Lyra’s Oxford

To Oxford with 11-year-old daughter, touring some of the traces of Philip Pullman’s Lyra and Will. Summerdown Avenue: the hornbeam trees a real presence in an otherwise undistinctive urban 30s arterial strip. Hard to imagine this A40 is ever quiet enough for kids to disappear out of and into thin air there… the Museum of Natural History, as horrifically thrilling I ever remember. No one college quite equals Jordan, but the racked combination of medieval alleys, glimpses into grandly obfuscational courts, shut-off lawns and the sense beneath one’s feet of bottomless subterreanean book racks does the trick, for me at least. Most touchingly, someone has scratched ‘Lyra + Will’ into the bench in the Botanic Gardens. But the best thing, Bill Spectre’s excellent ghost tour aside, is the moon, giant, so close it appears to have evaporated every wisp of vapour. Close enough to make the towers of All Souls seem to glow with a strange inner light of blue and red; close enough to make the crust of the earth crack, to make powerful men trigger-happy.

  1. March 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

    The hornbeams are utterly magical. We live very close by and see them often. Right now they are coming into leaf in a brown kind of fashion rather than the lush greens of the blousy thorns. They have to be the most celebrated line of trees next to Binsey’s poplars. They even inspired Prince Charles to plant some in his garden. I suppose he knows them because Sunderland Avenue links the Cotswolds and Highgrove to the M40 and London. Everyone passes through that avenue in awe. What a majestic tree. And how clever of the person who thought to plant them. And even cleverer of Pullman to immortalise them.

  2. March 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Binsey Poplars! Of course! Never linked the place with the poem. More grist for my long-nurtured Modern Frideswide Trail. A quick google suggests the original poplars were cut up and used for brake pads by the GWR…

    Not my favourite Hopkins poem, though. Bit mawkish.

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