Oxford

I went to Oxford yesterday with a bunch of guys from NESS (the Nottingham Exchange Student Society). After a nice scenic two hours bus ride south we were unleashed on this famed University town. It was a mess to start with; everyone got off the bus, and the guys in charge weren’t really in charge, so people just milled about a lot, we eventually got moving, trying to find a pub that would be our meeting point at the end of the day. On our way though we lost about half the people (yay!). We finally found a pub, dicked around for a while, and then after too more discussing alternatives that I could stand, I grabbed the other Aussie guys and a few of the Brits and we went off by ourselves.
Walking through the city was a very interesting experience. There were old buildings everywhere and wherever you looked something had a piece of history attached to it. Oxford is very much a university town, and there were students everywhere. There were also tourists everywhere. It was easy to tell the difference between the two because the students would walk right by a famous landmark, while the tourists would flock round it taking pictures (speaking of pictures I took over 200!!). I admit I was a tourist, and looked like a tourist too (thumbing through my Lonely Planet guide) but that’s ok, I think everyone in the town is accustomed to it.
So one of the first places we visited was Christ Church, the University’s largest college. It has a number of recent claims to fame (which I wasn’t particularly interested in) and some older ones (which I was). Starting with the recent ones, a number of scenes for the Harry Potter films were shot at Christ Church, the staircase in particular was featured, and the 500 year old dining hall was replicated at one and a half times the size in a studio. I wasn’t really interested in that though, I was intent on seeing the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dogson, who was a mathematics tutor at Christ Church from 1855 to 1898. During his time there he made friends with the daughter of Dean, whose name was Alice. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass grew out of the stories Carroll made up to entertain Alice and many of the characters in the book were inspired by Christ Church people and objects. In particular, one of the stained glass windows in the dining hall shows portraits of Alice and a number of creatures from the book (though I couldn’t get a picture that looked alright using my camera). The dining hall also contains a fireplace bracketed by two brass “firedogs“, which guard the fire and have long necks, supposedly the inspiration for Alice growing a long neck in the story. Also the White Rabbit was based upon Alice’s father (the Dean) who left dinner every night down a narrow spiral stair behind the raised “High Table” at the front of the dining hall, and thus the rabbit in the hole in the story. The whole place was fantastic and I imagine it must be really strange to study there. When we first arrived we couldn’t get a look at the dining hall because all the students were in there eating lunch! Here is a picture of some of the students who were wandering around from Nottingham. As Christ Church was one of the big attractions, a whole lot of people did eventually end up there first.
After checking out Christ Church we walked over to Corpus Christi College, only to find that they were closed to visitors. This didn’t actually stop us of course, because if we put away out maps and guide books we could pass fairly easily for university students (which of course we were, just from a different University). So in we strode, confident in our place there, and past the porters we got, into the depths of the college. It was beautiful. We walked through quadrangles of some of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen, over old stone bridges and across quaint cobblestone paths. We bumped into a few other students, but they just nodded to us and we went on our way. This college was huge, surrounded by a big stone wall. We walked around for ages inside; opening all the doors we could, going up stairs, checking out everything we could get into it. After a while though we started trying to find a way out, this was when it would have become plain to anyone watching us that we didn’t belong. We were lost. We tried doors, walked down dead ends, got stuck in small rooms that went no where. We eventually found a gate which we could exit through, but we had to wait for a legitimate student to come along and open it for us so we could get out. After that, even though we still ignored “This college is closed” signs, we made sure that we could at least find our way back the way we came.
So after that (according to the pictures of my camera, the order they are taken in is such a good way to recording what you did in a day and when you did it) we went to Magdelen College (pronounced ‘mawd-len’ here for some reason) which is where Oscar Wilde studied. This is the rich kids college, it even has it’s own deer park. It’s got some gargoyles that were supposed to be the inspiration for the stone statues in CS Lewis’ Narnia. Here is a picture of the central quad and the bunch of guys I was knocking around with for most of the day. We then made our way to the Magdelen great tower, which is just under 500 years old and about 50 meters high. We tried to find a way up, but all the doors were locked. We went and asked the porters and they said the only way to get up there was to find a student willing to accompany us (insurance reasons apparently, all the students need to sign something before they can go up). Being midday Saturday though we couldn’t find anyone willing to take us. We even tried knocking on a few doors to no avail. Oh well.
We went to a pub for lunch. I can’t remember it’s name, or anything interesting about it, and I don’t have any pictures either, so it must not have been very important. We then wandered around some more; saw a whole lot of other landmarks (which I am just too tired right now to write about, but I do have pictures of) before finding our way to The Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford. It was crap so we went elsewhere. We saw a library and a museum, and another museum, and too many other colleges to count, and then it started to rain slightly so we decided to go for a drink.
We then made our way to the Turf Tavern which, according to the Lonely Planet, is “a perennial student favourite”. It’s tucked away down this little side alley off one of the main streets in the city centre. There are no elaborate signs to tell you the way, just the words Turf written in black on the alley wall. The place had was great, it had brazier’s out the back and you could buy marshmallow’s to roast (though they were £2 a bag!) It was also home to some famous events, featuring notable figures such as Bill Clinton and Bob Hawke. He drank a few pints there until it got too cold to sit outside (even in front of the fires) so we decided to make our way to the pre-organised meet up point of O’Neil’s pub. Everyone who came on the trip was supposed to meet there first before we made our way back to the bus.
We arrived at O’Neil’s, had some dinner, drank some more beer, and then all of a sudden it was time to go catch our bus. Somehow everyone arrived on time, so the bus left on time, and we started our trip home. Nick, one of the NESS reps who I had been hanging out with for most of the day had a bottle of pre-mixed vodka with him, so that tided us over until we go back to Nottingham. The bus stopped right outside the Ark, which is the student union bar, but there was a big line of people outside waiting to get in. Originally we were going to relax for a couple of hours there (it was only 10pm at that point) but nobody really wanted to stand in line for an hour. All of a sudden the fire alarm went off, the back door opened, and everyone started pouring out. We all tried to get inside the back door afterwards (and thus avoid the lines), but in the end a couple of us gave up and walked back to Jubilee campus. On the way back we bumped into Bruce and Graeme who were walking home from the sport centre after playing some squash, so we kicked a football to each other for the rest of the way home, then went to the hall bar to warm up. After a few drinks I hit the sack, thoroughly exhausted from a very long but very enjoyable day.

One thought on “Oxford

  1. That’s it! I want to go to oxford…. so jealous again… and so cool that you just got to wander around the university. At the Sorbonne in Paris they have guards checking everyone’s student card. Not cool at all.

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