Fall like weather here in Chicago finally made for some comfortable bike riding and I was able to put in 45 miles over the past few days. Took some time to dip my toes into the lake. Don’t tell the mayor!
So I’m really excited about this part of my virtual excursion through England because for my May trip that wasn’t, I did plan to visit Oxford for a long day of literary touring, so bear with me as I recount what could have been.
Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires
Named such because of the gorgeous architecture of it’s buildings, Oxford University is the oldest English speaking university in the world, dating back to the 12th century. Famous Oxonians, as they are called, include 28 Prime Ministers, and numerous authors, poets, scientists, philosophers, artists and actors.
For my literary day excursion, I followed the paths of, if not the three most famous authors to come out of Oxford, definitely three whom many identify most readily with the university; J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.
Needless to say, my first stop would be at my dream library, one of the oldest in the world. Tours of the library happen Monday -Saturday, unless you want to visit the famous Radcliffe Camera, which houses the Science Library. Then you need to plan your visit for a Wednesday or Saturday.
There are a lot of things the English got wrong (colonialism, The Spice Girls, driving on the left, Boris Johnson, are some examples) but their libraries can’t be beat. I love, love, love, traditional, old school libraries with reading rooms and nooks and crannies that you can lose yourself in. Bodleian is definitely such a library.
The photos below are of Duke Humfrey’s Library, the oldest reading room at Bodleian and one of the oldest in Europe. These days it is probably most recognized as the library for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. Sigh…
Magdelene is where C.S. Lewis taught English and started wrting The Chronicles of Narnia. Another famous, or infamous, alumni was Oscar Wilde. Oh to be a fly on the wall while he was a student here.
University of Oxford Botanic Gardens
A short stroll through the gardens will have you come upon Will and Lyra’s bench from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy. (Now also an HBO mini-series which I highly recommend!)
This is where Tolkien taught English Literature. It is said he did much of his writing at a stone round table on the college grounds which may have been the inspiration for Elrond’s table in the Fellowship of the King. Until 2014, a tree that inspired Tolkien’s Ents, stood in the Botanic Gardens. Tolkien and his wife are buried in a nearby cemetary and their tombstones are engraved with Beren (his) and Luthien (hers), lovers from the Silmarilllion, which was finished post-humeously by Tolkien’s son, Christopher.
This college is considered the birthplace of Alice in Wonderland. The father of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the fictional Alice, was the Dean at Christ Church when mathamatician Charles Dodgeson, better known as Lewis Carroll, worked there. The many gardens in the college were the inspiration for Alice’s Wonderland. Though today’s young readers would probably be more interested in seeing the hall that inspired the Great Hall in the Harry Potter books.
The Eagle and Child Pub
Finally, it is time for a pint. The Lamb and the Flag was the meeting spot for a group of writers, including Lewis and Tolkien, that became known as the Inklings. The group would share their unfinished works with each other.
There are many other literary nooks and crannies to visit in Oxford. I just hope I get to see them sooner rather than later!
Costwalds Side Trip
My virtual route doesn’t have me traveling through the Cotswalds but it’s an area worth a visit I think and not far from Oxford. Not only is it an area of outstanding beauty but if you like thatched roof cottages and picaresque villages, this is the place to be!