Bubbles & Picnics!

At Walking Tours of Oxford….

We have missed you!

So now for … a BUBBLE TOUR! Possibly followed or preceded by…. A Bespoke Picnic!

Welcome back and let us organise a really special day for you!

With immediate effect, we are able to offer you our unique BUBBLE TOURS for a maximum of 5 people (plus guide to equal 6) at a reduced rate of just £65 throughout July and August only.

These can be taken on any day at a time to suit you (please note there is a supplement for a tour on a Sunday).  

We will be adhering to government guidelines and all tours will be outside for the entire duration (all colleges / university building remain closed and tours are 90 mins in length). Following recent relaxation in rules, we can now take larger groups (supplement applicable).

We have also teamed up with a local business – Bespoke Picnics – to offer you a full gastronomic and cultural experience.

Our bespoke picnic

Summer in Oxford is ideal for picnics and the leafy green University Parks or Christ Church Meadow are perfect places from which to start or end a tour.

Spread out your Bespoke Picnic blanket, open your wicker basket and tuck in!

Bespoke Picnics offers Finger Sandwiches with root vegetable crisps, Proper (Fresh!) Scones with clotted cream and delicious jam, followed by fresh strawberries with chocolate truffles for dessert.
You’ll need a tour to walk it off. We did!

Your guides have not been idle in the lockdown! We have been busily brushing up our knowledge and reading new information we would love to share.

Whether you want to learn more about the city close to which you live, of if you are on a Staycation or home educating the kids – this is a perfect and unique way to explore which will be tailored to you.

Just let us know if you have any particular interests you would like us to address or whether you would like a general introduction to Oxford. Take a look at our list of specialist tours for inspiration.

We are set to commence public tours from 1st August (although there will be a slightly reduced schedule – please see booking form for tour dates).  

N.B. For all public tours booked in July and August (for travel throughout the year), we are offering a 20% discount with the code ‘RETURN’. Just book as normal via the ‘Book Now’ button and enter the code at checkout.

Alice Day in Oxford

Alice Day in Oxford

4th July may be Independence Day in the US, but here in Oxford we celebrate Alice Day. This year it was a bit ‘virtual’ but usually you can bump into several ‘Alices’ wearing little blue dresses and ‘Alice’ bands and take guided ‘Alice walks’ around the city. At Walking Tours of Oxford we would be delighted to take you on an Alice tour any day of the year!
So, why 4th July? Because this was the day in 1862 when Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) set off to spend a day rowing down the Thames. With him were his friend Reverend Duckworth and the three young daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, where Dodgson taught maths.

Charles Dodgson was a man with a vivid imagination and a playful sense of humour and he loved to tell stories. The three little girls were called Lorina, Alice and Edith and he made up stories especially for them. Often, they appeared in the stories themselves. On 4th July 1862 he told the story of Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole into another world. It was all a dream, but he wouldn’t reveal that until the end of the story. Alice asked him to write it down. It took him a couple of years, but he did it and gave her the original manuscript as a present. Today, it is Oxford’s most famous and well-loved book.

This beautiful illustration is from a book called The Nursery Alice, which was published in 1880, fifteen years after the original Alice in Wonderland. It was for small children and Lewis Carroll shortened and simplified it so they would understand it better. He also asked John Tenniel, the illustrator, to colour in some of his original pictures. Here we see all the members of that 4th July rowing party: The ‘Dodo’ (a joke at himself by Dodgson, who had a bit of a stutter), Alice, the Duck (Reverend Duckworth) and in the back row the Eaglet (Edith) and the Lory (Lorina). All of them have just dried off by running a ‘Caucus Race’ after falling into the pool of Alice’s tears. The Lory had ‘turned sulky’ and would only say ‘I am older than you and must know better.’ Lorina was, of course, Alice and Edith’s older sister.

Lewis Carroll makes frequent (often thinly disguised) references to people and places in Oxford. If you come on one of our tours, we can tell you all about them. Get to know the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, the Dormouse, the Drawling Master and find out why the Hatter was Mad. You can also see some of the places frequented by Dodgson and the real Alice.

