Oxford is a seat of learning and by its very nature has connections to many classic authors; but there are some modern-day tales that also have their roots in the historic University city. From Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and Narnia, Naomi MacKay takes readers on a journey not just into Oxford, but into the books and films they love
Christ Church College
Christ Church College is one of the filming locations for both Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets. During University holidays it is possible to stay in the college itself, where you can eat your breakfast or evening meal surrounded by the Tudor architecture of the Grand Hall, which was the inspiration for the set design of Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Walk along the cloisters where Harry and his school chums are often pictured strolling, and stand on the stairs up to the Great Hall where Harry was welcomed on his first day at Hogwarts.
Rooms start at £52 per night. All of the colleges accept large groups, which you can book via www.universityrooms.com or by contacting the colleges directly. There may be a discount for larger groups, which varies from college to college. If you book St Stephen’s House, you’ll get 10% discount on bookings of £550 or more.
Take a tour of the Bodleian Library, allowing access to the Divinity School, which served as Hogwarts Infirmary in four films. It is also where Professor McGonnagal taught students to dance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The guide will also take visitors into the Duke Humfrey’s Library, which served as Hogwarts’ library.
Group visits must be booked in advance. Advance group bookings for guided tours can’t be taken on Sundays, June to September inclusive and for July or August. To make a booking or enquiry fill in the enquiry form at www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/visit/old-bodleian/tickets-and-booking/enquiry-form, call 01865 287400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the northwest corner of the cloisters grass quadrangle you’ll see the great Holm Oak, the location where Mad-Eye Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson) came to study mathematics at Christ Church College in 1851. The ‘real’ Alice was Alice Liddell, the daughter of a Dean at Christ Church. The seeds were sown for the story of Alice in Wonderland when Carroll, accompanied by the three Liddell sisters, set off on a rowing trip up the River Isis to Godstow. He began telling the tale of a girl called Alice and they begged him to put pen to paper – two years later Alice’s Adventures was published. They set off from Folly Bridge where the Head of the River pub and the Folly Restaurant sits with its floating riverside terrace, where groups can enjoy afternoon tea, interactive cocktail masterclasses or a dining cruise aboard a river boat. Enquire at www.no1-folly-bridge.co.uk/group-bookings
Christ Church College
Christ Church College holds many links to Alice Liddell. In the Great Hall, there is a window dedicated to Alice, which depicts Alice Liddell, Dodgson, the Dodo, Alice and other characters from Wonderland. Look for the portrait of Dodgson to the right of the door, and Dean Liddell’s portrait, which is located to the left of the High Table. Remember to look for the brass firedogs, which are said to have inspired the image of Alice, with a long neck that seemed ‘to rise like a stalk’.
The college is also home to Christ Church – one of the largest colleges in the University of Oxford and the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Oxford. Inside the cathedral, a friendly guide will point out the keyhole through which you can peer and see the door that took Alice into Wonderland. Ask them to open the door and you will see the great horse chestnut tree, which still stands in the Deanery Garden where the Cheshire Cat sat. The church’s St Catherine Window is dedicated to Alice’s sister Edith, who died at the tender age of 22, while the St Frideswide Window features the ‘treacle’ (healing) well at Binsey, which is mentioned at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Guided Tours for groups of 10 or more costs £13 per adult, with concessions at £11.
Alice Day – July 2, 2016
Alice Day is a yearly celebration of Alice In Wonderland, with 2015 marking the 100th anniversary of the book’s publication. The Story Museum coordinates Alice Day, with more than 20 partner venues across Oxford, including The Bodleian, Ashmolean, Museum of Natural History & Pitt Rivers, Botanic Garden and more. Free events transform Oxford into Wonderland for a day, with Mad Tea Parties, Human Croquet, The Caucus Race, interactive storytelling and much more.
