I am in Oxford with a cat. I have been left with a bicycle, for exploring purposes, and more books than I will ever be able to finish.
I chose the bike. My friend, the cat owner, lives in a Low Traffic Network, decried by the fascist-adjacent as an exercise in freedom elimination. The sun was out and the LTN was a gorgeous haven of birdsong and active travel.
I headed into town, via the folly bridge, then found myself on the river.
With my phone out of data, I was reliant instead on my internal compass and vibes. The former pulled me West, the latter to a man frying bacon by the entrance to a marina for river dwelling folk.
Sustained with tea and sausages, I fell into conversation with one of the boat owners. He divined, immediately, that I wasn’t from ‘round these parts. But despite the water we quickly found common ground: recipes for nettle soup, and dandelion tea.
Onwards. A few dead ends: an industrial estate surrounded by meadow, an old lane by the river with pub, trapped by a dual carriageway choking the edge of town.
Under this and up a hill, to a nature reserve and the marooned campus of a former polytechnic. This bike doesn’t have as many low gears as my usual one, and half way up this was beginning to tell. I feigned interest in an old conduit house, the route for fresh water for the city via lead pipes til relatively recently.
Next to it, a crumbling suburban mansion, somewhere the Adams Family’s more staid English cousins would quietly live out their days.
The road past the campus turns into a bridleway. I followed it anyway. Where else was I to go? It ran along the edge of a nature reserve, before emerging onto open fields.
From here I found a cul de sac, full of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the English suburban nowhere. And then back down a hill, and under the A-road, and back into town.
I meandered round the old town, until I found a second hand book shop. I bought one about 17th century London, then hopped back on my borrowed bike, saddle slightly higher than I’m used to, and ripped the seat of the only trousers I have with me in the process.
Point of interest: road with said suburban mansion is described in Guy Browning’s Maps of my Life. Botley has changed quite a lot since he lived there.
Oooh. Thank you!