There are a handful of places I have wanted to visit for nearly as long as I can remember. London is one of them, I think thanks to Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. Oxford was another, although I don’t really remember why. I think it had something to do with CS Lewis but I can’t remember for sure. So on Saturday, Andre and I decided to take a day trip out to the city of dreaming spires.
Trains run regularly from Paddington Station out to Oxford and the trip takes a little over an hour. A return trip for the two of us with our Gold Cards cost £32.
We arrived a bit before 11am and followed the street into the city centre where we found the visitor’s centre. To be honest, it didn’t give much more information than I’d already read online, although we did buy a visitor’s guide for £1.50 which had a handy inner city map inside. This saved always having to pull out our phones to use the map and I’m sure we will make use of it when we go back again.
From there we headed past Trinity College and down to the Bodleian Library, one of Oxford’s main attractions. Visiting the Bodleian Library is not really as simple as it sounds. It is made up of multiple rooms and places of interest such as the Divinity School, Duke Humphrey’s Library, the Radcliffe Camera, Convocation House, Exhibition Room and more. As it is an operating library for scholars and students, access to most of these rooms is only via guided tour (although you can visit the Divinity School on your own for £1). We booked the £7 1-hour tour which normally includes the Divinity School, Duke Humphrey’s Library, Convocation House and Chancellor’s Court, however sometimes swaps Convocation House and Chancellor’s Court for the Radcliffe Camera, as it did the day we took the tour. I wanted to see inside the Radcliffe Camera anyway so that was a plus!
We went and got lunch at a nearby pub, a fairly stock standard Beefeaters on the high street, before our tour started. On the way we saw Oxford’s answer to the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, technically called Hertford bridge.
We started in the Divinity School (originally a classroom for theological studies and now a multi-purpose room) which was the Hogwarts hospital wing in the Harry Potter movies, before moving upstairs to Duke Humphrey’s Library (built in the late 1400s, which doubled as the Hogwarts library in some of the Harry Potter movies). The public isn’t allowed far into Duke Humphrey’s library so I suspect we only saw a fraction of it, and you can’t take photos either. However, I also suspect the library holds some of the oldest books I’ve ever seen outside of the British Library. Environmental monitors sit on the shelves of these ancient books, monitoring the condition of the air to help keep the books from deteriorating.
The Radcliffe Camera (another building used by the Bodleian library), while not a Harry Potter film site, was still pretty interesting to see inside. It has nothing to do with what we call cameras – ‘camera’ is just the latin word for ‘room’ – and is essentially just an extension of the library, holding further reading rooms.
After our tour of the library we walked down to Christ Church Meadow. Harry Potter nerds should know that multiple Hogwarts staircase scenes were filmed in Christ Church College, although the £7 entrance fee is a bit steep so we didn’t go in just to see some staircases. The Great Hall scenes were not filmed in Christ Church College’s dining hall as some believe – the Great Hall was a set, but the design was based upon the dining hall in Christ Church College.
We also popped by Alice’s Shop, the shop Alice Liddell (for whom Charles Dodgson, now better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote his stories Alice in Wonderland) used to visit. It’s just an Alice-themed shop though and not really worth much more than a cursory glance. After a bit more wandering around, throughout which time we considered climbing two towers but decided one was not tall enough to be worth the entrance and the other, we arrived too late to visit, we stopped for some afternoon tea at the cafe beneath St Mary’s church (the official University Church). We then had one final goal for the day…
… to visit JRR Tolkien’s grave! We caught a (rather expensive – £3.50 each) bus up to Wolvercote Cemetery (one of the prettiest cemeteries I have visited) in northern Oxford, where JRR Tolkien, his wife Edith and oldest son John Francis are buried. You will notice on Tolkien’s grave that the elvish names he gave himself and his wife have been included.
As an added bonus, on the way back into town I spotted The Eagle and Child pub where Tolkien, CS Lewis and their literary group ‘The Inklings’ used to meet.
We finished our day with dinner from Mission Burrito as recommended by our friend Helen who is from Oxford, and a bit of a walk around to see the buildings after dark, before catching our train back to London.