Images in the third panel may disturb some vegetarians/vegans. If you do not like the image of animal carcasses, do not scroll down in this post.
I’ve not been a Cambridge student for 3 months, yet it is very easy to buy into the rivalry between the two universities. So visiting Oxford felt very much like enemy territory.
Nevertheless, we were there as tourists and ready to explore and have a good time. We left our accommodation and went into town. Our first stop was the Oxford Botanical Gardens. Unlike the botanic gardens back home in Adelaide, which aim to be a nice place to have a picnic, the Oxford gardens feel much like a catalogue of plants from across Britain and the world. We were there in winter, so there wasn’t much in flower or leaf, but this still fascinated my landscaping-obsessed father. We grow many of the plants back home (European varieties perform quite well in the Adelaidean landscape), so he was constantly commenting on the varieties he had grown himself. My mother, who spends much of her time in her vegetable garden, also enjoyed the various displays, and they each took lots of photographs to help mimic techniques back home. Over particular interest were the greenhouses, each set to a differing climate (arid, tropical, alpine) and displayed even more exotic varieties. We couldn’t take photographs from there; not because they were forbidden, but because condensation formed on the camera after mere seconds. Finally, there was a Christmas tree that had been decorated using only natural products as decorations, which was an impressive feat on its own.
We wandered further into town, past the many older colleges. To get a good view, we climbed the tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin. From here, we could see into the college grounds, of which many have familiar yet foreign names to me as a Cambridge student. It was a good place to start to get bearings on the city as a whole.
Near the church was the covered market. I didn’t really know what to expect; the first few stalls were the stereotypical trinket shops, but further in, there were some very fancy-looking foliage, cake and pie stores. But the most amazing part were the couple of butchers in the centre of the market. Not only did they have carved and cut-up meats in freezers, but they had many headless turkeys, pheasants, quails, boar, game, ducks and geese hanging in full view of the passing public, such that you could go and touch them as they hung. Some even still had skin. It was simply bizarre.
After a quick trip to the Oxford Castle Mound (we didn’t go into the museum), we made our way to Christ Church, one of the colleges of the University. Of particular interest here was the dining hall, supposedly the one which inspired the Great Hall in the Harry Potter film series. It is familiar to many of the older Cambridge colleges, with long tables for the students and a higher fellow’s table at the back. Pictures of the past fellows line the walls, with Henry VII resplendent on the rear wall. This was the first time that my parents had been in one of these older dining halls, and it was worth the visit. The college has a nice courtyard and chapel as well. But I still like the Cambridge ones better.
We had afternoon tea at one of the cafés on the high street. The rest of our time in Oxford was all about books. First, we went to the Blackwell’s Bookshop with its enormous Norrington Room, a massive floorspace of books and music. After, we went to the Bodleian Library; the library of the University of Oxford. We managed to get two places on the next guided tour of the old library, so Mum and I joined on while Dad went to explore the Muesum of the History of Science (which he later showed us to). The library was fascinating, the guide showed us where students used to take their exams many years ago, and then took us to the Duke Humfrey’s Library, a room wall to wall with books hundreds of years old, which used to be chained in place. It is It is an absolutely fascinating place, well worth the visit.
It was now evening, and time to head on to our next destination. It was about an hour and a half drive to the tiny village of Cholderton, near Salisbury. We were staying in a youth hostel converted from a farm house. Dinner was a collection of pre-prepared food we picked up in a supermarket in Oxford. We set our alarms early, there was something special planned for the next day.