Look on my works, ye walkers, and despair

Beauty on the Harwell campus doesn’t exactly jump out at you, but it is there if you know where to look. It helps if the Ballardian post-apocalyptic nature-reclaims-the-works-of-man vibe presses your buttons, like it presses mine.

Tucked away in the north west corner of the site there’s a network of man-made roads being extremely reclaimed: now useful for tasks like teaching Junior Godson to ride his bike (a few years ago) or just strolling on a Sunday afternoon (us, today).

This used to be Hillside.

The odd modern-ish road sign suggests they were in use relatively recently …

… and indeed (I’m told) up until about 20 years ago this was a post-war prefab residential area. In places the road is all but gone, with only the occasional concrete path leading up to a square clearing of moss in the bushes that once was someone’s home – often with interesting displays of feral ox-eye daisies where the flower beds have burst free of their banks.

[UPDATE: My copy of Harwell: The Enigma Revealed tells me this was once the Aldfield estate, built in 1946 by German POWs. The prefabs were such desirable property that in one case an engineer’s wife stood on the concrete base while the house was assembled around her, in case someone pinched it. They were lovely in summer and freezing in winter, as the walls consisted of two metal sheets with a 4-inch air gap and that was all. A programme to demolish them began in 1986 and by 1991 all were gone. Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs lived at no. 17 Hillside.]
I find it interesting to see how obviously fertile the area is in its natural state. Twenty years after the great plague, Abingdon will probably look a bit like this. Actually, if I was a spaceman who landed here I might conjecture that civilisation had been destroyed by the weird triffid-like thistles that flourish so happily (see foreground, right).
If I was a spaceman I would definitely want to investigate this feature if I spotted it from orbit. It’s the end of Thames Rd in the map above …

… and looks to me like somewhere that the original inhabitants might have used as a launchpad. Maybe they did. Not much to see from ground level, though.

The two-hour lump of cinematic cheese that is Logan’s Run redeems itself with a five minute section where Logan and Jessica come across the post-apocalypse ruins of Washington DC, and marvel at such wonders as an overgrown Lincoln Memorial and Capitol, which unlike the rest of the movie actually look quite convincing. At one point they slosh through a marshy swamp, the camera pans around and we realise they’re wading down the Reflecting Pool in front of the Washington Monument.

(Image (c) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1976, and taken from this site, which has many more.)

That’s a bit what it’s like in the top left corner of Harwell. But only a bit. Or possibly a bit like my favourite part of Prince Caspian, where the Pevensie kids explore the ruins of Cair Paravel.

Wytham wandering

The purpose of trees is to provide blessed shade as you stroll along on a hot summer’s afternoon. Any other purpose is useful but secondary. Put enough trees together and you get woods. Put the woods on a hill overlooking Oxford and you get Wytham Woods.

It’s an access-controlled SSSI, and even though I don’t think there are any reasonable bars to anyone getting a permit, it makes it just a bit more peaceful and remote than, say, Shotover (despite the best efforts of our friends from Brize Norton to bring a little low-level noise into our lives). Every now and again you turn a corner and suddenly find yourself with a panoramic view of the dreaming spires, and wish you’d brought the proper camera rather than just the phone.

The phone camera also failed to do full justice to the hitherto unknown pastime of caterpillar bungee-jumping.

That glowing blob is not a crack in space-time: it is in fact a small green caterpillar about 3cm in length, dangling in the middle of the road by a strand of silk so fine it seems to be levitating. Closer up:

And there were a lot of them. Whether they were trying to get down or up or just dangling to pass the time of day, I have no idea. However they do it at about face level so it’s a good way of grabbing the attention of passers by.
Current reading is Avilion by Robert Holdstock, last of the Mythago Wood series, which gives all sorts of added resonances to walking through a piece of undisturbed ancient woodland, and makes you realise that living somewhere like this:

… could be a very bad idea indeed.

He also does stations and memorials

Clifton Hampden bridge, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott: him as also did St Pancras, lots of churches, and memorials to the Martyrs (Oxford) and Albert (London). According to the guide book of walks around Oxfordshire, it replaced a ferry across the Thames and was privately commissioned by a local family.

“I say, dear, who do we know who does a bit of building?”

I completely agree that if a job is worth doing then it’s worth over-doing.

The house at the end might be nice to live in, though I’m not sure I would enjoy having high water flood marks in my back garden. Even less would I enjoy people being able to look down into my back garden and say “oh look, you can see where the water comes up to.”