When my children were young they used to love playing in a little area of the old Headington Quarry just off Quarry Hollow.
It was completely wild in those days. Just the grass, the natural trees, and an enormous slide that was made possible by the deep dips and steep slopes left by quarrying. It was a place where children could feel free and indulge their imaginations. Mountains, valleys, and copses challenged their skills in climbing and scrambling, chasing and hiding. This was the real outdoors. There was certainly wild life about. Birds, rabbits, and squirrels loved it. There used to be a small old-fashioned letter-box there, which was odd and lent a sense of mystery. It was the sort of thing you would find in a C.S. Lewis story.
Since then it has been taken in hand by a group of people who, under the auspices of the City Council, have set out to "improve" it. At each end, there is now a gate with a large sign that proclaims "Welcome to Quarry Hollow Park, Oxford City Council" and a telephone number. Inside the gate is an immediate vista of large bins - three different kinds, including one for dog-waste - and a garish multi-directional sign telling you which way to go to find Oxford, Headington or London. This is presumably there to help the stranded travellers who would otherwise have driven round and round the quarry in their cars for days looking for those places. After the gates and the signs are assorted posts and bollards to satisfy the well-known council craving for bollards.
It ruins the first sight of the green space itself, or "park" as they insist on calling it. Instead of seeing trees and grass, you see clutter. You see fuss. You see over-management.
More recently, they have built a proper play area with a flat, all-weather surface, a bench and a collection of large lumpish things that obviously do not belong there, but have been brought in to look interesting or be climbed on. Some of the big sycamores have been cut down and replaced with a straight line of small neat treelets, not a native species of course. The effect is well and truly municipal. A proper play area means that you can play properly now. Properly! It wouldn't surprise me a bit if there is a CCTV camera tucked away somewhere too, on the grounds of health and safety. If they haven't got one yet, they soon will have.
Why do people have to do this? Why can't they leave anything alone? Clearly there are people who cannot appreciate the unspoilt or the accidental. They have to put a stamp of officialdom on everything. They are missing such a lot - and I miss the old Quarry Hollow the way it used to be.
Lenten Meditations: Saturday 25 March
2 hours ago