I’ve had some bad luck in previous visits to Oxford. Flooding, restaurants out of cheese … but not this day. This day was perfect.
We drove in to one of the low-fee parking areas outside of Oxford, and rode the bus in to the center of town. It dropped us just down the street from the visitors centre, so we grabbed a coffee at a nearby Costas and waited here for the free Footprints walking tour of Oxford.
We started with a quick stroll past Balliol and Trinity Colleges, and stopped to admire the original Blackwell bookshop, with its miles of underground shelving. Not visible from the street, fyi.
Here’s the Sheldonian theatre, site of student matriculation and graduation. So, in your years at Oxford, you might spend two hours here in total.
Someone was rehearsing for a concert during our tour this day, so the guide had some awesomely dramatic background music to his lively chatter.
Right across from the theater is the Divinity School, which may be gorgeous on its own but was also the location of the hospital scenes in Harry Potter … so that makes it even cooler. Masses of incredible history is great, but Harry Potter is greater. We all know this.
A walk around the corner to the courtyard of the Bodleian Library. The guide lowered his voice and warned us to ‘shush‘. I think the exterior design here looks like nothing so much as stacks of books on relentlessly tidy shelves — what do you think?
The doors off this courtyard all identify different areas of study.
And this tower. Well. Why have one column when you can have doubles. And why use one pediment style when you can use them all. Not exactly modest, this library.
Wander off a bit and see the Bridge of Sighs. Possibly named because it looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Or so named because it doesn’t really look like it at all, and everyone is sighing in frustration at the name.
The Radcliffe Camera. Basically the best reading room in the world. Also, the exterior used to be decorated with prostitutes. That’s student life for you.
One of those iconic Oxford views. I unashamedly stuck my hand through the gates to get this shot — free tour group wanderers were not welcome this day. This is All Souls, the postgraduate research college. All Terry Pratchett books become instantly funnier once you know more about All Souls. Now, where did I put my Mallard?
And to another side of Radcliffe Camera, The University Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Around the corner by the church, check out the lamp-post credited with inspiring CS Lewis to place a lamp-post just inside the border of Narnia — and the golden fauns to greet us.
One of the oldest pubs in Oxford, dating from the thirteenth century, where the host was once famous for slicing off men’s ties and giving them a free beer in exchange. (Ladies were out of luck, one guesses.)
Zip on around to the expansive grounds of Christ Church. In the background, there, is the Great Hall, which inspired the Great Hall in Hogwarts — I’ll send you back again to our visit to the Harry Potter Studio. Because reality and history is great, like I said, but Harry Potter is better.
The beautiful Meadow building. I will not lie to you. I went home this day and looked up lifelong learning courses at Oxford. I was ready to sign up. I’ve been to colleges and universities up and down and side to side the US, but … Oxford. The only place better would be Hogwarts. Obviously.
A scene I liked outside Merton College. Also, it smelled delicious right here.
If you are a fan of the Inspector Morse series, this scene needs no explanation. If you are not, this scene also requires no explanation.
We took a turn up the former Grope Alley. Thankfully gropeless, today.
And ended with our guide, fearless feet shown here, declaiming the dying words of the burning Cramner, who dripped his final bits of flesh at this spot in 1556. Sort of like this, but with more charm.
And then we had lunch! A happily cheese-rich lunch which restored our energy and recharged our vitality so that we could climb to the top of St. Mary’s tower (remember St. Mary’s from our walking tour?) and see Oxford from above.
Neo-palladian is fun to say.
Oh that golden Cotswold stone.
Still in shock at the sun of the day.
My friend on top of the tower and his handy eagle.
The High Street.
Part of Oriel College in the foreground.
And all the way around the corner again, with Radcliffe Camera peeking out to the right. The Narnia lamp-post is directly below us. Sort of.
One more farewell to the stunning view.
Don’t let the sun dazzle you on the way down…
Our walking tour took two hours and was worth every penny. (Did I mention it was free?) We tipped our guide, who certainly danced for his supper, and thanked him kindly. We took a general walking tour, but topic-oriented tours are also available, from this or other tour operators — or you can download your own walking tour. Or if you don’t happen to be in driving distance of Oxford, check out this stunning online virtual tour.
Dear Oxford, I love you. Can I please live and study with you, somehow? Like, forever?