Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 1

This week I have been reading How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger, in which she describes a tour of England she and her family made in the 1950s, visiting sites associated with beloved children's books. I dream of one day being able to make a literary tour of England of my own - in the dim and distant future when time and money allow - along with a kindred spirit who shares a love of the same books. For now all I can do is dream, and I thought it would be fun to share my fantasy virtual tour of literary England. So please join me as we set off on day 1 ...

Day 1: Oxford (C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Oxford is just under an hour's drive from our home and is associated with two of my absolute favourite authors so I have to make it my starting point - even though I have visited most of these places several times, and have already had the opportunity to share them with friends. Our first stop is Wolvercote cemetery to visit the grave of J.R.R.Tolkien and his wife. Here I'll pick a small sprig of rosemary as a souvenir ("rosemary for remembrance").

Strangely, one thing I have never yet done in Oxford is have a drink at the Eagle and Child pub, known to Tolkien, Lewis and their friends who made up the Inklings as the "Bird and Baby". Definitely an omission that needs to be rectified! If we time things right we could go to Mass first at the Oxford Oratory, just a hundred yards or so down the road. Tolkien regularly attended Mass at this Church and one of my favourite poets, the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, was once a curate here.

One of the most beautiful of the Oxford colleges is Magdalen, where C.S.Lewis taught for thirty years. We can walk in the grounds, watch the deer in the deer park and look up at the Lewis's room in the "New" Building ("new" here is relative, as it was built in the eighteenth century).

After Magdalen we can visit the oldest college in Oxford and a personal favourite of mine - Merton, where Tolkien was Professor of English.

There are so many other tempting literary stops in Oxford that it just isn't possible to visit them all. If we have time we could add in Blackwell's bookshop (the largest in England), the Bodleian library, which dates back to the fifteenth century and holds copies of every book published in the UK, and if - like me - you enjoy Harry Potter, Christchurch College to see where some of the Hogwarts scenes were filmed for the movies.

Phew! After all that, my feet ache! I need to sit down with a nice pot of tea ... and sandwiches ... and scones and cream ... and cake. I think we should follow in Tolkien and Lewis's footsteps and round off the day with afternoon tea at the Randolph Hotel.