OXFORD Castle celebrates its 950th birthday this year, and while we might have delayed a bit, we are not going to miss out, writes Debbie Dance of Oxford Preservation Trust

We are getting everything ready and perfect for the autumn 1071-2021celebrations when repairs to St George’s Tower will be completed and the mound, the mound paths and lighting, once again looking splendid, put back together after the wear and tear caused by our visitors, both legal and illegal, who climb to the top to admire the views or, more recently to sit outdoors with friends, albeit outside opening hours.

The team at the county council are doing their best to get it finished for Oxford Open Doors, and even more exciting, for the Son et Lumiere planned for the Oxford Light Night Festival in November working with TORCH at the university, and sure to be the hottest ticket in town.

And before then we can all look forward to Oxford Castle & Prison reopening this week after too many months of darkness.

The views from St George’s and the mound never disappoint, and I need no encouragement to climb either, or both, whenever I can.

Oxford’s towers and spires can be seen so clearly from high vantage points, most recently due to some clever people who in the 1960s realised their fragile nature and how important it was to introduce new buildings with great care.

The new Oxford Local Plan has relaxed the height restrictions put on at that time, as the council wants to encourage a more varied skyscape. I visit the mound to climb to the top to see what effect a proposed redevelopment of the Clarendon Centre, right at the very heart of the city, might have. Welcome plans for better shops and improved public realm are good, but hidden within the pages of the 120-plus documents is an extra storey added above.

Debbie Dance

Debbie Dance

This is the first time the new policy has been tested so its extra important and we have had to appoint our own visual landscape expert to provide us with an accurate assessment. His team have been out on real site visits to the various high and publicly accessible places across the city centre, including from the mound. I think of the expression, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ as I look at the outcome of this.

In places it stretches across the view from Carfax to St Michael’s, and would cut off the base of towers and through into the green backdrop of the city. The image uses an amazing new planning tool, an interactive 3D digital model of Oxford, thanks to VU.CITY who have mapped the city to an accuracy of 15cm showing every building, road, tree and public space.

The new development can be ‘dropped in’ so that it can be seen and experienced from various angles, above, across and below, from street level. We have yet to share this with our colleagues at Historic England and the city council, who are both interested in using the model, and we hope we can all work together to sort this out amicably. We are also hoping that developers and landowners, the colleges, university, and others will take advantage of this new digital platform for Oxford’s developments for the future.

Read more: 'Drunken' images of Oxford make us feel dizzy

I wonder at the cleverness of all this, at the art of producing these images to such accuracy, and I think about the very different and totally gorgeous photography that has sustained us all through the lockdowns of the past year. Well-shared on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook these images lifted our spirits and the gloom and connected us to place and to one another.

Fun at Oxford Castle

Fun at Oxford Castle

I am reminded of a few years ago when expert local photographer Chris Andrews, visited all our OPT green spaces and captured the essence of our places creating a well-used archive, and which includes some calendars using the best. It gets me wondering about whether calendars are still a thing, and whether people will buy one to hang on their walls next year. I think we should have a go in time for Oxford Open Doors, as it will be important to try to capture something of the juxtaposition of Oxford architecture, our curiously empty streets, and the seemingly never-ending azure blue sky.

Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle

I wonder whether my favourite will make the cut for the month of March. It was taken on the day we left the office for lockdown, and I am rather too proud of how it captures the warmth of the perfect Spring day, the natural sway of the daffodils growing through the long grass of the mound, cutting a stencil through the clear blue backdrop.

Later I return to the castle to meet young friends who, as restrictions ease, can at last marry. I have been pleased to offer the mound for the wedding photos to be taken against the backdrop of the dreaming spires, they think it is just perfect, I hope we can keep it that way.

See oxfordpreservation.org.uk