Observant readers may have noticed I’ve skipped Day Nine. Imaginative readers may be wondering what happened on the missing day. Did I slip into a time vortex? Was I kidnapped by aliens?
The truth is far more prosaic and probably boring than any of these. Day Nine was a bit of a rest day. We went to nearby Guildford for a few hours. This is not an indictment against Guildford tourism. It offers plenty of opportunities for tourists but we didn’t want to exert ourselves too much. We went to Guildford Castle which was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1066. We saw Lewis Carrol’s house which he moved into after writing Alice in Wonderland.
Yesterday was also the day of the Brexit referendum. I was very surprised and somewhat shocked to see Leave winning. However the consequences of this may not be as terrifying as envisaged.
Today we went to Oxford. We changed trains once at Reading. The scenery outside the window was wonderfully picturesque.
The verdant fields were of an intense green almost like the emerald ink used to send letters in the Harry Potter books.
Oxford town derives its name from from its original purpose as a ford for the crossing of oxen over the river Thames in AD 900. The University of Oxford was founded in around the 12th century AD.
It is a small but bustling town with plenty of tourists. The buildings, esp the colleges are quaint and are reminiscent of medieval times. They’re built of a pleasant yellow-brown stone in a semi-Gothic style much like the Palace of Westminster. Stone was a sign of great wealth in medieval times. At ground level it may seem like any other tourist hub but you’ve only got to raise your eyes to see the real Oxford.
We first went to Christ Church college. The main building is enormous, majestic, and simply breathtaking.
It’s claim to fame, as far as tourists are concerned, is that the Great Hall and the staircase leading to the Great Hall where Miss McGonagall asks the first years to wait in the Harry Potter movies are inspired from the dining hall in this college.
The portraits on the walls are of famous alumni including six prime ministers. In total thirteen alumni from Christ Church went on to become prime ministers of Britain. Other notable alumni include Robert Boyle and Hooke.
This quadrangle is called Tom quad. It’s the largest quad in Oxford.
These are memorials to porters who dedicated themselves to a lifetime of loyal service.
We decided to drop in at King’s Arms for lunch. It sounded a lot like Emsworth Arms at Market Blandings, Shropshire. Ambience was pleasantly quaint but the food was decidedly sub-par. English food is terribly bland and dull. It’s a miracle they’re surviving on such fare.
Trinity College was closed today so we went to Balliol college. After paying 2 pounds for adults and 1 pound for students ( a discount they’re very eager to offer), we walked into the chapel. A lot of weddings between alumni take place here.
The chapel was magnificent with it’s hallowed chambers and opulent gilded decorations.
This is a sort of war memorial register in the chapel recording those of the college who lost their lives in the two wars.
The War of 1914-1919 and more significantly, the War of 1939-1945 are inextricably woven into the fabric of British culture and lifestyle. Eleven out of every twelve tourist spots will mention them. It is remarkable that after so many decades, key events of the Second World War are fresh in the memory of citizens and are considered common knowledge.
We also saw their dining room which was not as large as the one in Christ Church but was nonetheless richly decorated and cosy.
The student bar at Balliol was more interesting. It is a small, well-lit place where you get tea, coffee and some ales. Pictures of winning sports teams cover the walls.
Historically there have been many conflicts between students and the townsfolk or between ‘town’ and ‘gown’ at Oxford. Part of the reason is that the official medium of instruction in the University was and still is (nominally) Latin while the townspeople spoke common Old English. This led to a fundamental disconnect. In 1355 a major riot broke out when two students hit a landlord over the head with a pan because they were dissatisfied with the wine. This led to terrible riots in which 68 students were killed. These incidents encouraged the forming of colleges where students could be secure within the college walls.
After having coffee and ice-cream at a small cafe we took a guided walking tour for one and a half hour with around 20 people. Our guide, Stuart, was knowledgeable, energetic and witty. With him we first went to the Bodleian Library. This is the University Library and is said to keep copies of every book published in the UK. There was an interesting exhibition taking place where they had put up some of their rarer exhibits.
The most striking one was the ORIGINAL copy of the Magna Carta:
These are posters from suffragette meetings in the 1910s. The suffragette movement was aimed at giving women the right to vote in Britain.
This is the quad at Lincoln college. It is one of the few remaining buildings which look exactly the same as when they were constructed over 600 years ago.
Walking on the grass here is heavily fined at 10 pounds for each step.
We saw several other buildings which are well known.
This is the Radcliffe Camera. It is a sort of reading room for students.
This is the front entrance to Brasenose college. Among its illustrious alumni are the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron and the popular writer Jeffrey Archer.