Tag Archives: Oxford

Oxford

>> The England posts: “The Adventure Begins” (the story of our unplanned night in Denver); “First Class” (the story of our flights to London, written in Hemel Hampstead, England); “Made It!” (brief post that chronologically jumps ahead in our trip to share my arrival at the Eagle & Child, written in Somerton, England); “Last Night in Lyme Regis” (a short post written in Lyme Regis, the day before we journeyed back to London and home); “London 1” (first reflection on the trip written in Canada); “London 2” (you get the idea…); and Warwick Castle“. <<

I’ve already written about our visit to Oxford in brief, but I’m going to talk about it some more. People occasionally ask what my favourite part of the trip was, or which part of England I liked most. My answer is always that it’s difficult to pin down any particular place as my favourite–each stop had something special about it: the crowds and landmarks of London; the everyday life of our English friends and family; the history of Warwick and Bath; the beach/holiday life (and cream tea) of Lyme Regis.  Each of the things we did and saw was very special in its own way.

Yet my answer isn’t entirely true.  Oxford stands above the rest for reasons I can’t clearly express (though I do know that it’s not simply because of The Eagle & Child). I think it had a little to do with timing and weather.

Toni dropped us off in Oxford by about 9:30 in the morning. It was a drizzly day and the streets were quiet. We walked down a couple of streets and looked in a couple of shops and eventually found ourselves in a covered market, and it was nearly deserted. A grocery stand, a fish monger, shoe shops, a tea shop, and whatnot.  Its sights, sounds, and smells we had all to ourselves. It was almost as if we lived in Oxford, and we had left our apartment early in the morning to get to the market before the crowds. I wonder if that didn’t set the tone for the rest of our time in Oxford. We were calmed and quiet, and had no agenda, nowhere to get to. So we sauntered. And it helped, too, that I didn’t spend the day with my face behind a camera.

Oxford & Dixie from St. Mary's steeple

But more than that, the history of Oxford seems so real to me. What do the lords of Warwick mean to me? What connection to I have to the famous people buried at Westminster? But Oxford: these are the streets walked by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, men who have influenced my thought, my faith and my imagination; it is one of the historical centers of learning and study, which has been part of much of my life.  And yet for all this history, the city seemed so sleepy and unassuming. It isn’t a tourist trap–or, at least, what tourist trappings they have are cleverly hidden.

Pigeon on St. Mary's steeple

This fact hadn’t occurred to me until last night, when I was describing Oxford to my friend Darren.  He asked me what kind of indications there were that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the Inklings used to frequent The Eagle and Child. The answer: very few. Once I thought about it, it was quite a startling and delightful realization. Where in other places you would expect there to be an entry fee, a trinkety gift-shop, and then a roped-off table marking the spot where the group met (Darren thought my suggestion of wax figures was too much), but there is none of that. All they have is three items on the wall: a couple of pictures, a small plaque mentioning who met there and what met there, and a framed letter signed by all the Inklings, thanking the proprietor of the establishment for his hospitality. There is nothing else.  They do sell Inklings-related merchandise, but you have to ask the barman. It isn’t advertised anywhere that I noticed. Considering its cultural significance, The Eagle and Child is a rather unassuming place. If you knew nothing of the Inklings’ history there, it would be just another old pub. It was the same with the university buildings: they were just university buildings and, even though classes weren’t in session, they were mostly off-limits. Initially I found it somewhat disappointing that we didn’t have more access, but in retrospect, that’s one of the things that made Oxford special. It just went about its business.

In the Rabbit Room after lunch

I won’t say much about our day. We spent it wandering around looking in shops and at buildings. We spent some time at the Ashmolean Museum, the world’s first museum to be open to the public, which had many interesting displays (and it was free!). After a late lunch, we decided to do a wide loop around the core of the old city, passing by Magdallen College and King’s College and some of the other landmarks, but we soon realized that was out of the question: it had been and continued raining steadily, and we were without an umbrella. We were soaked within minutes. We took a shortcut back to the downtown area.

Stairs down from the steeple

We stopped for a time in Blackwell Books. It is the most amazing bookshop I have ever been in (here’s a picture of just the basement, which actually extends much farther underground than the rest of the building.)  Sadly, we didn’t have much time and had to find our car rental.

Once we got our car, we briefly considered driving back into the downtown to see the areas we missed, but it’s filled with no-access roads, so we decided not to.  We were both a little disappointed with how the day in Oxford ended: rushed and soaking wet.

However! Dixie had bought a shirt that day without trying it on. Back at Chris and Toni’s place in Somerton, she discovered that the shirt was too small. So we decided that the next morning on our way to Bath we would stop by Oxford again.

Oxford

It was a lovely morning, and we saw many more lovely old buildings, and climbed the steeple of St. Mary’s church. We didn’t get to Magdallen College, but we walked around King’s College and through many side-streets. Oxford was busier that morning than it had been the day before–the streets were crowded with shoppers and there were buskers all along the main streets–a golden juggling jester that stood frozen until you put some money in his pot and a very talented opera singer (probably a student) stood out for me. We left Oxford satisfied.

Made it!

I’m jumping well ahead on our journey by telling this, but it’s a significant moment for this blog. Today we went to Oxford and had lunch at The Eagle and Child. This has been a long time coming. A couple of pictures:

Outside The Eagle and Child

In the Rabbit Room before lunch

Plaque in the Rabbit Room

In the Rabbit Room after lunch

Oxford is a beautiful city–at least the old part of it where we spent the day. There are so many beautiful old buildings there I didn’t know where to start taking pictures, so I took almost none.  We got there at about 9:30a.m. Toni dropped us off in front of The Eagle and Child (we picked up our rental car today–a Mercedes! We were supposed to get a Ford Focus) and we walked into the city centre, which is full of shops.  Then we had lunch at The Eagle and Child. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either, but that didn’t matter–we were at The Eagle and Child and I had a pint in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ honour.

The table we sat at had all the plaques and pictures of Tolkien and Lewis and the rest of the Inklings (in the Rabbit Room), but I’m not sure if that’s the room they actually sat in or not. The pub goes much farther back and judging by the stone wall outside may have done so lo these many years (unless they expanded into another shop).

After lunch we intended to head north and then walk a loop east and then down along the river and then back west, passing by Magdalen (‘Modlin’) College, Merton College and Christ Church, which I believe all have some connection to Tolkien or Lewis. Christ Church, at any rate, appears to be one of the more beautiful buildings of the university, as it is depicted on postcards and whatnot.  But the rain was coming down steadily and shortly after we had set out we realized that if we did this walk without an umbrella we would be soaked to the bone by the end of it. So we found a shorter route back to the city centre to find an umbrella.

We stopped at Blackwood’s Books on the way. Stepping inside it looks like an ordinary bookstore, but downstairs it impressively expands into a vast storehouse of books that covers much more area than the building stands on. I’ve never been in a bookstore this impressive in terms of size as well as holdings. It was worth a look, but by the time we found an umbrella, we figured we’d better find our car rental place first–and glad we did, because it was much farther to walk than expected. At the car rental place, I inquired about the restricted-access roads on the map of Oxford. Buses and pedestrians only. To reach these places by car, we’d have to drive all sorts of convoluted routes and back alleys and walking was too far this time of the day, so we decided to skip it. It’s a shame in a way that we were in Oxford for a whole day and didn’t see those famous buildings, but then there are university buildings peppered across the whole old city, so we did see many beautiful college buildings.

Tomorrow we drive to Bath.