Oh the shame. I am a pretty organized person. But I start blog posts and then sometimes they sit half-finished in the drafts folder for a few weeks, or months. Remember our trip to England and Scotland in April? Well, I never finished writing the post on Oxford. Then one thing led to another and it felt like an embarrassingly long time went by and I decided to forget about it. Until today. I was hunting in folders for possible Christmas card photo options, and looking through our Oxford pictures was just too fun. Besides, Oxford = Tolkein = Withywindle. How could I not?
I’ll be honest, our first day in Oxford was a total bust. I know it’s usually pretty rainy in England in the spring, but even the innkeepers were commenting that it worse than usual. We originally had only scheduled to be in Oxford for one night and one full day. I can’t say we didn’t try – we walked all over the city and were soaked through by lunchtime – it was so gusty that I even had to throw away my umbrella, which broke that morning. After walking for a few hours, and realizing we had scarcely been able to look two inches outside of our rain hoods we decided to cancel one of our days in London and stay in Oxford the following day.
The only good part about the rainy day, was visiting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum. It was PACKED because the museum is FREE and it was raining. But it was an amazing experience – all types of animal skeletons. And this is coming from an Art and Writing major.
J.K. Rowling fashioned Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley after the Pitt Rivers museum, and I can see why! The place was rambling, dark and full of the strangest objects I’ve ever seen. It feels like you’ve walked into a giant Borgin and Burkes.
Following our worst day of weather, our next day in Oxford was the most beautiful weather of our trip and I’m so glad we chose to stay. (Note: Flexible itinerary plans are always a win!)
We saw all the academic sites – the Radcliffe Camera (above), the Sheldonian Theatre, and Bodelian Library(below), which are all part of Oxford University. We also saw numerous Harry Potter filming locations in the process.
Oxford is quite the place – an unusual abundance of students in Black Tie off to some event. We peeked in a doorways, but college buildings and campuses are guarded and closed to visitors. We didn’t bother trying to get any special passes to visit them – but they are available.
We also visited Christ Church and the gardens. Lewis Carroll, the magical mind behind Alice in Wonderland, was inspired by the Christ Church gardens and wrote the stories about a real girl named Alice – one of the daughters of the Dean of the church. Across the street is a store called “Alice’s Shop” and has every Alice in Wonderland item you could imagine.
“You’re mad, bonkers,
completely off your head.
But I’ll tell you a secret.
All the best people are.”
Behind the church is Christ Church meadow. You’ll see some lovely cows, and if you keep on walking you will meet the Isis (the part of the Thames river that goes through Oxford is called the Isis). There you will find lots of boathouses for the Christ Church Regatta. If it’s pouring rain you may even spend some time on one of their porches. : )
Being the bookworm that I am, I was very excited to visit the enormous Blackwell’s bookshop.
When planning our trip to Oxford, I was doubly excited due to an inexplicable soft spot for the Inklings. Blame it on my Dad. The Inklings was a literary group made up with great authors like J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers.
If you’ve forgotten the origin of Withywindle, read this.
In terms of Inklings related site seeing, we saw most of it. There are formal tours you can take as well, but I think we covered most of it on our own. We walked past Merton College (where Tolkien was a professor) and Magdalen College (where Lewis was a professor). We also saw the Church of the Virgin Mary (where Lewis first read his famous paper “The Weight of Glory”).
But perhaps the most iconic Inklings location we visited was dining at the Eagle and Child (Bird and the Baby) where the group met. They still have the “Rabbit Room” sign up with several plaques dedicated to the group. The restaurant is actually owned by a chain restaurant company that specializes in historic restaurants and pubs. (We went to a location they owned in Edinburgh too.)
There were three parts of Oxford that we did not get to experience. First, I was told by several friends to visit the Covered Market for lunch – we only attempted to visit on our first rainy day and it was so bad out most of the shops were closed. Secondly, for reasons I can’t remember (major construction I think?) we were unable to visit the famous Ashmolean Museum.
Lastly, we had to skip renting punting boat (think gondola style boating). The rivers were so flooded (seriously, it rained a lot) they had to close them down. Perhaps someday!
During our time in Oxford we stayed at The Buttery Hotel – I would recommend it. It was one of the better places we stayed during our trip and the location was perfect! Breakfast was included, and delicious. And don’t worry about the calories, you’ll work it off climbing up six flights of stairs to your room.
All in all, Oxford was lovely and I would definitely go back. It was a bit smaller than what I expected, but very charming. We are movers-and-shakers, so 2 days was just enough time for us to feel like we got to experience a bit of the city. (But really, is there ever enough time?)
And there you have it, our trip to the U.K.