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I HAD BEEN here before. Gone running here, passing swans and wildflowers, along the banks of the River Thames in Port Meadow park. I’d taken this path frequently, during the nearly nine years I’d spent at Oxford: first as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student. I’d entered through the country gate in the city’s bohemian, warren-like neighborhood of Jericho. And crossed the little pedestrian bridge over the gently rocking narrowboats, making my way all the way north to the 12th-century ruins of Godstow Abbey, where once, legend has it, King Henry II had installed his illicit mistress, known as Rosamund the Fair. Sometimes I would go a little farther up the Thames—known colloquially here as the Isis—and stop at the Perch, a thatched-roof, 17th-century pub in the village of Binsey, at Port Meadow’s edge.

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