· On foot: walks in Oxford
Your very first walk must be to the Information Centre. There is such a vast wealth of colourful anecdote and history in this city - looking with an informed eye cannot but enhance any sightseeing you do. The Centre can provide so much to enrich your experience of Oxford.
Towards the back of the shop you will find the slim booklets with sturdy buff covers, the 'Oxford Town Trails'. Each trail focuses on a particular Oxford association (e.g. 'Presidents, Prime Ministers and other Political Persons', or 'Poets, Novelists and other Literary Persons'). These are immensely good value for £1.50, packed with information, illustrated with simple line drawings and fitting comfortably into the palm of the hand, they are the perfect accompaniment on a walk.
'Women In Oxford': with this guide you can follow in the footsteps of famous women achievers - all Oxford graduates. Women were not given equal status with their male counterparts until 1920, following much vocal opposition (e.g. "A woman is a creature that cannot reason and pokes the fire from the top"). Even more damning; "Inferior to us God made you, and inferior to the end of time you will remain."
Catherine Moore, a centenarian who became a writer in her seventies and won the prize for ‘Best First Novel’ at the age of 85, was up at Oxford just after the First World War. She can remember how in 1918, bells tolled all over Oxford because of the flu epidemic. Catherine, daughter of a very enlightened mother, speaks of her Oxford years as the happiest time of her life, where she made life-long friends. In her day, if you wanted to entertain a man in your room, you had to have a "poor, long-suffering don" as a chaperone.
During her final year at Oxford, women were awarded degrees. Queen Mary came to give the awards.
But, Catherine's English professor told her, only one first could be awarded in each of the women’s colleges, otherwise it would seem as though men were inferior. At her college a beautiful girl was given the degree on the basis that it would be no threat to anyone, since she would be sure to marry anyway.
Catherine is a Quaker who believes in the power of faith and love. Still writing, "about things that have disappeared in my lifetime", still pursuing other interests and participating fully in life, Catherine advises "Be as interested as you can be in as many things and as many people as you can be".
If you have your children along, pick up the 'O for Oxford' guide. 'Over 100 things to do in Oxford and near by'. This alphabetical town trail is most edifying and entertaining and features 'things to find' and an intriguing quiz. Fun for adults, too.
If your time budget is strictly limited get the 'Quick Guide to Oxford', which is designed to help you make the most of a day or two in the city. It lists places of interest , features an excellent colour keyed map, and an illustrated guided walk, taking you through the most significant parts of the city. Although the walk 'requires only an hour or so at a gentle pace', you'll need to allow time to explore at least some of the places of interest.
· The Oxford Science Walk
The is an excellent booklet called the `Oxford Science Walk' by Sophie Huxley.
The walk spans the time between the founding of the University (and the work of `Doctor Mirabilis'’) in the 13th century and milestones in the current century (e.g. the development of penicillin).
It begins in the august and ancient Botanic Garden. Built on the banks of the Cherwell before the English Civil War, it is the oldest botanic garden in Britain.
(It was here that the wanton yellow flowered Oxford Ragwort (Senecio Squalidus), native of Sicily, escaped her confines, colonised Oxford walls, then set about conquering the rest of Southern England by way of the Great Western Railway (opened in 1844 between Oxford and London). Her parachute- like seeds were swept along in the turbulence created by the locomotives, and she was rather partial to the clinker which reminded her of the volcanic soil in her native land).
From such illustrious beginnings the walk ends on a down-beat note. In the Westgate shopping centre (Who was it said that shopping centres are the new cathedrals?) only a plaque indicates that this was once the site of the friary where Roger Bacon lived and worked and where, in 1267, in his Opus Majus he predicted both cars and aircraft, and that the world is round and could be navigated. He gave us the magnifying glass and definitions of reflection and refraction. Bacon, a Franciscan, who displayed prodigious energy and zeal in the pursuit of experimental science, was imprisoned for his pains and although he had friends in high places, they could not prevent his incarceration for an unknown period.
Here, then, is a rewarding, thought provoking walk that takes in along the way the work of Alexander Fleming and his team, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Edmund Halley, Albert Einstein and others.
