It’s wedding season in the northern hemisphere and I really mean it – I’m surprised by how distinct this time of year is. People flock to have their weddings during the summer months; all the stores offer wedding-appropriate dresses, and articles abound on wedding etiquette and fashion. This probably is genuinely due to the weather being pretty awful for weddings during the rest of the year. We were fortunate enough to be able to join friends for their wedding in Kenilworth. On the way back, we spent a few hours in Oxford.
The wedding was an excuse to rent the cutest little bright red car and head off on a road trip. The most significant observation – fast lanes are a real thing in England. No one hangs out in the far right lane; it is used only for overtaking. People will drive in the slow lane on the far left or sit pretty in the middle. This makes for a lot of lane changing as people weave around slower drivers, but it’s not done aggressively and no one acts like a lunatic about it. The only time we saw car look agitated was when a vehicle did not observe the ‘fast lane’ rules and drove at a leisurely pace on the far right, causing the vehicle behind it to brake. After some passive-aggressive tailgating, the slow vehicle finally popped back into the middle lane, allowing the angsty car to speed off. It appears that outside of London, drivers are polite and rule abiding. They drive fast on their motorways but it’s all pretty straight and safe. We were really impressed by Brits on the road.
And the wedding was beautiful. It was a relaxed event with the weather playing along well. We engaged in a ceilidh after dinner which tested our abilities to follow instructions and exhibit hand-eye coordination. The hilarity that ensued brought out a lot of laughter and fun.
Oxford is dominated by the University; the campus is large and the history of the town is closely linked to the colleges. An unavoidable element of Oxford was the tour groups. Large groups of at least 50 children at a time filed past us, taking up all the footpath space, blocking traffic, and being constantly shouted at by their adult minders. There were also huge adult tour groups competing for space and photo opportunities. The countless tour groups and spattering of tourists like ourselves gave the town a crowded feeling you may expect in a larger city. We spent only a few hours in Oxford but even from such a short stop, we could understand why it is such a hot tourist destination. The town is picturesque with a rich and fascinating history.
We did a walking tour of Oxford including New College and Radcliffe Square. It was an informative tour that acted as a condensed history lesson on the formation and growth of the University. I won’t bore you with all that we were told but I will share a few interesting tidbits.
We walked past the narrowest of alley ways which led down to an old and well known pub where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke claimed the Guinness world record for the fastest drinking of a yard of beer – 11 seconds. Something for Aussies to be proud of there!
Some of you may already know that C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, used to hang out at Oxford with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. It is said that the inspiration for the first scene in Narnia is inspired by one street C.S. Lewis walked down by Radcliffe Square. The story goes that it was a cold snowy winter evening when C.S. Lewis turned down this street and saw a lonely lamp post glowing (the first thing the children see in Narnia), and he walked past a building which had two fauns on either side of the entrance (a.k.a Mr Tumnus), and on the door itself was a lion head (a.k.a. Aslan). It sounds like a nice story and while it can’t be confirmed, I find myself wishing it is true!
Several parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed on location at Oxford university. A particularly recognisable area was a courtyard in New College where the scene in which Malfoy is turned into a ferret was filmed.
Oxford University is also home to the Bodleian Library. It is the second largest library in Britain (after the British Library),and holds more than 12 million items. As a research library, it is only open to Oxford students, staff and members – membership which is not a simple matter to obtain. The library is vast, covering five buildings on the site. A more accessible book lovers sanctuary can be found in Blackwells, a great bookstore on site that we popped into upon recommendation from our guide. Look out for the next blog post on this bookstore and another store I have visited recently in London.
P.S. Before heading back to London, we refueled the incredible Jimbob’s Baguettes – you should definitely stop by for a sandwich if you’re in the area. The bread is fantastic, and the dude is hilarious and friendly. Plus, they have the right attitude when it comes to bacon.