Oxford :)

Alrighty then! Big update to handle here, I will just start by saying that we are now safe in London with Tim and Helen. People’s generosity just bowls me over sometimes, and I have definitely experienced that with Tim, Helen, Belinda, Andrew and many other people we have met on this trip. We drove from Oxford to Liverpool this morning, after Louis sent us off with a great breakfast and plenty of food, then Andrew picked us up from the car hire place, took us to lunch with Belinda, then dropped us at Lime St Station where we caught a train to London and made our way to Tim and Helen’s. Phew! However, the previous few days were spent in Oxford and went something, like this:

After Sean woke up on Monday feeling better – he slept for over 12 hours – we got up and had a late breakfast with Louis. He drew us up an itinerary which we could stick to, or just use as a loose guide, and it proved to be extremely helpful. Right before we left, I got a phone call from Dad and it was really, really good to hear his voice. I hadn’t spoken to my family for quite a few days so it was a lovely surprise. We hopped on the bus and began our day with a visit to the uni souvenir shop, just ‘cos, and a quick drop in to the tourism centre to get a map. I had my heart set on a walking tour of the city, but alas, it was not to be as my knee was still extremely painful and I couldn’t walk too quickly. We headed to the Radcliffe Camera and after a few snaps we went to the Bodleian Library, where the Divinity School and the Duke Humfrey’s Library were both used as locations in the Harry Potter films! We booked a short tour (30 minutes) for later in the afternoon, and headed off to the Turf Tavern (via Oxford’s very own ‘Bridge of Sighs’). After a quick drink and a sit, we went back to the Bodleian Library where our tour guide took us into Duke Humfrey’s Library. I can’t possibly remember all the interesting facts that were crammed into this tour, just know that it was extremely historical, in a room used as the Hogwarts Library. The books on the shelves were over 400 years old and all users of the library (including Kings of England) have never been permitted to remove a book from the library. You can see the ancient cataloguing systems and chains which they used to attach the books to the shelves. After this, we went into the Divinity School (some of you may recognise this as the Hogwarts infirmary and that hall where Ron danced with Professor McGonagall). Again, we were bombarded with history, and were taken through the symbolism in the room’s architecture, but I can hardly remember any of it! It was terribly interesting though, particularly the room’s history as an exam hall. The student would stand on one podium, the tutor on the other, and the Regent Master sat between and would grade the student. The student could be asked any question – any – from the course they had just finished, even if it was a seven-year course or longer. The student had to answer, as though they were writing an essay, and the Regent Master would pick their answer to shreds to see how they could defend their argument. Exams could last as long as three days and the public was let in to view, and were permitted to heckle. Funnnnnn times. It has now been used, for many, many years, as the hall in which the students prepare to graduate.

Once we finished here, we walked to the Eagle and Child pub for some quick pics. This was the pub where the ‘Inklings’ (who included C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein) would meet to discuss what they were writing. Extremely exciting history for a literature nerd like me! We finished off our sightseeing with a quick peek in Waterstones, before taking the bus back. Louis came to Wetherspoon’s with us for dinner and then we had a nightcap, chatting very late into the night before crawling into bed again!

 On Tuesday we were up pretty late again (we’re on holidays! We’re allowed!), but once we had bussed into the city centre, I posted another package home (Mum, Dad, that’s six in total!) and went to Alice’s Shop, which is famous for being the place where Alice Liddell bought her sweets. Alice Liddell was the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and the shop is full of beautiful souvenirs. I got some earrings…Yay! Then Sean headed off to the Pitt Rivers Museum (which he highly recommends) and I headed into Christ Church College. I saw the famous meadow and the beautiful cloisters, as well as the dining hall and the staircase leading up to it. Both of these locations have also been featured in Harry Potter as the Great Hall and the staircase where McGonagall receives them in the first movie. Hyyyyyyperventilation ensued! I also saw the cathedral again – despite going for Evensong on Sunday night, I wanted to walk around properly, and saw some beautiful windows and monuments as a result. The shrine of St Frideswide was a definite highlight (as was the toilet in the bottom panel of the stained glass window depicting her life. Somehow I doubt a Saxon princess had plumbing that advanced…see facebook for evidence). I lit a candle for my family, and I saw the watching loft, and the window of Jonah and Ninevah, George Bell’s cross and the window in which Edith Liddell (sister of Alice) was allegedly used as a model for one of the figures. There was also a video showing on the history of the college and a gift shop, in which I managed to restrain myself. I walked out, past the library, which was sadly closed to non-members.