The booklet is available from the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. The museum is unfortunately closed for building work until 2000. However you can order the booklet by mail to
The Secretary (Book orders),
Museum of the History of Science,
Oxford, OX1 3AZ
An abridged version of the booklet is also available on the web.
· The Inklings Walking Tour
Presented by the Museum of Oxford, in conjunction with the Oxford Inklings exhibition, you can follow in the footsteps of C S Lewis, JRR Tolkein and their fellow Inklings. An experienced local guide will take you to the places they lived, the pubs and colleges where they met to discuss their work and where they read aloud to each other instalments of their latest books. All venues are in the heart of the city.
Tickets: £5, which includes entry to the Exhibition.
Times: Every Wednesday at 11 am (afternoon tours by arrangement).
Duration: About 90 minutes
Booking: Advisable. Tel: 01865 252761
The Museum of Oxford presents the Oxford Inklings: CS Lewis, C Williams, JRR Tolkein.
This exhibition, running from 11 June to November, celebrates the lives and work of Oxford’s most famous literary group. Lewis and Tolkein were both Oxford men. They came up as undergraduates and lived all their lives in this city (apart from Tolkein who taught in Leeds for a while). Lewis, a fellow of Magdalen College where he lectured on Medieval and Renaissance English, was the central figure in the Inklings during the 1940s. Tolkein became Professor of Anglo Saxon in the University in 1973.
The exhibition includes exchanges of letters between Tolkein, Lewis and Williams, First Editions from the archives of the Oxford University Press and art work from the large collection of Tolkein’s paintings and pictures, including sketches and paintings used to illustrate The Hobbit.
There is also a special Children’s Exhibition, featuring activities for families and children from toddlers to young teen-age. Included are games, stories, dragon activities, drawing and writing based on the Narnia stories.
The Inklings fervently believed in the usefulness of fiction to propagate the Christian faith. Tolkein always denied an allegorical content in his work, but readers will inevitably find within its framework of a created mythology, conflict between good and evil.
The watershed in the life of CS Lewis was his conversion to Christianity in 1929, before which he had been a confirmed atheist. But this apparently sudden conversion had in fact been underpinned by his close study of 17th century poetry, the novel Phantastes by the Scottish writer George MacDonald (which he first read as a boy) and by conversations and arguments with Tolkein, Owen Barfield, Nevill Coghill and HVD Dyson, the nucleus of the Inklings.
Although Lewis’s post conversion work argues strongly for the kind of fundamental religion of one’s childhood, (anti-scientific,anti-intellectual), his later religious work is reflective and personal rather than discursive and crammed with logic. It was significantly influenced by the death of his wife in 1960.
That Hideous Strength, which he wrote in 1945 is a powerful fiction about the destructive, dehumanising impulses of science, and seems today particularly poignant in the light of genetic engineering and the terminator gene.
In this secular age, the Chronicles of Narnia have appeal perhaps because, rather than in spite of their underlying tenets of Christian belief and traditional morality.
· Guided Walking Tours
There is a list of walking tours on the Oxford Link page. Here are some other ideas we would like to suggest:
For a guided tour of the town of a two hour duration (pace is described as 'leisurely') buy a ticket from the Information Office. Tours leave here every day of the year (even on Christmas Day!) at 11.00am and 2.00pm. Even if the Office is closed the guide will be outside.
· Riverside Walks
Head for Christ Church Meadow, a vast ecological reserve and place of relaxation. A refuge for town-and-gowners, and satiated tourists. Find the River Thames at the end of Poplar Walk.
· Port Meadow
One of the few places in England whose use as grazing land has remained unchanged throughout the centuries. Listed in the Domesday Book, it pre-dates this to the Iron Age. The Meadow has never been ploughed and until recently, had never been sprayed. The River Isis meanders through its vast acreage. Come here and be peaceful amidst space and sky. Put a few sugar lumps or an apple in your pocket for the horses and roam the meadow with them.
There is also river access from Angel and Greyhound Meadow on the East side of Magdelen Bridge. A good place to relax after shopping and sightseeing, or for a picnic lunch