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Cuddesdon, England

This continues a web diary covering my 2004 Sabbatical.
The beginning of the diary may be found by clicking here.

Saturday, October 16, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon - five miles out of Oxford, England

Jet Lag has pretty well dissipated. As well, I’m beginning to find my way around.

Ripon College Cuddesdon
Oxfordshire, England
Ripon College is in a tiny and picturesque village set on a hill. It is a theological college, and about thirty men and women are currently living here in a three year training program for ordained ministry. They have daily chapel services and meals in common - even those who are married and have bought or rented homes in the village.

The college makes a practice of providing accommodation for clergy on sabbatical, and I have been assigned a “self-catering flat” - a spacious apartment with kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a character-laden sitting room with a huge fireplace.

In my first days here I ate with the students - not only because I had not yet acquired any food to be prepared in my kitchen, but because it was an excellent way to be inserted into the prayer and social life of this community of clergy-in-formation. I have attended their daily services, visited them in their common room and eaten many meals.

The college was founded in the 19th century as a place which would form clergy in an environment of quiet and devotion, far away from the rush and bother of the world. And, although Oxford is just over five miles from here, there is a deep sense of being “away from it all” in this beautiful place.

But for me, this proves something of a challenge, as even getting the groceries is not easy. There are no stores of any kind in the village of Cuddesdon. Nowhere to quickly pick up a loaf of bread. A town called “Wheatley” is about three miles away, and I learned that groceries could be found there; but how to get there and back took some time to figure out, and will aways require considerable planning.

A tiny bus comes through Cuddesdon once every two hours between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on weekdays. Shortly after I arrived, I managed to locate it and get on board; and was driven - sometimes at breakneck speeds down impossibly narrow roads - to Wheatley, where there turned out to be a full-size supermarket [owned and operated by Wal-Mart, of all things]. I returned to Cuddesdon in some triumph bearing the necessities for making breakfast and lunch in my room.

Today, I managed to make it to the city of Oxford and back. There, I found out that bicycles can be rented, and that there is a bicycle path for a good part of the distance between Oxford and Cuddesdon, so I think I shall be doing some cycling in the days ahead.

Oxford was jammed with humanity today - one or more of the colleges was having a “matriculation” event, and there were young people everywhere (visibly from all over the world) in black robes, bright white shirts, and either black ties, or white ties with wing collars. I saw the occasional mortarboard, too. These youngsters often walked in clusters, but a large number were also accompanied by family members wielding cameras. There were so many that there was hardly room to pass on the sidewalk throughout much of the heart of the city.

I was, of course, a simple tourist today - it being my first visit. I gawked and I peered and I bought a map, and stopped - sometimes with a sea of humanity pushing all around me - to try to identify various glorious old buildings by the codes on my map.

And I walked till my feet were sore.

But I didn’t get lost, and managed to find the bus stop to return to Cuddesdon.

These little things feel like major accomplishments when one is alone in a far-away country.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon - five miles out of Oxford, England

All Saints' Church, Cuddesdon
All Saints’, Cuddesdon
Built in the Middle Ages
Attended worship this morning in the village church of Cuddesdon. All Saints was built around 800 years ago, in the Middle Ages.

I sat in pews which were constructed for the parishioners in 1550, and imagined those long-ago people sitting all around me.

In the afternoon, I began once more to work on my book - the first time since getting to England. This progressed steadily until some technicalities of the college internet access system began to cause trouble - blocking me from access to some historical research sites.

Frustrated, I wandered over to the dining hall, where dinner was a come-and-go serve yourself salad and sandwich bar. The students who were there proved convivial, and invited me to join them in the common room after our meal, which I did, and spent much of the early evening telling and listening to stories about life, the universe, and everything both trivial and un-trivial.

Much later, back in my room, I accidentally discovered a solution to the internet problem I was having, and finished the day very satisfied indeed.

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Monday, October 18, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon - five miles out of Oxford, England

I took the bus today into Oxford once more, with the sole purpose of renting a bicycle.

At the second store I tried, one was available, and soon I was pedalling away in downtown Oxford traffic.

It was a beautiful day today - bright sun, and warm, for the first time since I arrived. Which was a mixed blessing, because soon the exertion of pedalling had me in quite a lather.

Into the backpack went the windbreaker and the sweater.

On Broadstreet in Oxford, across from the world famous “Blackwell’s” bookseller, there is a tourist information bureau, and the kindly people there pored over maps with me, until I was confident I could find my way back to Cuddesdon.

Next door is the Bodleian library, so I went in there, and came out with an application form to become a “reader.” I’ll need someone here at the college to sign it as a reference, but I think that can be managed.

Back on the bike, I realized it had a serious wobble on the rear wheel, and very little air in the tires - no wonder this pedalling felt like such hard work! So I found my way back to the dealer, who cheerfully gave me another bicycle.

I had thought I would stay in Oxford until evening, in order to attend Evensong at the Cathedral, but my level of tiredness, and the confusion of the streets, suggested to me that I do that another day. Particularly because Evensong is at 6:00 p.m., and the sun sets at 6:02 p.m. Finding my way out into the country along unknown country roads in the dark did not seem to me to be wise.

