Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oxford Tour & Magna Carta

“Three men in a boat” by Jerome K. Jerome has been my favourite book for many years, because of its humour and Englishness [if you know what I mean]. Therefore, taking a trip from London to Oxford alongside the Thames was inevitable.

I got neither ten free days, nor a boat, unlike the book personages, so I had to manage with a bicycle within a weekend. Instead of Kingston with boat hire, I started from Westminster:

saw nearby Museum of Garden History with the Tradescant collection (to a Russian ear, it is the name of the home flower):

rode alongside the Western wharfs:

some industrial London areas (they look nice with painted borders, don’t they?)

then peaceful park areas:

passed through Rich-mond (fancy an Aston Martin?)

some training area:

where the Thames Path was quite nice:

I then came to Kingston-upon-Thames, where the book trip started. I believe the Thames still looks quite the same:

as well as the Path:

and birds:

Among the sightseeing mentioned in the book many are pubs and hotels, old and older. One of really important historical sites is Hampton Court, with its wonderful (indeed) wall:

Jerome K. Jerome also wrote about the Labyrinth there, which I didn’t attempt to enter, having multiple plans for the day. He didn’t mention Shakespeare playing there for King James I in 1603, and certainly he couldn’t mention General Eisenhower planning the Normandy landing in Bushy Park. Hampton Court is worth visiting because of many reasons.

Near Old Windsor, I entered historical Runnymede Borough, where Magna Carta was sealed:

with memorial stone

Somehow, I came there the same time when the event happened in 1215. I bet the landscape hasn’t changed in 792 years, the same field where King John met the rebellious barons:

Then the road led me to Windsor:

and I saw nice English tiles:

Nearby, people played an aristocratic game (I suspect it is cooler than golf, but can’t say the name)

Eton looked nice too:

I came to Maidenhead and needed a coffee break, while my bike was waiting for me outside:

It was already late afternoon, and still lots of miles to Oxford, so I decided to skip some part of the trip, just as three men in a boat did. Remember, they used a steamer to skip a boring part of the river. I had no steam except my own, so I chose to take a short road to Wallingford, instead of longer river path through Reading (which I saw before). The road was windy and not amusing at all
Finally I came to Wallingford

with intention to take a train to Oxford. Unfortunately, this ancient but still small town, although being a scientific centre (CEH headquarter), has no train station (surprise!), so I had to rush to Oxford to catch the last train to London.

On the final ride, I noticed only this peculiar house style:

I suspect it arose from the white crest-formed medieval houses, where wood was later replaced by breaks, still in diagonal order. I like it – looks trim.

Arriving at Oxford was accompanied by the same rain that pushed three men to leave their boat and to take a London train.

I came home, and the first thing I did – I cast the chart of the Magna Carta sealing. June 15, 1215, Runnymede, gave the Moon on the border between Capricorn and Aquarius, changing sign at noon. Certainly, I felt it should be Aquarius, for such a remarkable Act of Independence. I first looked at Jerome K. Jerome text. He described that day in a fictional way, with happy crowds and awesome knights in the afternoon celebration.

I needed something more scientific, and started searching journal publications. I found works of one of the major modern experts, Prof. Holt, who published many papers and several books on the topic. In his 1957 paper in The English Historical Review magazine, he argues that the event on June 15 was actually prepared much earlier, and got the final edition much later, etc. However, the symbolically significant event, which occurred publicly on June 15 in Runnymede, was not described in detail: it certainly was not the concern of his research.

I then turned to earlier books and found a wonderful volume by Prof. McKechnie, “A commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an historical introduction”, Glasgow, Maclehose & Sons, 1905. Citing a Latin work by Roger of Windover, Prof. McKechnie writes that during June 15, ‘John tried a policy of evasions and delays […] Before nighfall, John was constrained to surrender”.

Thus, the Moon was indeed in Aquarius, and setting Sun in the chart was a proper symbol of the weakening royal power. The just Jupiter was afflicted by Mars, Mars and Saturn were in confrontational opposition, 2nd and 3rd were filled well enough for chats and speeches:

Magna Carta is worth to be re-read. It is common to call it the first democratic constitution, but what is more impressive for me is that it reflects the national English character, which does not seem to change with time. Rudyard Kipling, the true English son, wrote a poem about Magna Carta.

I compressed the boat trip into one biking day, 180km. I saw the places about which I had been reading, thinking and, if you wish, dreaming for quite a while – this makes me happy. I saw that the Old Thames is even more beautiful and flourishing than it was a century ago. English love and care about their country, just as they should.

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