I am finally resuming the story of our recent trip to England - this time, all about Oxford. The "city of dreaming spires" has been the scene of so much history, literature, and culture that we couldn't pass it by on our first trip to England.
We arrived in Oxford via train and hopped on a city bus to our AirBNB room. We try to stay with families through AirBNB, but sometimes you get rooms in a flat which isn't actually occupied by the owner. Maybe the owner owns a second home and rents out the flats full-time for extra income. But the experience is so much better when you stay in someone's actual home. Our Oxford room was one of the "second home" rentals, but the location was so perfect, we didn't mind.
We spent our first evening doing what we'd be doing the next 48 hours in Oxford: walking and trying to avoid death by cyclist. There are literally thousands of bicycles in Oxford, ridden by students and professors alike - and they don't slow down for tourists!
We managed to find The Eagle & Child Pub, famous for its history as one of the meeting spots of "The Inklings", a writers' group in the 1940's and 1950's, whose members included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Unfortunately, its reputation preceded us, and on being unable to find a table, we went two doors down to St. Giles Cafe. It ended up being a lovely choice, one of those tiny restaurants serving locally sourced food off a small but expertly crafted menu.
The next morning, we visited the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. Founded in the 1600's, it's one of the oldest and largest gardens in the world. Andrew and I enjoy visiting gardens wherever we travel, and Oxford's garden was so enjoyable, with the old towers in the background.
Later, we joined a 90-minute guided walking tour that took us through New College, the divinity school, and other historic spots. Our tour shared loads of history and details about popular sights in Oxford - the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, All Souls College, and others. It was also a fantastic introduction to the university system in Oxford, which is confusing even for residents and students.
After the tour, our appetites directed us down a narrow alley to the Turf Tavern pub & restaurant, where people had been eating and drinking since the 12th century. The sun had finally come out, and we sat on the outdoor patio and tucked into a Sunday roast beef lunch and tall glasses of wine.
Our afternoon held more walking and wandering. Since the weather had turned so warm, we couldn't bear to spend too much time inside the many free museums in Oxford, only making it into the Weston Library to see treasures from the vaults of the Bodleian Library - hand drawn illustrations by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, an original Gutenberg Bible, medieval illustrated Psalters, the Magna Carta, and many more (you can actually see them all online for free here). We also climbed the Carfax Tower, the only remains of a 14th-century church which looks out over the city's many spires, churches, walls, and steeples.
Our last stop was Magdalen College - the alma mater of C.S. Lewis, where he studied and tutored for many years and became a Christian on Addison's Walk around the campus. Andrew and I also took that same walk, circling around the college grounds and stopping to read a poem by Lewis posted on the wall as a memorial to the author. Our ticket also allowed us to attend the evensong service in the Magdalen College Chapel, where Lewis also worshipped regularly and we found another plaque dedicated to his memory. An all-male choir has been singing in the chapel since the 1400's. During our service, the boys choir (choristers) led us in hauntingly beauitful worship.
For a committed C.S. Lewis reader and collector, I can't think of a better way to end our stay in Oxford.
- AirBNB - local host accommodations at affordable prices
- Eagle & Child Pub - famous old haunt of the Inklings writers' group
- St. Giles Cafe
- Oxford Botanic Garden - £5 per person entrance for adults
- Oxford Walking Tours - held every day and some evenings (if you like ghost tours); £9.95 per person
- Turf Tavern - look for the alleyway sign
- Weston Library exhibits (Bodleian Library) - free; don't miss the Bodleian Treasures exhibit
- Carfax Tower - £2.50 per person (cheapest tower for city views); not recommended for larger-than-average persons or those with claustrophobia, as the only way up is an extremely narrow spiral staircase up 99 steps
- Magdalen College - £5 per person for adults; evensong service at 6pm every evening except Mondays (details here)