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Oxford

 

Balliol College, inner court

Balliol College, inner court

Now, the day before I left for Amsterdam, Shaun decided that there was no point in going into campus (no one shows up on Fridays it seems) and that we should go to Oxford instead. He tried hard to sell it as a “Brideshead Revisited” sort of thing, which became the running joke of the day. (He decided that I was Charles Ryder and he was Lord Sebastian Flyte.) So it was that we set out at the crack of noon and hopped a train for Oxford. Now, this was not particularly planned and we’d done no research, but Shaun was confident that he’d be able to find his way around because he’d spent part of a day there a few decades ago. (It was the day he went to be interviewed for admission into their PhD program. He got in, but went to Cambridge instead.)

Upon arrival, we wandered past the modern Saud Business School towards the historic town centre. First stop: Tourist Info. Now, I don’t think I saw a single tour bus the whole time we were there, but the tourist industry thereabout is certainly industrial strength. They offered many alternative packagings of Oxford souvenirs. Want Harry Potter (they filmed many of the interiors here)? They’ve got stuffed owls, souvenir wooden wands and a talking (literally) hat. Want Downton Abbey? They have guides to where it was filmed, season by season. Which murder mystery series do you want? Inspector Morse? Endevour? Misomer Murders? They’ve got them all. We settled for a 50p street map and headed off to see the colleges.

Balliol College (above) was the first stop.  2 GBP for visitors to walk inside, collected by the porters, who function as gatekeepers. The place was pretty historic-looking, right down to the chapel that smelled of wood and students.

Chapel at Balliol College

Chapel at Balliol College

But I wasn’t ready for the Mulberry Tree. Now, I should say that the gardens were pretty much immaculate (and we saw a gardener on his hands and knees working as we walked past) so this tree seemed out of place.

The 400-year old Mulberry tree.

The 400-year old Mulberry tree.

As you can see, it looks like its on its last legs (limbs?), having clearly pretty much collapsed under its own weight eons ago, but somehow not quite died. So, the story goes, this mulberry tree is historic because …. well … someone did something famous next to it or something. The point is, it is cherished and nutured and, despite appearances, it produces a substantial quantity of ….uh….mulberries every year. Which they make into jam. And every student in Balliol gets a few jars.  And they give it to their mums, because  students don’t eat mulberry jam these days. Or so I’m told….

Dining Hall, Balliol College

Dining Hall, Balliol College

Of course, not everything is historic. Just across from the Mulberry Tree was the dining hall (ungoing extensive renovations, perhaps to bring hygiene up to 19th century standards) with a very modern-looking dorm growing out the side of it. And what’s that in the window of the top floor of the dorm? Pac-man!

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Bodleian Library, exterior

But we weren’t done with history, not by a long shot! Next stop was the Bodleian Library, home of ….books…really old books. And historic bricks. (Pretty nice looking-ones too.) The interior courtyard was perhaps the noisiest university building we visited, probably due to all the tourists taking pictures, chatting, and happily ignoring the dozens of “Silence, Please!” signs librarians had plastered everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Here’s a spot they missed.

Bodleian Library, inner courtyard

Bodleian Library, inner courtyard

After a tour of the Gift shop (where I bought something irresistable for Clare), we headed to a church (University Church of St. Mary the Virgin?) to check out the tea room (too full) and climb the stairs to the tower (5 GBP) for the view. It was worth it.

The view from the church tower. Nice, unless you think the buildings block the view.

The view from the church tower. Nice, unless you think the buildings block the view.

Same church tower, looking off to another side.

View from same church tower, looking off to another side.

Gargoyle seen from church tower....with a striking resemblance to Shaun Vahey.

Gargoyle seen from church tower….with a striking resemblance to Shaun Vahey.

Chapel at All Souls College

Chapel at All Souls College

Next stop was All Souls College (2 GBP admission, visitors only from 2-4 pm.) According to Lord Sebastian, this is the most exclusive college at Oxford. The chapel looked suitable for a coronation and seemed to smell of money. But, seriously, it was one of the most impressive chapels I’ve seen….period.

At that point, we badly needed refreshment, so we skipped across the high street to the local tea rooms, only to find The Grand Cafe, which claimed to be the oldest coffee house in England.

Now *that* hit the spot.

Now *that* hit the spot.

By this point, dusk was not far off, but we needed a break, so we strolled through the botanical gardens (I think inspector morse investigated a murder here….Shaun claimed that the head gardener had done it.) and strolled along the river.

A Silver Narcissus

A Silver Narcissus. Really.

Now, real estate here abouts costs the earth (okay, a terrible metaphor) and its old and space is scarce so what does Christ Church College do? They use their spare land for pasture and graze heirloom long-horned Angus cattle on it. But this meant that as dusk was falling, we walked back to the colleges across the empty fields.

Christ Church College, seen from across their fields.

Christ Church College, seen from across their fields.

And that’s where we ended our tour, with dusk falling around the light of a Christmas tree in their courtyard.

Christ Church courtyard.

Christ Church courtyard.