Oh England, not even your blustery rainy weather will not dampen my spirits. Armed with an umbrella that has a tendency to flip inside out during my hour of need and a flimsy raincoat for protection, I set off with an ambitious goal to successfully tour both Oxford & Cambridge in one day… and I must highlight that I use the term tour loosely. You could spend an eternity exploring the extraordinary academic history of these two marvellous university towns, alas my employer would not grant me an eternity of paid leave, so I had to compromise. Next time I will certainly allocate more time to marvel at these ancient colleges in more depth, yet even on limited time I left with hundreds of photographs and enough to say that I have written a dedicated post on each town separately, rather than together as planned.
The beauty of visiting any university town is that you can merely wander about and enjoy the facades, gardens, and landscapes, but the interior of each college is a unique microcosm containing a community of students and faculty with their own culture and values. You can easily spend a day aimlessly meandering about town, but to see and experience the real Oxford and Cambridge, you do need to go inside the colleges and libraries to see the locals in their natural environment.
Oxford University is made up nearly 40 different colleges with designated areas open to visitors, click HERE for opening times and admission details.
As a literature and history graduate, I place the greatest value on my scholarly achievements. I had four beautiful years just to read, think, ponder and question the world. Literature is the perfect creative spring board and my own time at university took me on such a wonderful academic journey. From my own perspective, universities and libraries are as hallowed as any church, especially those steeped in as much history and prestige as Oxford and Cambridge.
My own graduation day was a blur of happiness. There is something incredibly rewarding about learning. It’s a painful and time consuming process fuelled by adrenaline and anxiety. Your muscles hurt because you’ve been hunched over your laptop for two days straight agonising over every word you have just written, wondering whether you should just delete everything and become a stripper instead. It’s an incredibly solitary experience and I will never forget that quiet moment when I submitted my last ever assignment. There were no fireworks or champagne toasts, it was just me and an oddly satisfying sense of accomplishment, and it wasn’t until I was having my robes and academic cap fitted and being able to share the moment with my family made all those hours of study worthwhile.
Oxford (founded 1096) is the second oldest university in the world, second only to the University of Bologna. Think old cobblestone streets, beautiful green meadows, honey coloured stone buildings, quadrangles and cloisters, and magnificent libraries and reading rooms bursting with books and students chasing their dreams.
As a first time visitor with only about four hours to spare, I started my day just strolling around the heart of the city, absorbing the beauty of the architecture and the grandeur of the colleges. As a diehard Harry Potter fan, I also wanted to see some of the locations used in the films. Here is a list of my favourite places to visit during my very short jaunt around rainy Oxford, which was predominantly spent inside Christ Church College and the main public areas of the city.
- The Bodleian Library is the second largest in the United Kingdom, housing over 12 million books, including the circular Radcliffe Camera.
- The Bridge of Sighs – or officially known as Hertford Bridge, which forms a walkway through Hertford College over New College Lane.
- The Divinity School – a beautiful medieval building, recognisable as the Hogwarts Hospital Wing in the Harry Potter film series.
- The Christ Church Dining Hall – the dining hall used by students who attend the college, which is reminiscent of the Hogwarts Great Hall.
- Christ Church Memorial Gardens – a lovely place to begin your visit to Christ Church College, I particularly loved the beautiful circular garden.
Alice fell down the rabbit hole to Wonderland through the pen of writer Lewis Carroll, who studied and taught at Christ Church College in Oxford. Virginia Woolf wrote her essay A Room of One’s Own while in residence at Cambridge University. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking made new discoveries at Cambridge that expanded on theories originally formulated by Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Mathematician Alan Turing studied at Cambridge and went on to devise what is essentially the basis for modern computing and inventing a machine decrypted the German enigma code that contributed to the victory of the allied forces in the Second World War. Tolkien and Lewis would meet at the Eagle and Child in Oxford to discuss their fictional worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. When you are there, be sure to look out for the blue plaques that outline the ideas and discoveries that were dreamt, created, thought, developed, and discovered within the colleges.
So many brilliant minds were both students and teachers at Oxford or ‘Oxonians’ as they have become known – Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Lady Antonia Fraser, C.S. Lewis, Dr Suess, J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Thatcher, John Le Carré, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bill Clinton, Rowan Atkinson, and Tony Blair.
It was so beautiful to walk around the grounds of Christ Church with a local student, hearing about the history of the college and their own experience studying at Oxford. As a keen Harry Potter fan, I have to say that going inside Christ Church was the highlight of my day. Founded during the reign of Henry VIII by Wolsey, Christ Church is the most well known of the 38 colleges. The dining hall hosts the daily ritual of meal time for resident students, an image well known as the inspiration for the Hogwarts Great Hall in Harry Potter. Long tables, a grand fireplace, surrounded by portraits of famous monarchs and formers heads of the college. It really does feel like you are stepping foot inside a place touched by magic, a setting that has witnessed centuries of tradition and history.
Just outside the dining room is the infamous grand staircase from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where the first year students meet Professor Minerva McGonagall before they enter the Great Hall to be sorted by the Sorting Hat, who remembers Neville Longbottom searching for his missing frog Trevor on these steps?
As we were (very sadly) due to depart, we made a quick stop to look around inside the Christ Church Cathedral, with its beautiful fan vaulted ceilings, spectacular rose window, and 800 years of history. Although I’m not a religious person now, I did grow up with religion and I have always loved the serenity of the church.
To continue on with your tour of Oxbridge, click HERE to visit my post about Cambridge University.