This is the day that I joined the Backroads tour to see Wales, the middle bits of England and then to see a smidge of Scotland. I’m going to be doing this over the next 9 days. I was a bit worried that the tour was going to be a minibus full of loud Americans, but thankfully there’s only 6 of us and we’re all Aussies and New Zealanders. I’m the youngest by about 20 years and most of them walk slower than I do, so I’m playing this part by ear. In the free time I’ve spent some of it with them and some zipping off on my own.
Oxford was a very pretty place. We met our tour guide, a lovely boy doing his final year in History called Charlie, and we spent two hours walking around hearing about the history of Oxford Uni and ducking in and out of buildings.
This statue is of Archbishop Cranmer and his friends, who were burned at the stake by Mary I (or ‘Bloody Mary’, as she became known after doing things like this) in Oxford in 1556. Amazing stuff, that he held his hand in the flames until it was burned to a crisp before the fire took any other part of him. (It’s in the link as to why he did it.)
Charlie then took us around the corner to this spot, set into the road, which marks the spot where the three men were burned. He said that when Cranmer was burning, the winds suddenly whipped up to such an extent that the flames went wild and set buildings under the city walls alight, with gates of some of the colleges being set alight too. People had to run for their lives and it was thought that it was a sign of God’s displeasure.
We ducked in to see Balliol. Ignore the closed part… this was the back of it. I just wanted you to see how old this college is…
That’s a lot of essays however you look at it.
Here’s shot of the inner quad. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your student days in a place like this?
We went up to a chapel, but to Charlie’s surprise a choir was singing in there.
That’s Jean peeping in; one of the women on the tour.
We saw some beautiful buildings, as well as this one: the Bridge of Sighs. When I get to Venice I’ll be able to compare it to the one there. Though Charlie said that it wasn’t actually based on the Venice one; it was based on one at Cambridge Uni, so naturally Oxford made their one bigger and better!
The Bodleian Library. The wall you can see houses the oldest books in the collection on the upper floors. By ancient decree, students have to swear: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.” Charlie said that students recently decided to test this out by bringing a kindle (as in an electronic book reading device) and sure enough… they were banned from going in!
This is the Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren, the guy who designed St Paul’s Cathedral that was I was in just the day before. It was built in 1664-1669 and they still use it. It’s not for plays, unfortunately; they use it for debates and the like.
It started to rain. In the middle of summer. What’s wrong with this country?
I lifted the brolly enough to snap this photo. Harry Potter was shot here. These windows are in the infirmary where Harry had to get his arm bones put back in after Guilderoy Lockhart vanished them, while the upper level was the library at Hogwarts.
This is Blackwell’s Books, where I bought my Oxford souvenir, a first edition of Go Set a Watchman. It was the first day it was released. After having taught To Kill A Mockingbird for so many years, I’m really looking forward to reading this. So is Tom23, of which fact I’m inordinately proud. Tom23, (and the other boys): I’m bringing this home with me and if you look after it you can read it. xx
Here’s the only shot of Oxford I was able to take without it being packed with tourists and students.
After we’d finished, we had an hour and a half to wander around in. Charlie told us about an exhibition that was in the new library that sounded like the chance of a lifetime. All of these old, original books and manuscripts were there, including the Magna Carta, a first edition of Shakespeare’s First Folio, St Thomas More’s Utopia etc etc. As soon as the tour was finished I ducked into a sandwich shop, ate my bread roll while I was walking down the street and as soon as I was finished I raced into the exhibition. I took loads of photos.
I was surprised at how plain this was. I think I was expecting an illuminated manuscript or something, but this is what it looked like.
How incredible is this?
First The Globe, then this and the Statford on Avon with Scott in a couple of week’s time. I’m going to send this photo to my Head of Dept at work. He’s a rabid Shakespeare fan.
I took many other photos of things like :
A first edition of St Thomas More’s Utopia
Two notebooks written by Elizabeth I when she was practising her calligraphy as a girl.
The Gutenberg Bible.
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, that he hand-coloured himself. (I saw his marker in St Paul’s the day before, too.
Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, written in his own handwriting!
Handel’s original conducting score of The Messiah, with his handwritten notes in the margins. (I took this one for you, David 21. I also have photos of Elizabethan pianos, or their equivalent. I’ll show you when I get home.)
A Jane Austen notebook written as an amusement for her family when she was a teenager.
A first edition of Isaac Newon’s Principia mathematica. (I saw his marker at Westminster Abbey…)
Now seriously, what are the odds of any of them surviving, but particularly this one? It was just a scrap of paper folded up and given to her. She must have really loved it, or it would’ve just been screwed up and thrown in the bin. This guy was the one whose statue was scorched in the Great Fire and is now in St Pauls Cathedral. These people are popping up everywhere!
Then we set off for the Cotswolds.
Not a bad looking place.
The next stop was a woolen mill in a little town at the edge of the Cotswolds. By law, every building put up in this area of the country has to be made of the local limestone. This has resulted in the prettiest little places I’ve ever seen in my life.
Look at the dry stone walls. These were everywhere, with the big rocks on top of them.
We were walking along the road when the Postman Pat van stopped in front of us. The postie laughed and moved out of the way when I asked if I could take a photo.
After we had our English tea, we walked down to the local church. It’s 1,000 years old.
It’s hard to comprehend how places like this still exist. It’s one thing for a palace or the Tower of London to be still kicking around, but little places like this have been used and inhabited all the way down the line. Incredible.
On the way to the village where we spent the night, we passed through a couple of gorgeous little market towns. This one was Burford.
Then Chipping Camden. How do the English come up with these names?
We saw this thatched cottage getting the thatch renewed.
And look at this impossibly pretty cottage.
Then we saw a folly. It’s Broadway Tower, on the top of Beacon Hill in the middle of nowhere.
To get to it we had to climb a stile. Yes! An actual stile! If I’d thought about it, a stile would’ve been on my List Of Things To See.
Just to prove that I did it.
It was so still up here. All we could hear was a few birds. You can see Wales from here on a clear day.
Then we came to our hotel for the night.
It’s the home of the Pudding Club. This was started in 1985 when some people became concerned that on all the menus on offer, there were no traditional English puddings being made. It was all fancy schmancy Fench stuff. So now they meet every Friday and have the puddings. They were delicious!