The greatness of the city of Oxford certainly emanates from the university, but that greatness would be harder to see if the university were placed in a big city, like London. In London the academics would still be great, but the university as a structure would disappear. It would be absorbed into the vastness of that great city. However, where Oxford is located allows the city and the university to be nearly synonymous. Sure, there is more to the city outside of the university, but the part that really matters is bounded and amplified by its natural constrictions. To the west is River Thames and Port Meadow (a great park where horses seem to run free, for some reason). The Thames is in the south too, this time abutting Christchurch Meadow (it has cows, not horses), and on the east is River Cherwell. The Cherwell also runs by Christchurch meadow, as well as Magdalen Deer Park (which does indeed have deer), but more importantly it flows through University Parks (only basic park animals here), which caps off the northern end of the city. It is here, away from the cows, deer, and horses, that I most like to spend my time whilst visiting Oxford.
If you're looking for a perfect park, University Parks is about as close as you can get. That is probably why the adjacent houses are some of the most expensive in the whole country, selling for around £15,000,000. The park itself has an array of activities available: walking, tennis, sitting, soccer, and cricket. However, the best and probably most common activity here is thinking. It would take even a semi-observant person one second to notice that nearly everyone who walks these trails has something on his or her mind. It is a serene place to think. I used to come here and start to write my essays in my head as I lay beneath some big tree. There is, of course, the very real chance of getting distracted. One might become distracted by some game, a friend walking by, catching a portion of an interesting conversation, the natural beauty, or, in today's case, the architectural beauty.
I suppose it's not really a distraction if you're not focusing on anything to start, but today I found that I couldn't take my mind off the cricket building. I think I find it so fascinating because I tend to dislike Victorian architecture. However, that changes when I am in England. While the United States had virtually no trained architects during the Victorian period, those in our mother country were actually quite good, even though it seemed one never agreed with another. I especially have fallen in love with all the little utilitarian buildings in and around Oxford. Take the Cricket Pavilion for example. It's actually quite simple and spare, despite its era's reputation for an almost oppressive level of frivolous decoration. It does have large, asymmetrically placed chimneys that are detailed more ornately than those on an earlier classical Georgian predecessor might be. It also has a rather fanciful cupola, but light and soaring as it is, and perched as it is over a series of three giant half-timbered gables, it only lends to the impression that a game could begin in its midst at the drop of a hat. It really is exactly what the mind's eye pictures when it hears the words “Cricket Pavillion.” I sat and sketched it on one of my visits a few years back and had no trouble adding characters at play, despite there being none in the vicinity. Isn't it funny how some things seem so exactly suited to their purpose? And how they can seem so different when we take another perspective. While the front of the cricket pavilion is vibrantly energetic, from the back it appears as a stoic agrarian building. From this perspective, it adds to the bucolic nature of the park it occupies. This too, was purposeful on the part of the English Victorian who planned out the place — that it should first serve the function of an artful folly amidst a beautiful landscape, and second as a place to host a game. The thoroughness of thought that this little building represents is far more than we can say for most utilitarian structures being constructed today.