I then wandered back up the street, stopping to buy The Big Issue and look in a really beautiful stationery shop, before visiting the church of St Mary the Virgin, where the Oxford Martyrs, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were tried. The church was having renovations done, but was still worth a visit. I then walked through the Covered Market and the Golden Cross Shopping Centre, stopping for a truly delicious banana and nutella milkshake from Shakespeare’s Milkshakes, before meeting up with Sean again. We went down Cowley Rd, searching for the highly recommended Atomic Burger, before discovering it was closed (but I bought books from an op-shop, so it wasn’t a total waste). We grabbed a pizza for dinner and then met Louis and jumped in the car. He took us to a rehearsal for Blood Wedding, a show put on by the Oxford Theatre Guild who are an amateur company. Louis builds sets for them and the show opens next week and we saw a full run. In addition to being wonderful because it was like being back at home – they rehearsed in a church hall, there was a long production meeting and everyone goofed around when they were offstage – it was a stunning show. Some brilliant, BRILLIANT actors. And some really great staging decisions. I’m only sorry I couldn’t see the finished product at the Oxford Playhouse! After that, we headed back for cheese on toast and more chats, far too late, having a marvellous night. Dad called me again and it put me in a great mood. I am really grateful to Louis for his hospitality!

Dreaming spires

Firstly, for anyone who might be interested, but more for myself, a sort of ‘virtual souvenir’ if you will, here is the website for Thynghowe, an ancient Viking meeting place discovered in Sherwood Forest. The darling woman who took us through St Mary’s Church yesterday is on the committee who look after it.


So! Today we woke up and had breakfast. Sean, thankfully, is feeling a bit better. He was still very tired and sore today, which for anyone who knows him, is not like him at all, but he still managed to drive us from Edwinstowe to Oxford after bidding farewell to Liane and Sunnyside B&B, as well as the two other lovely guests (Liane also cooked the most amazing devilled mushrooms on sourdough. I could have eaten six helpings). Once we arrived in Oxford, we met our host (who we found over airbnb, but he also uses couchsurfing,com). His name is Louis and he is the most lively, friendly and accommodating person. He lives alone in his semi-detached house that is crammed full of books and desks and decoration and life. He has a really lovely and comfy room upstairs for us, and endless knowledge of Oxford and the area surrounding it. He is taking us to see a final rehearsal for a theatre company he is in and is a keen cyclist, who also has a bad knee and is adamant cycling will help it. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer welcome.

Once Sean had had a bit of a rest, we jumped on a bus into Oxford city centre. The bus drivers were all really helpful when we got confused with tickets and stops and everything, and Oxford’s reputation as one of the friendliest cities we have visited was cemented by the porter at Christ Church College. He asked us where we were from and then proceeded to tell us about a dear friend of his, an Australian who he had met while working – she was a tourist – and he had then gone to stay in Brisbane with her for a month. Once I had spent money on unnecessary books, we made it back to Christ Church College for Evensong. Gah. So much beauty. The choir sounded – and yes, I’ll say it, because it’s true – heavenly. It was in the stunning cathedral and I was awed by the sound of the music. It didn’t matter that we were almost too tired to hold our heads up, or that my knees were sore from standing up constantly. I am so glad we went. I got my fix of soul food, and it was particularly important being Easter. Simply glorious.

Afterwards we had a quick wagamama dinner, being very careful of Sean’s stomach, before jumping on the bus back home and climbing straight into pajamas and straight into bed. It is ten PM here and Sean is already snoring. Bizarre!