My last run in Oxford took me into the center of town, straight through Cornmarket, down St. Aldates passing the massive Christ Church buildings and expansive meadow on my right until I reached the River Thames. It was here during my first weekend in Oxford I sat next to the Thames at the Head of the River pub reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (The “Head of the River” comes from the title given to the winning crew team when the university has its summer intramurals, which take place at this portion of the river.) Rather than stop by the pub, my run took me across the “Folly” bridge (which tradition suggests is the original oxen crossing, which gives Oxford its name) and a quick left brought me to the west side of the Thames, south of the bridge. Descending stairs, on my left I passed quickly the Salter Brothers Boatyard – a 180-year-old business that constructed barges and crew boats for the colleges as well as landing craft for D-Day.
I settled into a very flat tow path that sits hard against the edge of the river. Within a couple of minutes the boathouses of the college crew team appear across the river on the other bank and the modest River Cherwell can be seen as it empties into and merges with the Thames. Traditionalists, especially those at the University, like to refer to the river here as the Isis or the River Isis, which recalls an earlier name (“Thames-isis”) given by some cartographers to the river above Dorchester. (And a student magazine is called The Isis.) If you are punting of the Isis, you are poling a shallow boat on the Thames.
I am now running along the portion of the river used in May each year for the hotly contested intramurals of Eights as well as the death matches against Cambridge. Continuing on – river to my left and Queens College recreation and cricket fields to my right – I pass the “finish stone” for the races and then the 1786 boundary pillar marking the end of the “liberties of [the town of] Oxford.”
The foot path continues south towards London. I come to the Isis Boathouse and the Isis Farmhouse Pub. Continuing on I reach the Iffley Lock. Like the Oney Lock near the train station and the Godstaw Lock up in Port Meadow (see A Morning Run post), the lock provides a safe mechanism to travel to lower stretches of the river without facing falls or turbulent water. At the Iffley Lock (like the Godstaw Lock) there is a handsome house for the lock ranger. Here I cross over the river and head into the small village of Iffley. On my left is the Gist Cottage that displays two millstones from the mill that sat on that site as early as the 11th century and was owned by Lincoln College for many of those years. It burned down in 1908.
A quick detour right and then left brings me to a Norman Church built in 1170. In case you glossed over it (or assumed it was a typo) – built in 1170. Apparently it is considered one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture anywhere in England. Leaving the church I view centurys-old cottages and a school that dates to 1805 and head back towards Oxford, now heading north, generally paralleling the river but also moving somewhat east away from the River Thames (or Isis).
The Iffley Road is a much busier road with vehicular traffic, but the sidewalks are generous. There is one more “site” to see. As I get close to the River Cherwell and the Magdelan Bridge, I first come by a modest sports complex consisting of a track, some grass tennis courts, a cricket field and a field house with weight and exercise rooms and a pool. This is the facility for faculty and students to get in their workouts, etc.
There is a sign on the Iffley Road that tells you a little more about these otherwise unimpressive facilities.
Excited by a visit to this historic site, the run up to the Magdelan Bridge, west on High Street, and up Longwall Road to South Parks and back to Wycliffe Hall was relatively easy.
Quick contest: what famous runner converted to Catholicism and was an official timer for Roget Bannister’s historic run?