Director’s Walks: Guided Tours of Oxford III

A sunny stroll through Oxford with programme Director Gervase and several Ertegun colleagues at the beginning of Michaelmas term was a “breath of fresh air” within the stifling social restrictions of the Covid-era. As we set out, I felt slightly giddy, almost like a little child who has been let outside to play after being cooped up indoors for too long. Most of the term’s Ertegun events had already moved online due to Covid-19 restrictions, increasing the long hours I spent in front of a screen for research, reading groups, and seminars. Only the weekly small-group outdoor meanderings with Gervase remained in-person.

Four of us moseyed through University Parks, stopped to admire architect Arne Jacobson’s understated design of St. Catherine’s College, and then entered an unassuming wooden gate on St. Cross Road. Through trees the narrow path immediately curved left. We came out into light, green, birdsong, and sprawling tombstones that had an unkempt air of elegance. I breathed in and savoured the beauty of Holywell Cemetery.

holywell cemetery in oxford

A view of Holywell Cemetery


Soon we were examining the gravestones and discovering “old friends,” such as Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame and the novelist, poet, and member of the Inklings, Charles Williams. It seemed that we experienced something like a sense of homecoming as the place and the chance to be together led to serendipitous discoveries, such as shared literary passions and the fact that Holywell had been the site of one Ertegun colleague’s first date with her husband.

grave of charles williams at holywell



The grave of Charles Williams, member of the Inklings at Holywell Cemetery


Personal stories kept flowing on our return walk as we took in the city’s medieval walls, the Holywell Music Room, and the Martyrs’ Memorial. We arrived back at the Ertegun house to enjoy a socially distanced lunch of Taylor’s sandwiches and prolonged conversation.

The walk was an excellent chance not only to discover new parts of Oxford, but also to take pleasure in each other’s company and to get to know one another. I hope that this sort of in-person event can soon once again be the norm, rather than the exception.

Andrew Hochstedler