Research: Goethean Observations: Headington Hill Park

This a transcript of my notes as they were written during the observation.

Part 1

This is a large area of grass with a large number of different trees at various stages of maturity. The traffic can be heard coming from the left and behind me some voices in the grounds of a large house, separated from the park by iron railings. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees is always apparent even though there is little wind today. The sound of birds too can be heard particularly in the grounds behind me.

The entrance to the park was through railings on the park's NW side. The path runs down and around the perimeter of the park. Some of the trees have plaques planted beneath in memory of those who've died.

The path down which I'm walking cuts across a slope which runs down from the east (the house and grounds side) to the west. There are a number of seats alongside the path facing west into the centre of the park. There is the sense that there us kittle really to divide the grounds to the east and the park, save for the grass which on the slope to my left (east) has been allowed to grow. There are a number of weeds, daisies and shrubs.

The path turns to the south and runs alongside a busy road. The path runs between trees, the SW past another entrance to the park and an old stone building. The building has a kind of vestibule in the middle with a window at the SE end. There is some graffiti here such as 'Don't forget us' written in felt-tip on the frosted glass. A sign reading 'Ladies' in the shape of an arrow points SE in the direction I am walking.

A few yards on more buildings are revealed, built around a small courtyard. These buildings look much older. On the western facade of one of them is a wooden sign on which the words 'staff only' have been written. A sign next to them reveal that the former toilets and dairy are to be sold off.

The side of the building is in part covered by ivy and the whole building almost looks to be sliding into the ground. The green paint of the windows is the same shade of green as the ivy.

The path slopes down. A man jogging runs up beside me. The trees are constantly chattering while the traffic flows up and down to my left.

Towards the bottom of the slope is another building standing behind a tall hedge on my left.

Past the small building, there is a large set of blue painted iron gates leading out onto the busy road. Either side of the gate, on two ornate posts are old-fashioned lamps.

Straight ahead, heading slightly SW is a gravel path which snakes away in a kind of elongated 'S' shape. To my right, heading in an almost westerly direction, the concrete path continues. Along this path there are fewer trees, but looking to my left, I can see that the gravel path is bordered on either side by a number of mature trees. Heading north along the path, I can see another road to my left.

On my right hand side are two mature horse chestnut trees. The leaves on one are speckled with rust coloured patches.

It is just past this tree, beyond the reach of its shadow, that to my right, towards the east, I can see how the ground undulates. This sense of undulation as I approach the second of the mature trees which again I think is a horse chestnut with rust/yellow coloured patches on the leaves. I'm not aware visually of a slop but I can feel that I am climbing.

Again to my right, just past the mature trees, I am aware of the undulating ground, though not quite as before.

Two large purple trees grab my attention along with the mature tree see just behind through the gap. This view feels very much as though it belongs to a garden.

To my left is the minaret of the Islamic centre. On my right a group of four saplings.

The purple trees cascade to my right and turning back to the path, it seems almost incongruous in these surroundings. Behind me, about ten yards, a gravel path leads NW towards the Islamic Centre. To my right the undulations become more pronounced. Besides another collection of brick buildings , these undulations are especially pronounced, particularly on the left hand side of the path.

A little further on, on the right hand side of the path there is a concentration of foliage in the shadow of a large mature tree. On the other side the ground seems to slop up back towards the house.

To my left the slope is increasingly pronounced running down towards a long stretch of flatter ground. From this area, which borders a footpath behind a line of railings, there is another profusion of weeds such as stinging nettles and doc leaves.


Back in the park, through the same gate, there is the sense of everything 'sliding' towards the west (at this point) - or towards the 'city centre'. The same rumble of traffic - the same sound of the leaves blowing in the wind.

Where the path forks, I'm instinctively taken down the right-hand path, i.e. down the slope. A helicopter whirs overhead.

At the point in the path where I saw the 'view' of the two mature purple trees I leave and head towards them. In front of the left hand tree I can see three undulations - very shallow, but of equal size running east to west.

Walking between the two purple trees the feeling in the park at this spot is completely different. I notice too a 'pattern' of two more purple of copper trees ahead and a more mature tree - an oak - in the centre.

Walking between the trees, one of the undulations I saw before is clearly evident. It seems to peter out within about ten yards. There are a number of lumps and bumps at this point which are hard to pinpoint.

