Though few living in Oxford (students in particular) seem to realise it, the countryside around Oxford offers some wonderful opportunities for walking. Indeed, a stroll along the Thames, with its rural villages separated by fields, meadows and woodland, is almost the epitome of all that is best about walking in England: the scenery is pretty and varied; the views are wonderful; ancient buildings appear at every turn; and one is never too far away from the nearest village pub.
This new book from Margeurite Osborne makes it easy for residents and visitors alike to appreciate the riches surrounding the city. She has picked out five interesting and scenic routes south of Oxford, and seems to have planned each one to include as great a variety of countryside and historical interest as possible. On one short walk through Radley, for example, she guides one along hedgerows, through woods and across fields; she takes one to see the 13th century church of St James the Great and the elegant Radley College; and she even manages to cram in some spectacular views over the Chiltern Hills.
But Ms Osborne does not stop at telling the reader which path to take; she also lists places to eat, and offers some engaging tit-bits of local history. True, in places these nuggets of information are barely enough to whet he appetite. But at other points, perhaps most notably when describing the myth of the scholar gypsy, the book manages to infect one with an excited fascination which makes one feel positively guilty for not realising before what riches there were to be discovered on one's very doorstep.
Never was it more true that one should not judge a book by its cover. Take a Breather has a truly hideous cover design, and one can only hope that this does not scare people away from the eminently useful contents. Indeed, the presentation is quite poor throughout: particularly bad are the sketch maps, which are illegible to the point of being useless. Fortunately the written instructions are lucid enough to make the maps redundant.
Most importantly, of course, Take a Breather offers truly comprehensive details for getting to and from each walk by bus. Each route starts and ends at a bus stop, and bus numbers, timetables, stops and even fares are covered. This makes it wonderfully easy, as the Introduction points out, for anyone "to get quickly out of the city by public transport and enjoy a walk without having to consult maps and timetables first". One really can just grab the book and go; in a city where it seldom stops raining for two hours at a time, this makes it worth its weight in gold.
Matthew Rogers, 23 / 8 / 00