England,Exciting England,Sights,Travel

Exciting England – The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

Oxford, England. I’m not quite sure where my fascination with this famous city, and it’s universities, came from, but it’s a place I have wanted to visit for many years. And earlier this year I finally did!

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I think partly because I love reading and writing I have wanted to visit the place where so many of my favourite authors lived and studied.  J. R. R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit), C. S. Lewis (The Narnia chronicles), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Lewis Carroll (The Wind in the Willows) and Philip Pullman (The His Dark Materials series) are just some of those writers (and only some of their works) I have admired.  Some, like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series have also been partly set in (an alternate version of) Oxford, which has only added to my desire to visit! Not to mention the history and beauty of the city, as well as other famous scholars including Australian Prime Ministers such as Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser.

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So on a (typically) wet and windy British day I set off on my tour bus to the city of Oxford.  It doesn’t take too long from London to drive, and we arrived ready with our umbrellas for our walking tour. No rain was going to ruin my day! Through winding back alleys we visited the Turf Tavern, where many famous students have come for a pint, and often as not, a drinking contest!

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Even though it was cold and drizzly, I loved just walking around the city, Oxford is beautiful with it’s cobbled streets and gorgeous old sandstone buildings. The “Bridge of Sighs” (below) is apparently named not because of any relation to the one in Venice but because students have to walk over it to get their university results, apparently once they got their results they would then sigh as they walked over the bridge upon seeing them!

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As you can see, the weather was very grey and drizzly for the first half of the day, but even so I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face to actually be walking along these streets and past these old buildings, towers, libraries and churches!
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The Bodleian Library;

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The Radcliffe Camera;

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The Radcliffe Camera (above) is a science library funded by the estate of Doctor John Radcliffe; “camera” means ‘room’ in Latin.

The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is the largest of Oxford’s parish churches and the centre from which the rest of Oxford grew. Apparently if you climb to the top you get a lovely view over the “dreaming spires” but as we were short on time and the weather wasn’t great anyway I settled for just taking some photos of the church’s façade instead.

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We then walked through a “kissing gate” on our way to Christ Church.  I had read about a kissing gate before but never really known what it was. Apparently it’s just a gate that opens in such a way that only one person can go through it at a time. It’s originally designed to allow people but not livestock through a fence. There are a few different stories behind why it’s called a “kissing” gate, but I’m not sure which is correct. Have a look here if you’re interested in some of the theories.

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Christ Church is one of the colleges in Oxford and when we arrived we were given free time to explore Oxford on our own and go inside the college if we so wished.  Christ Church is where Lewis Carroll (author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) was a mathematics student and later teacher; as well as being the location for some of the filming in the first Harry Potter film.  Indeed, J. K. Rowling apparently got her inspiration for the Great Hall at Hogwarts from the dining hall in Christ Church. Of course I was going in!
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Inside the courtyard and the hallway leading into the dining hall:
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The dining hall (very Hogwarts-ish!);

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In the middle photo you can see a large painting of Henry VIII; he founded the college when he broke with the Roman Catholic Church and re-organised the Church of England in 1532.  Christ College’s sister college in Cambridge is Trinity College, also founded by Henry VIII in the same year.

Christ Church is also a Cathedral, and Tom Tower (the bell tower overlooking the main quadrangle of the college) is a well-recognised building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Great Tom is the name of the bell in the tower, which is the loudest bell in Oxford and weighs six and a quarter tonnes!

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As I was leaving the college I stopped to look at all the gardens surrounding it. They are quintessentially British, so lovely and ordered, I found it very easy to imagine Lewis Carroll getting his inspiration for Alice’s adventures with the Queen of Hearts while looking out over these lawns and walls!

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Across the road there is even a Lewis Carroll gift-shop;
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As I was heading back into the town centre the weather finally began to clear, giving me an opportunity to get some clearer photos of the Ashmolean Museum, the first University museum in the world; and the Martyrs’ Memorial:
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The Martyrs’ Memorial was built to commemorate the “Oxford Martyrs”; three Anglican bishops who were tried for heresy and then burnt at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”). Around the corner from the memorial there is also a small cross on the road made of cobblestones, which marks the actual spot where the three men were burnt at the stake.
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Perhaps the end of my visit was a little grisly, but for me it simply highlighted how rich this city is with history. I really hope I get to visit again someday, even if just to wander those streets once more.
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The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

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