The dreaming spires look enchanting all year round, but a cold spell can really be the icing on the cake. Enjoy a feast of Oxford winter moments captured in photographs and words.
In the window seat in Cloisters, looking out over the moonlit snow that had stopped falling, and seeing the tower and listening to the chimes, I said, ‘If I don’t get in here, I think I’m going to die.’
In an interview with Oxford Today, novelist Alan Garner OBE recalls arriving at Magdalen for entrance exams, January 1953.
By the waterworks I beheld a perfect silhouette of Oxford against a white background: Tom Tower and St Mary’s spire, packed with many others in a black mass in the distance, deep snow covering the roofs around. The city seemed small enough to pick up in the hand. I felt like Gulliver in Lilliput.
When I reached Folly Bridge it began to snow again, and not wishing to wander too far I turned into Christ Church Meadow. The snow-flakes first danced merrily in minute particles, then fell more steadily in larger flakes until they seemed to colour the air around me and I could no longer see the meadow. I was reminded of a visit I had once paid to Kew Gardens in late spring. I had been standing under a huge pear-tree in full bloom, and thousands of soft white petals had fallen around me.
Chiang Yee, The Silent Traveller in Oxford (Methuen 1944, reprinted by Signal Books 2003)
The frost still showing no signs of breaking, stopped at Eaglestons on theway into town this morning and bought two pairs of skates, with which J [CS Lewis, or ‘Jack’] and I experimented in the afternoon on the pond… We both found we had forgotten all about it, and the torture — no other word is adequate — to one’s shins was very severe. I did not succeed in recapturing the old thrill… The best feature of it was the extraordinary beauty of the lower wood [behind the Lewis home, the Kilns, just beyond Headington] seen from this unaccustomed viewpoint: especially beautiful was the purplish colour of the tops of the young trees. We neither of us fell, but that is the most that can be said…
From the diary of CS Lewis’s brother Warren, 27 January 1933 (Brothers and Friends, ed. Clyde S Kilby and Margaret Mead)
Jan Morris, Oxford (1965)
It froze hard with a heavy fog… We woke (late) on St Stephen’s Day to find all our windows opaque, painted over with frost-patterns, and outside a dim silent misty world, all white, but with a light jewelry of rime; every cobweb a little lace net, even the old fowls’ tent a diamond-patterned pavilion… The rime was yesterday even thicker and more fantastic. When a gleam of sun (about 11) got through it was breathtakingly beautiful: trees like motionless fountains of white branching spray against a golden light and, high overhead, a pale translucent blue. It did not melt. About 11 p.m. the fog cleared and a high round moon lit the whole scene with a deadly white light: a vision of some other world or time. It was so still that I stood in the garden hatless and uncloaked without a shiver, though there must have been many degrees of frost.....
JRR Tolkien, 1944 (The Letters of JRR Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter)
The winter of 1881 was the last of a great trio and far the grimmest of the three. For when skating was at its height on the thick-frozen rivers, there came upon us a record blizzard, the like of which had never been seen in England before and has never occurred since.… The blizzard was accompanied by a grim frost that lasted for weeks: and there were strange sightrs to be seen in the snow-landscape. The frozen fields were indistinguishable from the frozen river; all were piled up with ice-hummocks: I remember walking from Iffley up the river without knowing it. And the spring was very far advanced before the compact snow-drifts could melt away. In the lane leading from Shotover to Wheatley there was an embankment of frozen snow some fifteen feet hight, and I walked on the hard top of it in the middle of the May of 1881.’
Lewis Farnell, Rector of Exeter College 1913 to 1928 and Vice-Chancellor 1920–23 (An Oxonian Looks Back, 1934)
And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge
Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
Thy face towards Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
And thou hast climb'd the hill
And gain'd the white brow of the Cumnor range;
Turn'd once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
The line of festal light in Christ Church hall—
Then sought thy straw in some sequester'd grange.
Matthew Arnold, The Scholar-Gipsy (1853)
All images © Oxford University Images