In the gravel carpark of Wytham Woods, we head for a tall wooden gate. On the way we pass other Christmas walkers, with their hatted heads, booted feet and festive cheer. Unrestrained by its turquoise rope lasso, the gate yields to a light push swinging out into a field of long, tufted grass. The path is slippery with mud, so we follow the long tresses of its edges. The landscape undulates upwards towards a cluster of trees on the horizon.
The air is fresh and clean and I feel my lungs gasping greedily with the effort as my boots slide out from underneath me. Shrubbery, green fields and bare wintery trees surround us. The decorative dots of sheep, barely visible buildings and a white mass—The John Radcliffe Hospital, are part of the patchwork landscape.
Along the way, we greet friendly-faced walkers. Facial contours forgotten, fading almost as instantly as the time in which it takes us to pass by. At the top, through a metal gate that closes automatically behind us and into a tunnel of bare-branched trees connected at their tips. Dark, naked and silent waiting for the Renaissance of Spring.
A path has been cleared through the thick blanket of fallen and browning leaves. Twisted and gnarled limbs cavort around us. Fallen trunks are clothed in rich, green moss and the landscape falls away suddenly into a small valley, only to rise again a little further on, at journey's end. This is marked by a bench, facing a gated view from a raised stone plinth. Growing nearby, a pair of tree trunks like lovers intricately entwined, stretch skywards. It is here, three and 13 years ago, three siblings scattered the ashes of their parents to the winds—with a tear in their eye and pain in their hearts.
Silently, on this cool December morning, we absorb the familiar and favoured view of Oxford once more—a place that was the centre of their world and ours—for a while.
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