One of my objectives during my time in Oxford is to improve my running fitness. Last fall’s bout with planter fasciitis kept me off my feet for most of the season. It was disturbing how weak I had become by the 1st of the year. I’ve signed up for the New York City Marathon in November (I had a guaranteed entry this year after having missed the lottery three years in a row), so I need to start getting in some good miles. All I’ve been doing is three or four miles three or four times a week with just a few 6 or 7 mile runs (including the Monument Avenue 10K). With that in mind, I did pretty good my first week, which I planned to finish off with a long run on Saturday.
I rose early – as usual. It was a magnificent day – not usual for England. With bright, early morning sun, blue sky, and cool air it was the perfect conditions for a good run. I headed over to Port Meadow, which fortunately was less than 1/2 a mile away (down St. Bernards Street, across Woodstock, and down Welton Way until deadending at an enormous expanse of meadow land northwest of town between the River Thames and the Thames Canel (and the north-south railway that runs along side the canel). Originally called “Burgess Island (where the freemen could graze their cattle and sheep in the 11th and 12th centuries), Port Meadow consists of over 500 acres that has never seen a farmers plough (not a spelling error in the U.K.). Used over the centuries also as a military encampment, grounds for horse racing, and early aviation efforts, the land has now been preserved for the peasants (Oxford students, professors, and townsfolk) and still for the farmers grazing cattle and sheep.
A short run across the meadow brings you to the River Thames (somewhat narrower than where its separates the Halls of Parliament from the Lambeth Walk in central London), the western edge of Port Meadow. My run thus proceeded up and along the river, passing a number of narrow house boats, Bossom’s Boatyard (which exhibited at the very first London Boat Show), Medley Sailing Club, and the Godstaw Lock (where I watched a house boat go through the lock on my return). There were a number of gates that had to be opened and closed (cattle control) during the run, but little delay was caused until I reached one guarded by 50-head. Not sure what to do, I paused just long enough for a more local runner coming towards me to create a path through the bison. The animals were more timid than me, but you did have to watch where you stepped.
A brief diversion slightly west brought me into the town of Binsey and St. Margaret’s Church from the 12th century, whose first vicar became the only English pope (Hadrian I). The town and its church are also the primary inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s best know work. (The “Treacle Well” from Alice in Wonderland sits just behind the church. And Carroll made his first reading of the now-classic novel at the town’s Perch Inn.) Just after the Lock, I ran past the 12th century ruins of the Godstaw Abbey, which among other things housed Henry II’s mistress. Shortly after passing the nunnery (which of course was lost when the Protestant Reformation in England confiscated anything controlled by the Catholic Church).
The first half of the 8-mile run finished at the Trout Inn, which has a remarkably attractive menu and even more splendid setting as it sits right on the River, just below a modest falls. (Running 4 miles to the Trout Inn is a metaphor for how hard it is to find a good menu in England. The prior day I visited the famous Head of the River pub, which offered as “Starters” – Whitebait, Grilled Sardines, Potted Ham Hock, Woodland Mushrooms, or Soup of the day, but they didnt have any soup. But more about the oxymoron “British Cuisine” in a later post.) Reversing direction and skipping the Madhatter diversion, I returned to the entrance to Port Meadow and then a couple of brief city streets back to my dorm at Wycliffe Hall – and as best I could tell, only three people (in the city) had arisen from their sleep since I left 90 minutes earlier. (I had thought about making the title to this blog site “Oxen Crossing” for reasons that should be clear if you read “Welcome to Oxford.” This idea was reinforced by the fact that some might have thought that if I did a blog it might involve running and the image of me running another marathon would seem to go well with “Oxen Crossing.”)