England 2014 (8) – Oxford

First visit to Oxford almost 10 years ago had been a bit of a rush, a few hours’ stopover simply could not do Oxford justice, and a rectification was in order. We took a day trip from London via Oxford Tube, which is a double deck bus that goes between London and Oxford every 30 minutes, all day long. We had originally planned on taking the train but Oxford Tube turned out better, less expensive and no connection required. It stops multiple times in London then a couple more once out of London but its overall travel time is the same as the train, two hours. Once in Oxford, you have multiple choices getting on and off. We got off on High Street at Radcliff Square.

Radcliff Square is probably the most iconic image of Oxford. At its center is the Radcliff Camera, an exquisite round building with an imposing dome towering over buildings all around; to the north is Bodleian Library, south, Church of St Mary the Virgin, east, All Souls College and west, Brasenose College; each striking in its golden hued finish and elaborate stone carvings.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a magnificent building with a soaring tower and spire. It was the first building of the university and the vault room on the ground floor that is currently a public café was built in 1320 and the meeting place of the congregation, i.e. ruling senior scholars. The church is free but the tower is accessible with a fee and the views from tower are spectacular. Food at the café was quite good.

Brasenose College was found 1509 and All Souls College has no students, only fellows, i.e. research scholars. While we did not tour Brasenose College and All Souls College this time, we took an extensive, guided tour of Bodleian Library. Bodleian Library is the quadrangle right north of Radcliff Camera, which is part of the library system itself. The quad is magnificent with gorgeous buildings on all sides. The Great Gate, or Tower of the Five Orders, is most exquisite. On the tower, five classic architecture orders, Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite, are showcased in top down order.

The oldest part of the library is the west wing where the tour took place. We started in Divinity School, which is the oldest room of the building and was built between 1427 and1488. Our volunteer guide sat us all down on the old wooden benches and started her narrative of the fascinating, long history of the library. She subsequently moved us to Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s Library, adding more narratives in each room. Convocation House is where the Parliament held Court during the Civil War. She explained about the distance between the benches; same as what you would see in Westminster, the benches were spaced apart at what was equivalent to two swords’ length plus one inch more. Duke Humfrey’s Library was built between 1444 and 1488. Former reader of this Library makes an unrivaled list, including five kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British Prime Ministers and famous writers such as Oscar Wilde, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

If you are J R R Tolkien fan, there is one other place to make a pilgrimage, The Eagle and Child, a pub where the writer used to gather with friends.

One of Oxford’s largest colleges, Christ Church College is magnificent in every way. But since becoming Harry Porter’s Hogwarts, it’s been turned into even more of a tourist magnet. On that Sunday, it was open for one hour only from 2 to 3pm so the line was long at the tour entrance located the Meadow building south of the college. Once you move through the line and pay for your admission, you are on your own to go through the cloister, the staircase, Great Hall, aka Hogwarts, Tom Quad and the cathedral. The only other place you might need to queue up again is at the Great Hall.

Oxford, with its steep history and breathtakingly beautiful architecture, is indeed magnificent and magical. But I think what makes Oxford even more impressive is the historic part it’s played in advancing public education and democracy.

Radcliff Camera

Radcliff Camera

The Church of St Mary the Virgin

The Church of St Mary the Virgin

The Great Gate of Bodleain Library

The Great Gate of Bodleain Library

All Souls College from SMV’s tower

All Souls College from SMV’s tower

Christ Church College - The Great Hall from the Meadow

Christ Church College – The Great Hall from the Meadow

Christ Church College - The Great Hall (Hogwarts)

Christ Church College – The Great Hall (Hogwarts)

Christ Church College - The Tom Quad

Christ Church College – The Tom Quad


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