So I headed back to Cuddesdon.

Did I mention Cuddesdon is on a hilltop?

Oxford itself is built on several hills.

First of all, I made a wrong turn in the city, and was soon furiously pedalling up a steep slope, increasingly doubtful that I was going the right way. Street name signs are scarce; besides, the names of streets change without warning. When I finally learned where I was, I had to pedal back down the steep slope, turn left, then right, then go down a lane, until finally I found the beautiful little bicycle path I had been looking for. Unfortunately, the path itself was soon going up a hill.

Breathing heavily, I got off and walked the bike.

Finally, after leaving the centre of town and moving through the reasonably compact suburb, I was on the open road.

There is an official bicycle path from Oxford’s “Ring Road” to the town of “Horspath,” but after Horspath I had to share the narrow road with fast-moving cars. Many of them.

A REAL hill!
narrow, and with constant high-speed traffic
And then, the hill. A real hill. The road was as straight as an arrow, but there were no shoulders and hardly enough room for two cars to pass without scraping. And it seemed to be a major route, despite being so small, for the stream of rushing vehicles was very steady.

I pumped and pumped, moving more and more slowly, to the point where I had to wiggle the front wheel to keep from falling - which frightened both me and the motorists. So I got off and walked the bike up this half-mile long hill.

But then, it was all worthwhile. The view from the top was spectacular, the remaining distance to Cuddesdon was short, and the actual road into Cuddesdon branched off from the heavily-travelled one, so the last half mile was a quiet, peaceful pedal through trees, with every once in a while a glimpse of the valleys to left and to right.

I was, however, very glad to pull up to the college gate, and utterly exhausted. I locked up the bike and have collapsed after a refreshing shower.

I think I shall be very stiff and sore tomorrow.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

I’m not as stiff and sore as I had feared, though the sitting part doesn’t want to experience a bicycle saddle just yet thank you!

Nevertheless, it was dark and rainy most of today, so I wasn’t much interested in bicycling anyway. This was, in fact, the perfect kind of day to do lots of work on my book!

Which is what I have done. Except, of course, that I went to the office of one of the professors here - Mark Chapman, a specialist in church history - and he very kindly signed my application form for the Bodleian Library.

I am a little nervous about bureaucracy, however. Happily filling out my part of the form, I came to a line which said “Signature:” and, of course, signed it.

Then I read, in the next line, “Do NOT sign until you are in the presence of the Admissions Officer!”

Uh oh...

Well, nothing for it. It will have to go in pre-signed. If they want, I can sign somewhere else on this elaborate form when I am in the presence of the Admissions Officer. I can’t... I won’t bicycle in to get a clean form, and bicycle back here for Mark to sign. Not only does that sound like a colossal waste of energy, but it also wastes another precious day of my time in Oxford!

As it happens, on Wednesdays, all the students here go into Oxford to attend lectures. Students with cars tend usually offer rides on Wednesdays to those who are without. One of those students with cars, Nigel Feaver, has very kindly agreed to take me. With my rear end feeling the way it does, and with the promise of yet more rain, I think a ride in a car would be much better than bicycling, anyway. As well, the lectures are open to the public, so I might attend one - maybe the one Nigel is going to. And, of course, I’ll take my [somewhat faulty] application into the Bodleian.

I meet Nigel at 9:10 a.m. at the college gate.

And, it promises to be sunny the day after tomorrow, so I'll definitely go out with my camera on the bicycle then!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon


I set my alarm wrong! 7:00 PM instead of 7:00 AM!

I had gone to bed early, but sleep eluded me. Finally at 2:00 a.m. I got up and
read for 45 minutes, and then finally fell into a comparatively deep sleep.

Next thing, I faintly heard a knock on my door. “Yes?” groggy, disoriented, I called out from the bed, and reached for my watch.

9:30 AM!!!!! Aaaaaggggh!

By the time I got to the door there was no one there.

It must have been Nigel. Whatever, I fervently hoped he had not waited for me, and that he was not late for his lecture!

This sort of thing upsets me mightily. I hate causing anyone a difficulty, and with Nigel now away in Oxford there was no way for me to go to him and apologize until late afternoon!

Well, I couldn’t stay in my flat - I had run out of food - and it was too rainy to bicycle, so I caught a bus to Wheatley and restocked my larder. The trip calmed me down, too. The other bus passenger was very chatty - a man who had lived every one of his sixty years in the village of Cuddesdon. He was going to see his doctor in Wheatley, for some tests, a follow-up to emergency hospitalization earlier this year. As we raced along I began to enjoy once more this rich immersion in English country life.

It was of great interest to me as a Canadian that, when I caught the return bus an hour later, my conversational companion was on board with his doctor visit completed! Where I come from it is a rare thing indeed to get in and out of a doctor’s appointment in less than an hour. So we bumped along and chatted our way back to Cuddesdon.

Nigel was due to return at 2:30 PM, so at 2:31 I went to his door. He was there, and very graciously accepted my apology. And, no, he had not been late for his lecture - though he did have to walk pretty quickly.

