Hannah Drake

The Magical City of Oxford

TravelHannah DrakeComment

I was going to share this post earlier this month since it's been over a month since I visited Oxford for the second time. But then my younger sister Sam mentioned she really wanted to see Oxford when she was here this month, so I decided to combine the two days in one massive post. So...enjoy!

This post covers my second and third trips to Oxford, the first time being last year when we were there on my birthday. (I posted about The Cotswolds, but only added a little blurb at the end about how Oxford was a bust. Long story short, we couldn't find parking, we couldn't do the things we wanted to do--and we hadn't planned for anything since we weren't originally intending to go--and it was insanely crowded.) I knew I would try again one day, and that day happened to be the Friday after our wedding and then last Friday. 

My friend Tia and her boyfriend Jason were going to be there for the day and my sister and her husband decided at the wedding to go as well, which then turned into my other sister, my brother, and my mom tagging along, and us heading down to meet them for the afternoon, first stopping for lunch at The Eagle & Child. Needless to say, this trip made me a lot more fond of Oxford as a whole. And I feel good about this! Oxford is home to my favourite comma, it's inspiration for some of my favourite stories and films, and one of the best-preserved cities in the UK. My third sister was jealous that we all went to Oxford while she was in Edinburgh with my dad and step mom (I'm jealous of that!), so I promised her we'd visit while she was visiting us last weekend. We did the free walking tour that Tia and Jason had been raving about, got lunch at the world famous Turf Tavern, did a bit of exploring on our own, and got a highly recommended milkshake at MooMoo's at the covered market before taking the bus to Blenheim Palace for the rest of the day.

The Eagle & Child is most famous for being a hang out spot for Oxford professors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who would meet at the pub to discuss their ideas in a group they called "The Inklings". 

The walking tour starts at 11:00 or 2:00 on Ship Street by the Saxon Tower, St. Michael at the North Gate. The tower was built in 1040 and remains the oldest standing building in Oxford. It served as the north gate to the city as well as a prison.

Blackwell's is the largest book store in the country, boasting 7 miles of shelving, but when it opened, only two people could fit in the store.

The University of Oxford has no known foundation date, but there is evidence of teaching dating back to 1096. King Henry II later banned students from travelling to Paris for schooling, so monks started the religious university.

The Heads of Emperors top 13 square pillars marking the front boundary of the Sheldonian, but no one knows who they are.

The statue of William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke stands outside Bodleian Library, possibly serving as some inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter. According to Wikipedia, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke was an English nobleman, politician, and courtier. Chancellor of the University of Oxford, he founded Pembroke College with King James. He was warden of the Forest of Dean, and constable of St Briavels from 1608 to 1630. He served as Lord Chamberlain from 1615 to 1625. In 1623, the First Folio of William Shakespeare's plays was dedicated to him, together with his brother, Philip Herbert, 1st Earl of Montgomery.

The Divinity School, located behind the William Herbert statue, served as a filming location for multiple Harry Potter films, including as the hospital ward in the first film and the room where the dancing lessons took place in the fourth film. It costs £1 to enter.

Unsurprisingly, Oxford is the birthplace of the Oxford English Dictionary, first published in 1884. This was the first dictionary to offer standardised definitions for words, as previous dictionaries defined words however the author deemed fit. For example, one described oats as what horses ate in England and what people ate in Scotland, as well as Americans being convicts and cirminals, but very polite.

Hartford Bridge is a copy of a copy. The original can be found in Venice, the copy can be found in Cambridge.

While we were wandering around the city, we saw multiple students in their exam gowns who were covered in paint, confetti, silly string, and more. The tour guide explained the tradition of "trashing" in which a student's friends find them around campus or around town and throw whatever they want at them to celebrate them taking their final exam. We happened to catch a good one under Hartford Bridge.

The taller, darker tree in the above photo served as a filming location for the scene in which Mad Eye Moody turns Draco Malfoy in to a ferret in the fourth Harry Potter film.

Throughout the university, you'll see signs everywhere asking you to please stay off the grass. The reason they don't want anyone on the grass is because members of certain colleges can have their ashes spread on the lawn in the courtyard, so the remains can be undisturbed by foot traffic.

Sam and I went to lunch at Turf Tavern, which has been a notable location for two former heads of state. Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a Guinness World Record for consuming a yard glass of ale in 11 seconds in 1963. Later, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, while attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, infamously "did not inhale" at the pub. Needless to say, neither of us broke the world record. But we did sit next to a couple from Colorado! They were talking about the trashing and I heard the man mention the University of Colorado so I promptly inserted myself into their conversation and we made small talk about why we were all so far from home. I think those are the first Coloradans I've met since I moved!

Radcliffe Camera just might be the most photographed building in the city. It's named after John Radcliffe who attended the college from the age of thirteen. After his death in 1714, he left £40,000 (roughly £300 million today) for the construction of a new library, something he had been planning for the last few years of his life. It continues to serve as a library and reading room today.

All Souls College is rumoured to have served as inspiration for the Two Towers, however Birmingham also makes this claim. All Souls College is also one of the most difficult colleges to get into, as it only accepts current Oxford students and only takes about a dozen per year.

As legend has it, C.S. Lewis stepped out of St. Mary's Church one snowy evening, stopping to dust snow off his shoe. When he looked up, he saw this door, which later became the inspiration for the Wardrobe. To his right, he saw the one twinkling lamp post, which of course became a landmark in Narnia. According to this story, that took place on Christmas Eve, which is why it's always winter and never Christmas in Narnia.

Christ Church College was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII and boasts a rich history and beautiful grounds. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, is a notable alumnus and the college has more British Prime Ministers than any other Oxbridge college. (Oxbridge of course refers to Oxford and Cambridge.)