Reading University’s main campus is at Whiteknights Park, 1.3 square kilometers of woodland, lakes, fields and parkland 2.5 km from Reading town centre. The park has a colourful history as the grounds of the aristocratic Whiteknights House. It still contains many reminders of this romantic past, including an abandoned ice house, a grotto and scattering of exotic plants.
Whiteknights Park isn’t public land, but the university allows public access from several entrances around its perimeter. Parts of the park still feel quite rural, despite the number of buildings of dubious quality the university has built on it over the decades. The university maintains its park beautifully, and there is a large semi-wild, wooded and boggy part at the southern end of the lakes called ‘the wilderness.’
The UK Government currently advises that people should stay at home except for a few listed purposes. But we can still dream, dammit…
The Lake District
Whiteknights may lack the rounded russet peaks of the Lake District, as well as the over-priced fudge shops, romantic poets and retailers selling fluorescent kagoules, but Whiteknights Lake is still surrounded by cowslips, snowdrops and emerging daffodils, and ducks still chug purposefully across its pewter surface.
There are reeds at both ends of Whiteknights Lake. University groundskeepers have fenced off an area at the boggy southern end of the lake to allow the bank to develop more naturally. This southern end is a splendid place to spot tadpoles and froglets later in the year.
The Peak District
There is a grotto beyond the southern end of the Whiteknights Lake which, from certain angles, has a whiff of the stone walls and millstone grit ridges above Hathersage.
Put two birch trees together and you’ll find a Russian weeping nearby, as the saying goes, I took the Trans-Siberian from Beijing to Moscow about thirty years ago and I was startled at how park-like a lot of wild Siberia seemed to be; nature often has an instinctive neatness to it.
Thrudheim, abode of the thunder god
Reading University keeps its meteorological zoo behind a wire fence overlooking the park near Earley Gate. Thor’s imposing staff of power (which he uses when Mjölnir is in for a service) is really a Biral lightning detector.
Some of Whiteknights is distinctly otherwordly; it has an old ice house that looks like a hobbit house, mysterious pools, troll-bridges, tiny islands and stark dead trees straight from the borders of Morrrrdorrrr.
Our bodies may be house-bound for the foreseeable future, but our imaginations, memories and dreams need never be.
Here’s a horse chestnut getting on with the growing business of spring. Later this summer, it will probably become disfigured by leaf miners.
As Kurt Vonnegut might say: so it goes.
- Reading University
- A history of Whiteknights
- The Harris Garden
- The ice house at Whiteknights
- NHS advice on coronavirus
- UK government instructions on coronavirus