Last Saturday I was invited by my mentor (a more advanced graduate student) and his wife over for lunch in their 1690s home in a little village just north of Oxford, Eynsham.
My husband and I walked to the village along the Thames, up past Port Meadow and through one field after another lined with trees and full of geese and sheep. It was cold, but clear and beautiful. The mud and table water had frozen such that we were able to walk on ice in what otherwise would have been wet fields. We passed many little canal boats in which people obviously live, tax free and very cold. We also passed several locks; apparently, almost the entire Thames is traversable up from London for about 180 miles via these locks. (Sounds like an adventure waiting to happen.) Each lock has a live-in family or man who tends to the locks if people have any difficulty. They are usually little park areas with well-tended grounds, benches, and maps.
We arrived after two hours near the Eynsham lock, where my mentor came to meet us. We then traversed over one of the locks, through a field, some woods, by the 17th Century privately-owned toll bridge which just sold for 2M pounds (the owner is able to make income tax-free by decree of King Henry the VIII) finally arriving into the quaint 17th Century village (I think with its population of 5,000, it's approaching a "town," but the villagers are holding on to their quaintness) to a home that is over 300 years old in one part, and less than 20 years old in another.
The foot-thick walls of the 1690s structure and the lovely pot-belly stove in the large fire area behind the table kept us largely warm during the three-hour, four-course lunch, and the conversation with our hosts and the other invitees, another mentee, an Israeli classmate and his wife, kept us entertained. The conversation ranged from all things taboo: politics, religion, and morality. It made me a bit hungry to know more about Israeli-Anglo relations and be better versed in current affairs generally. It also made me hungry for more very-British treacle tart, and am eager for the recipe.
I hope that is not our last visit to Eynsham.