Country Diary: The Water Meadow

The water meadow goes through an incredible transformation at this time of the year. Having spent months submerged by the rising waters, like a smaller version, isolated and walled, of Port Meadow, the grass blooms with purple Snakeshead fritillaries around the beginning of April. Such a display of purple bloom is not common – there are few places where the purple petals can be seen growing in such numbers, despite being recorded in this particular spot since 1785. 

These delicate, spotty, dangling violet cups, however, do not last long, and briefly the colour in the meadow recedes to a dull green for a few weeks.
Nevertheless, the yellow sparkle of wild buttercups slowly starts to adorn the field. The flowers rise at first tentatively out of the tall grass, forming isolated pockets of bright colour, before fully asserting themselves as a powdery sea of yellow.

In typical Oxford fashion, intruders are most unwelcome in this sacred patch of yellow and green, an untouched holy land into which very few are nevertheless not tempted to trample once or twice during their degrees.
“Under no circumstances should any students enter the Deer park. We will treat this extremely seriously.”

Permeated for half the year by the threatening bark of male deer, the field is suitably empty for the more adventurous undergraduates to trample into by the time it gives over to a yellow jungle.

After dark, the endeavour feels most like an adventure. On a warm night, “the warmest night of the decade”, we jump over the metal bars into the thick grass and walk across the field tentatively, listening to the scratching of a delicate claw on rough bark, or the flow of the Isis/Cherwell/Thames, ever reminiscent of the meadow’s purpose – to be covered by a shallow veil of water.

Walking back home on a summer’s night, one often bumps in to a group of tramps lighting a fire across the river – metres away – in a bizarre, tangible reminder of the Bubble.

Related  “You can’t deny that Spoons’ founder Tim Martin is one of the few true heroes of our generation.”

But perhaps on a glazed summer’s day the magical reality of this most exceptional spot can be felt at its best. Pleasantly woozy, dazed by the brilliant Trinity sun, a frolic, a skip and a jump through this thickly threaded yellow tapestry is an experience like no other.

It’s a moment of blind delight, of timelessness in the face of the crunching passage of time; soon, the deer will be back, munching away at the tough grass; soon the waters will be back again, reflecting the tower in its shallow depths at night; soon the fritillaries will be emerging, to begin the cycle again, and the final stretch of academic entitlement will be laid bare.

But not now. At this specific fragment of time, delicate and fleeting as a sheet of glass, the yellow powder, flying from the buttercups as we run and dance and chase, has gathered on my trousers, giving them a golden wash. I brush off the fairy powder as we climb out into the open again, back into the (semi) real world.