I travelled to Oxford on three different occasions during my semester in England, each time riding the very handy and economical Oxford tube bus. In September, the kids and I toured Oxford highlights on our own. In October, a couple of other guests and I caught another bus there that took us on to Blenheim Palace, but we spent just a few minutes in the town itself. The November trip focused on Oxford again, when I visited with yet another brace of guests. That time we took an official walking tour and saw a different assortment of sights. The links above are to my blog posts covering these trips.
I've made a separate web page for Blenheim, which you can see here. And there are two Flickr sets, too, with many more photos: Oxford • Blenheim.
Here is a map with the Oxford highlights of both of my September and November trips:
View a larger version of this Oxford map here. Note: you can zoom out a few clicks and see where Blenheim is in relation to Oxford.
And here's a link to a map one of my guests made to show our November walking tour.
Oxford is a town I'd visited countless times before, in my imagination, as I've read and re-read Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, not to mention other books which use it as a setting. Here's Sayers' affectionate description of the view from the gallery of the Radcliffe Camera, circa 1936, which is the structure you see in the title graphic for this page. Several of the buildings she mentions here you'll see photos of below:
|"There, eastward, within a stone's throw, stood the twin towers of All Souls, fantastic, unreal as a house of cards, clear-cut in the sunshine, the drenched oval in the quad beneath brilliant as an emerald in the bezel of a ring. Behind them, black and grey, New College frowning like a fortress, with dark wings wheeling about her belfry louvres; and Queen's with her dome of green copper; and, as the eye turned southward, Magdalen, yellow and slender, the tall lily of towers; the Schools and the battlemented front of University; Merton, square-pinnacled, half-hidden behind the shadowed North side and mounting spire of St. Mary's. Westward again, Christ Church, vast between Cathedral spire and Tom Tower; Brasenose close at hand; St. Aldgate's and Carfax beyond; spire and tower and quadrangle, all Oxford springing underfoot in living leaf and enduring stone, ringed far off by her bulwark of blue hills."
In September we got some great views of the whole town and surrounding "bulwark of blue hills" from the tower of the University Church of St. Mary's, one of Hal's guidebook's recommendations. It wasn't too different from the view Harriet and Lord Peter had, as described in the quote above. Here's a sample of what we saw:
All Souls College quad is in the lower right photo of the preceding collection, and here's a shot of it from ground level. We took a little tour around its grounds just before we climbed St. Mary's tower.
Here are some scenes of Oxford town, again, from street level. On the left is the Camera just coming into view, with St. Mary's steeple beyond. In the middle is Oxford's "Bridge of Sighs" on New College Lane, more properly called Hertford Bridge. And Hal and Sally are taking it all in on the right.
There are waterways all around Oxford, whose name indicates the reason for its being located where it is, as a fording place. The main rivers that thread through the city are the Cherwell and none other than the Thames. I don't know which one this is, since my knowledge of Oxford geography was pretty sketchy in September, when the picture was taken. But it looks charmingly Oxfordian all the same.
We toured Oxford's most famous college, Christ Church, during our September visit. Here are two views of the interior of the College's truly awesome Cathedral:
A perhaps even more noteworthy space in the College is their dining hall, which was used in the Harry Potter movies as Hogwarts Commons. The portraits on the walls aren't just decoration, but celebrate some of the College's famous patrons and alumnae, such as John Locke, on the right.
The main College we toured in November was New College, obviously one of our guide's favorites. Here's a trio of photos of this lovely complex of buildings. The motto on the gate at the left is "Manners Makyth Man," the College's motto and such an oh-so-English sentiment!
The other Colleges we spent time touring in November were Merton and Oriel. The photo on the left is of a Merton quad. The dining table, waiting for scholars to come to chow, and the lovely windows, are features of Oriel.
Libraries are a very important part of the Oxford scene. Here are two library plaques we saw in September:
Food and drink are also important! Here's a shot of an amazingly tucked-away pub, the Turf Tavern. We'd never have found it on our own, but our tour guide enjoyed showing it to us. The falafel stand on the right is in the square right next to the bus station, not a place you'd expect to find a culinary classic. But the falafel/potato/hummus wrap I had there in September was one of the best meals I had all fall! I was very disappointed to find the stand closed October when we were waiting at the station for our bus to Blenheim. It was also, sadly, closed on our visit in November. I would love to have had another one of those wraps!
An even more important place for food and drink is the pub shown below. It's the Eagle and Child (or Bird and Baby), a hangout for J.R.R. Tolkien and his friends. Being an LOTR geek from 'way back, this was a must-see for me on my first trip (and I've infected my kids with love for the books, too). And since my November guests were also fans, we went back then. The photo on the right shows the room usually claimed by Tolkien and the other "Inklings" over a period of many years. What a thrill to drain a pint in such surroundings! The perfect way to relax after tours of this dreamy city.
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