By the 'top-left' copper tree is a distinct depression.

Turning down it, one again finds the shallow humps which extend towards the house at the top of the area.

Returning to the gape between the purple trees, I feel a definite 'step down' into the hollow between two bumps. I decide to walk the route again.

Between the trees, I pick up a ridge on the right hand side and follow it towards the right-hand tree at the back. By the tree I find a ditch cutting across, leading towards a group of trees around which a large number of weeds, nettles etc. are growing. Standing beneath the tree and facing SW, I can see more of the ridge and furrows. Turning to face SE I see the 'ditch' running off which I decide to follow and notice that this 'ditch' seems to join up with another patch of dense undergrowth which I've already recorded.

Walking along it, between the patches of undergrowth, I'm made aware of how different the park feels - certainly compared with walking between the purple trees towards the house. There is it seems a correlation between this and the direction of the ridge and furrow, and the direction of the ditch and the path which I mentioned earlier.

As I walk from this undergrowth towards the path, I feel another dip running alongside the path on its SW side.

Part 2

The 'natural' direction of this place follows the direction from the windows of the house behind me to the city in the near distance. The trees in the grounds of the house and those in the park suggest the area was once joined - the railings running across it follow the 'unnatural' direction already mentioned. One can easily imagine the house, the full extent of its grounds with the views over the city.

Rolling back the time life of this area, the nettles and weeds disappear - the saplings are removed and the trees begin to slowly reduce in size. The sound of voices and of laughter behind me might well have been heard in the years before and the sound of traffic would certainly be absent. For a time at least it would have been altogether much quieter.

The trees shrink, the house disappears and the view across the city is clear. Sitting on the bench as I am - facing the city - there is the sense that this a place of views- of looking out. Behind the windows of the great house, those who lived and worked within would have once looked out across the city. Without trees, one is left with a ground which undulates in ridges and furrows one way and a few lines which cut across. They are almost like scars, gouged out of the ground.

This 'natural direction' is persistent and one day, the concrete parth which cuts across the park, along with the railings will disappear. People walk along them today just as people once walked along the ridges which lie across the grass.

The ridges and furrows one can imagine being created over a great period of time. As people walked up and down, the view was still there - how did it change.

I look at the dedication plaque in front of me. I wind back time - the person to whom it is dedicated lives again and is then nothing. The tree beneath which it is planted disappears. Appearing. Disappearing.

The plaque is dedicated to a certain individual, but in the ground, one gets the sense of the lives of many individuals. The milky sun above would have shone on them just as it does on me.

Leaving the bench I return to the spot between the five trees.

Looking back between the trees towards the city centre, I can see clearly the spire of St. Mary's. Removing the trees, the whole city would have been visible.

Parts 3 and 4

Looking down towards the city, out from the city towards the house. The area is about looking out and being looked at. It is about looking and moving - up and down, over and over. It's a place of directions, 'natural' and 'unnatural'; peaceful and less-so. A place in thrall to the city below.

A place in which movement over centuries is marked quite unlike anywhere else in the city. Where the view is so apparent. Not so many choose this park for sitting in - perhaps because the view is obscured compared with the park next door. People follow paths and don't look.

Further Notes

Notes written the day after initial observation of the park.

Like a piece of paper or fabric, the area we know today as Headington Hill Park has a grain. This became apparent in the first instance at a point along the concrete path where, looking to my left, between two large purple/copper trees I saw a view which seemed to 'belong' to the a time when the park was a garden. Looking back up the path, the path itself felt incongruous. Leaving it and walking towards the gap between the trees my body felt different - my movement felt 'freer'.

Headington Hill Park

In front of the trees I could see the mediaeval ridge and furrow very clearly and beyond the trees I followed a furrow and noticed a long depression cutting across it, running in the same direction as the upper part of the path. Walking along it fely very different to walking up the ridge towards the house - just as tearing a piece of paper against the grain feels much different to tearing it with the grain.

Thinking about the ridge and furrow - one can imagine the area when it was ploughed with all the turned earth. It would have looked quite uniform in its appearance. Then as crops began to grow, a patchwork would have developed.

During the Civil War, this land would have been taken over my siegeworks. This movement up and down would have been cut off by the movement across it; which eventually would have carried on again after the war, eventually changing (as the area became a garden) from physical movement up and down, to lines of sight, up and down.