It’s almost 6 o’clock in Oxford on a sunny Sunday morning. Magdalen Bridge, connecting the east side of town and the city centre, is closed to drivers for a few hours. Instead of traffic, it’s now filled with thousands of people, all waiting and expectantly looking towards the tower of Magdalen College. We are a motley crew: sleepy early birds like me who have managed to wake up before sunrise just to make their way to the bridge; students in black tie and “all-night party people” making their way home or towards breakfast; families with toddlers; people in colourful costumes.
More and more people are turning up: if you wanted to cross the bridge now, you would just have to wait. Don’t even think about jumping off either: although students started that as a new tradition in the 1980s, literally risking life and limb, barriers now keep even the most adventurous souls in control.
Suddenly, at 6 o’clock, the bells ring and the crowd falls silent. The Hymnus Eucharisticus, sung by the choristers of Magdalen College from the top of the tower as they have done done since the 11the century, drifts through the air with real clarity.
Elsewhere in the city local bands and Morris dancers are getting ready to entertain the crowds with lively music and amusing performances. Many pubs and cafés have either stayed open all night or opened early to cater for the breakfast crowds. The cleaning crews, too, are already in action tidying after the revellers. I’m happy just to wander the streets and enjoy the beautiful morning with all its festivities. Hmmm, maybe a coffee and a breakfast bagel wouldn’t go amiss either…
Welcome to Oxford’s May Morning!
PS May Day is not a public holiday in the UK so if it falls in the middle of the week it’s a normal working day. As it fell on a Sunday this year and was followed by a Bank Holiday Monday, it meant record crowds and extended merry making in town.