Thus, feeling pretty happy once more, I got out the camera, and began taking pictures of my surroundings for Heather, and for this website.

Tomorrow, back on the bike, and finally, into the Bodleian [I hope]!

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Thursday, October 21, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

What a night we had! A roaring wind came up, and would not stop.

All night it blew, stronger and stronger. Trees whipped and waved about.

Outside my bedroom are some large bushes. Several times during the night I was certain someone was knocking on my window. When I got up and checked closely, however, it turned out that a branch of the nearest bush was thrashing about in the wind so hard that every once in a while it would give the windowpane a good hard whack!

Satisfied that no one was attempting to wake me up for a drive into Oxford (see yesterday), and deciding that nothing can be done if the branch were to break through the window, I finally fell asleep.

Morning came, and with it, bright sunshine. Fluffy clouds were skittering across the sky - I say “skittering,” because the wind was not letting up, not one little bit.

The weather forecast said that this would be pretty much the only day for the next week that would not have rain, so I simply had to bike into Oxford today - wind or no wind.

So I packed up my laptop, camera, a book, a spare sweater, my street map, my district map, a lunch, some pop, some identification [for the Bodleian], and the all-important signed application form. It made for a pretty heavy backpack, but best to be prepared.

As well, I dressed in my clericals - anxious to look sufficiently dignified for the admission officials to want to let me in (with my improperly signed form).

Out on the road, I knew things weren’t going to be great. I was pedalling directly into what felt like a gale-force wind, and my legs were reminding me how out of shape I am. I won’t speak of the sitting part.

On a small rise in the road, I had to get off and walk.

Of course, things were not helped by the fact that the bicycle - the second one given to me by the dealer, you recall - was not perfect. It would not shift into the lowest range of gears.

So before doing anything else in Oxford, I resolved to go back to the dealer once more, and ask him to make the gears work properly... please. I need those lowest gears absolutely, for the trip back up the long hill.

Up the little rise, and still heading into the wind, I made it to the top of the long hill.

To this point, I could always have given up and gone back to the college, but once down that mighty incline, I was committed.

But, I had to get into the city! Days are passing, and I had not yet accomplished one of the things for which I came to England - namely, to do some research in the Bodleian library!

One consolation: the wind was in my face. It would slow my descent down the slope, and - better yet - help push me back up later in the day!

So, I kicked off.

The wind did not slow me down in the slightest. All it did was make my eyes water so badly that I couldn’t see!

I became quite frightened. What if there was a break in the pavement, or loose gravel - I would be hurled headlong into the bushes and break my neck!

“...hope these brakes work!” I muttered, giving them a tentative squeeze, eyes streaming. The bike began to slow down. I blinked and shook my head to clear my vision, then proceeded at a somewhat leisurely pace down and down to Horspath. From there I pedalled quietly and normally - without further incident - into the city of Oxford. Once in town, the effect of the wind was much reduced, and the cycling became really very pleasant.

The dealer was graciousness incarnate, and immediately set to making everything function the way it should.

Knowing the forecast, I also bought from him a pair of cyclist rain pants. I will drive this bike, even if it rains every day until I return to Canada [said with grit teeth!].

Back on the street, I knew immediately that the bicycle was much improved. So, not very much later, I arrived at the Bodleian, locked the bike to a fence, and went in.

A warm and friendly lady - a different one, I had not seen her before - greeted me and asked me to be seated.

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t make a very good official ‘reader’ since I didn’t read your instructions carefully enough. I’m afraid this is already signed.”

“Well,” she replied archly, “It seems your referee doesn’t read very well either! He hasn’t signed this line which was specially highlighted for him to sign!”

I was sent to another very nice lady named “Tasha” who said, “We could give you a temporary ‘S’ card, but you wouldn’t be able to view any 16th Century manuscripts. It really would be very much easier if you got your chap to sign where he ought to have, and come back. Do you mind??? I know it’s terribly bureaucratic and all that, but we really must, you know.”

“Oh, I would certainly not want to break any rules here. I can go shopping today, and come back, perhaps tomorrow, with the extra signature.”

She was nice enough to answer many questions for me before I left, and I was confident that when I finally do get in, the research I attempt might actually find out something interesting. At any rate, she assured me that there would be people in the library whose job is to help me find it, which was a comfort.

Medieval Oxford - October 2004

Admittedly I had to take some modern goalposts out of the picture to get this effect!
I went down to Christ College - the one founded by Cardinal Wolsey (one of the people I discuss in my book), and had my lunch by their meadow. One side of the college is in the bustling city of Oxford. The other is a meadow, with cows grazing.

There was a view of the city, from the meadow, which seemed to be absolutely unchanged from what it was three or four hundred years ago.

After lunch, I wandered through the stores, looking for things I might bring back for Heather. Eventually it was time to head back out to Cuddesdon.

The wind was still blowing, but it didn’t blow me up the long hill. Mind you, I did manage to get more than halfway up before dismounting and pushing my bike.

I shall be pretty fit by the time this trip is done!

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