) of closure. I have missed the dodo.
I have really missed the dodo.
And the butterfly collections.
See previous post for my glorious day out at the Port Meadow. After half term, the floods were mostly gone at least in the town centre; even the Madgalen College water meadow was dry, meaning these shining waters don’t have long left now.
How do I love thee, Jericho? Let me count the ways. This area is due for a major redevelopment, and while it will no doubt make it nice and raise the profile of the area, a litte bit of me is sad to see this rather gothic backyard of Oxford to turn into a slick and modern community centre. The slightly run-down area around the St Barnabas church is one of my favourite places in Oxford, and one that really has a unique feel to it; I often go there to be inspired, and fear this feel will be lost when it’s all rebuilt.
Still loving my L.L. Bean hunting boots.
Last few weeks have been exceptionally busy professionally for me, so a night of swing dancing and champagne with friends was a welcome break.
A friend is in Merton College, and on Saturday we headed to Sheldonian for Merton’s 750th anniversary shinding. Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius was a slightly baffling choice for the occasion, in all its Victorian glories, but the piece has some beautiful music – not least the finale with the Angel and the chorus, my eternal girl crush Sarah Connolly holding an audience of a couple thousand in her grip. Such a beautiful voice, such a beautiful woman, such power of interpretation.
Spring or not, the sky is already still light when I live work now. Huge relief after a bleak, bleak winter.
Winter in England has been rough too, but in entirely different ways. It has rained. And rained. And then rained some more. In hard, sudden bursts, water hammering the already saturated ground. This is a photo of the Wolvercote/Godstow end of the Port Meadow, early December – when things were still mostly normal. Most of the photos below are from the same general area, few hundred feet up and down the river.
The Port Meadow has pretty much turned into a lake. I have never thought much of this “beauty spot”, so I actually prefer this vast, shining stretch of water it is now, and feel a bit sad knowing that it probably won’t be there much longer.
A slightly different angle of Oxford.
The weather was full of surprises. I was standing under a tree, cursing the sheeting rain, when suddenly the clouds scattered, a brilliant, breathtaking sunshine coloured the landscape, and the brightest, most glorious rainbow I have ever seen arched across the sky. I felt like I could touch it. It almost felt – if I was one to use such words – like a blessing. The beauty of it was overwhelming.
So many rainbows. So much dirt on my sensor.
After a slightly dull morning, the afternoon was glorious.
The Godstow Lock. This is the closest I got yesterday – the path was flooded, and my bootlegs were not high enough to wade through the waters.
Louisiana in Oxford?
So much wildlife! My reflexes – or my lens – are not quick enough for the rabbits, but I managed to snap some birds, all looking rather spring-like.
I never knew there are pikes in the Isis.
A Port Meadow horse. One of these guys followed me as I crossed the meadow, his nose pressed against my back. I love horses, and feel quite comfortable around them, but that was still a tiny bit unnerving. This fella, on the other hand, paid no attention whatsoever on me.
Almost missed the snowdrops this year. My secret bluebell place is also my secret snowdrop place, it turns out. And my crocus place. It’s a small cemetery somewhere in Jericho – not a particularly photogenic place, but a true secret garden – so few people know it’s there. I won’t give you directions, but look for it, when you are in the neighbourhood.