Find out more about Alice’s Day at www.storymuseum.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/alices-day/alices-day-2015-programme
Sitting on St. Aldate’s opposite the gates to Christ Church Meadow, sits Number 83, Alice’s Shop. Behind the red door is the shop where Alice Liddell loved to buy her barley sugar sweets. Inside, Alice fans will find all kinds of souvenirs, memorabilia and gifts suited to an Alice theme. Alice’s Shop also inspired the Old Sheep Shop featured in Through the Looking Glass.
MORSE AND LEWIS
Exeter, Trinity and Magdalen College
Oxford is also the well-known film location for Colin Dexter’s much-loved detectives Morse and Lewis. Exeter College was the place where John Thaw acted out his famous heart attack scene, while Trinity College and Magdalen have also been used in the programmes. If you want to follow in Endeavour Morse’s footsteps, have a coffee in the Morse Bar at the Randolph Hotel or stop off at some of his favourite pubs – The Eagle and Child, The White Horse, The Kings Arms and The Bear. All these pubs are in the city centre and have featured in episodes.
The Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street is the world’s first University museum. Built to house the cabinet of curiosities given to the University by Elias Ashmole in 1677, The Ashmolean Museum underwent major redevelopment in 2009. Since then, new galleries for Nubia and Egypt have also been opened. However, Morse fans will want to head for The Hunt in the Forest painting, which was featured in the Point of Vanishing episode.
All groups must book to visit The Ashmoleon Museum, even if they are self-guided. Entry is free although donations are welcomed. There are also a number of charged tours for adult groups (maximum size 12) starting at £8 a head. Book online at https://www.ashmolean.org/education/aboutus/howtoadults
Other Morse filming locations include University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Martyr’s Memorial, The Sheldonian Theatre and Blackwell’s Bookshop. A trip to Wolvercote will find you at The Trout Inn, which sits on the River Thames and was a popular haunt for Morse – with a pint in his hand of course.
While studying at Exeter College, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of The Rings. He was also a fellow of both Pembroke and Merton College during his time in Oxford. His grave can be found at Wolvercote Cemetery, where he is buried with his wife Edith. On the gravestone are the names Lúthien and Beren, which refer to the love of an elf maiden who gave up her immortality to be with the mortal warrior she loved (the story is told in both The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion). It echoes the life-long love affair between the writer and Edith, with whom he fell in love at just 16. Tolkein also loved the Botanic Garden and a tall Austrian pine inspired the walking, talking trees – the Ents – in the Lord of the Rings. Tolkein imagined that the Radcliffe Camera – a huge circular building – looked like Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Nümenor.
The Eagle and Child
Fans of The Hobbit or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe can also visit the Eagle and Child pub in St Giles Street where C.S Lewis and Tolkien used to meet as part of the Inklings literary group between 1933 and 1962. Look for the handwritten note to the landlord, which is above the fireplace and says: ‘The undersigned, having just partaken of your ham, have drunk to your health.’
There’s more for C.S Lewis fans around the city. Opposite the entrance to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Catte Street, there is a heavy wooden door with detailed carvings – in the centre sits the face of a lion. This is the so-called Narnia Door, which is said to have inspired Lewis to create the land beyond the wardrobe door. Lewis taught at Magdalen College, whose famous cloisters harbour animals carved into the stone pillars – which are believed to have inspired Lewis to write the scene where Aslan the lion breathes on all the creatures locked in stone to bring them back to life.
Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford Botanic Garden appears to have inspired many a writer in its time. It was a favourite place of Tolkein and in more recent times, it is where Will and Lyra vow to come every Midsummer’s Day to feel close to each other in their respective worlds at the end of the last book in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Head to the back of the gardens to find a bench with ‘Will and Lyra’ carved on it.
Guided Walking Tours
Oxford is small enough to cover on foot – and the fact that cars are limited in the city itself makes it an even more attractive proposition. There are a number of guided walking tours following in the footsteps of Morse, Harry Potter, J R R Tolkein, Alice and more. Oxford Official Guided Walking Tours offer private tours for groups, which can be tailor-made around your requirements and needs.
Call 01865 252037, email email@example.com or visit www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com/official-tours
Oxfordshire Groups Travel Desk
Telephone: 01865 252500