London to Oxford – Big City to University Town

It’s time to move on – we’ve spent 14 days in London, toured 12 Museums, saw 3 amazing plays, rode buses from East London to West London, attended Services in Cathedrals and local parish churches, worked at an Organic Wine Fair, even enjoyed a gourmet meal at “House” at the National Theatre. So – London done – we’re on to Oxford.

Oxford – town of 38 colleges that together make up one University – the University of Oxford. Not surprisingly – there sure are a lot of students here. And with all that youth comes plenty of coffee shops, lots of walking tours – and the 2nd largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.

The Bodleian Library has well over 153 miles (230 KM) of shelving, and adds 1000 books and 2000 periodicals a WEEK. It’s huge. And housed in bits and pieces, all connected by underground tramways, throughout all of Oxford, plus the new huge facility outside of Oxford in the town of South Marston for less used books. Clearly it’s a must do tour – and being the budget travelers we are – we opted for the lowest cost option – an audio tour that allowed us in to see only one small part – the Divinity College. And really only one tiny part of that – but a very nice part it was. For a bit more you can take a guided tour of the Humphrey Library – which is featured in Harry Potter when they are searching the ‘reserved’ section. But we were content with the Audio Guide and simply looking around.

Best part of the tour – and it was free to everyone – were the two special Exhibitions in the ‘new’ Weston Library (First built in 1937 as the ‘New Bodleian’ and extensively renovated and re-opened to the public in 2015 – it’s beautiful). The first was on Volcanos, and featured books dating from 1430 onward that had drawings of the supposed inner workings of Volcanos. Incredible to think that this library has kept these books safe for so very long. The 2nd exhibition, entitied Treasures of the Bodlian Library, is a revolving exhibition of rare finds. The version we saw featured contrasting items – in one case there was an original copy of the Magna Carta from the 13th century, complete with rodent chewed holes where the document had been folded for storage – and not properly stored at that. In the same case, the contrasting item was a book so small that it was shown chained to a life sized mouse – who could have easily dragged it around.

Other remarkable treasures – one of the First Folios of Shakespeare (not such a big deal as per the easy to read description – there are 233 known copies), and most impressive to me – a copy of Tycho Brahe’s “Astronomiae instauratae mechanica” dated 1598. This is the data collection that allowed his assistant, Johannes Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. 1598. Imagine.

We then wandered over to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, known best for it’s outstanding glass topped building and wonderful displays of strange things – including the bones of the last Dodo. Famously, this is the spot known to have been visited by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland”. The best section was a new exhibit hidden high up on a balcony and dedicated to new research on the brain. This very intriguing exhibit focused on the growth and development of the brain, carefully tracing it’s changes from pre-birth to old age. So interesting.

The day before we’d ‘done’ the Ashmolean. This huge museum has literally something for everyone, and then some. Our favorite section was on the challenges related to conservation, including detecting frauds, using UV to check for repair work, and a series of displays on making the decision to repair vs leave it as it is. Clearly being a museum curator isn’t as easy as one might imagine!

Naturally – I had to visit the Harry Potter ‘sights’ – including catching a glimpse into the courtyard used for learning to use your broomstick at New College (New in 1379). We also checked out Blackwell’s – billed as one of the worlds largest book stores with 7 km of shelving – and winding under Trinity college from a tiny and easily missed door front on Broad Street.

Our visit culimated in Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Christ Church College. It is ‘song’ nightly, sometimes by the church choir, sometimes by visiting choirs, sometimes by just male voices. We lucked into the male voice version – and it was glorious. Mostly done without organ music (A Cappalla) – the 14 choir members filled the huge space with wonderful sound.

What did we miss? We didn’t get into the Pitt River Collection – so we didn’t get to gawk at the shrunken heads. It was closed for a university function. We did wander into the Covered Market, but didn’t think it so remarkable. We checked out the college quads that were easily visible thru their wrought iron gates, and spent time chatting up a guide in St. Mary’s Parish Church – the official Church of the University of Oxford, with sections going back to the Medevial history of Oxford.

We skipped most of the modern part of Oxford, and sadly didn’t get to go into a pub. But lovely Lucy’s lodging, that we found thru Air BnB, was right on the river – so we did get to admire the boats on the water.

All in All – it was a great visit – but we need to get on – and Birmingham is our next stop. First thing tomorrow we will pack out bags and head on out to the bus station.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

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