At present, we all seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole, but let’s hope it’s all just a bad dream. In the meantime, join our new Bubble Tour!!

Click here to book

Walking Tours of Oxford looks forward to seeing you in Oxford very soon!

 © Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

The Perfect Oxford Visit

The Perfect Oxford Visit

‘I want to see Oxford University…. and I only have one day in my schedule. What should I do?’
At Walking Tours of Oxford, we are used to answering this question.

We have lots of ideas, but one of our favourites is to combine our own ‘Simply Oxford Tour’ with a visit to Oxford’s most magnificent college – Christ Church – or one of our fine museums (see previous blogs).

Getting here
Perhaps you are staying in London? If so, you can have a leisurely breakfast and still make it to Oxford in time for our Simply Oxford Tour at 11.30 a.m. Take the train from either Paddington or Marylebone Station and arrive for 11am.
We meet at Christ Church, which is to the south of the city, so from the Train Station, head for Carfax Tower in the very centre of Oxford. Then walk down the hill on St Aldate’s street, staying on the left hand side of the road. First, you will see a very imposing 17th century tower. This is ‘Tom Tower’ and it is the everyday entrance to the college for students and academics. Continue down the road to a large set of gates with a shield above it which leads into the beautiful War Memorial garden. This is where your Walking Tours of Oxford guide will meet you.

The Simply Oxford Tour
Click here for further information
This is led by our Institute of Tourist Guiding qualified guides, which makes all the difference!
We will give you the perfect introduction to the City and the University of Oxford and answer all your questions. Where is the University? (Answer: everywhere (!) but we will explain….) What is the relationship between the colleges and the University? (complicated, but interesting…) How do you apply? How do you get a place? What can you study? What is student life like? Can you tell us about Oxford’s history and traditions? Where did they film Inspector Morse/Lewis/Endeavour/Harry Potter?….
We will also show you the iconic buildings which make our city such a special place. Come with us to see the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian Theatre and a few of our 38 colleges.
Our tour will also equip you to make the most of your visit to Christ Church or the museums in your free afternoon.

Merton Street, Oxford. We will pass through on our Simply Oxford Tour

But first…. Lunch!

Lunch
We recommend lunch in a local pub after your Simply Oxford Tour. There are lots of traditional pubs in Oxford, but The Turf Tavern, down a secret passage under our beautiful Bridge of Sighs, is one of the oldest. It has lots of outdoor seating and serves traditional fare and good beer! If you are an Inspector Morse fan, you might like to try the White Horse on Broad Street, where Morse and Lewis liked to down a pint. For a student vibe, try the nearby Kings Arms. Or for something more sedate and academic, with the possibility of a free exhibition thrown in, head for the Weston Library café.

To the Turf Tavern!
Another one of our favourite pubs!

Why visit Christ Church?
Because… 1) it is huge, beautiful and old (founded 16th century by Cardinal Wolsey and re-founded by Henry VIII). 2) it has its own Cathedral. 3) It is where Alice in Wonderland was written. 4) It is a film location and you might recognise some Harry Potter scenes.
(To avoid queues, we recommend that you book tickets to Christ Church online, though you can only do this from the Thursday before your visit. Go to the college website and choose your time: Christ Church tickets
So, after lunch, head back to Carfax and follow our directions down to Christ Church again. This time, go through the Christ Church War Memorial Garden until you find the new Visitor Centre. It is in the style of a traditionally thatched cottage. Inside you will find a shop and restrooms and this is where you pick up your multimedia guide.
Christ Church multi-media guide is a real gem. It provides clear, concise explanations of the college’s history and architecture and it also has all sorts of extras – footage of the private parts of the college and interviews with students and academics. However, if you are a Harry Potter fan, you may want more information – which is where Walking Tours of Oxford can fill you in beforehand.

Tom Tower at Christ Church

Museum Visit
If you are still full of energy, you could squeeze in a visit to one of Oxford’s world-class museums. See previous Walking Tours of Oxford blogs for more about the Ashmolean Museum, the Oxford Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the History of Science and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Enjoy!

 © Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

Oxford’s Libraries – The Bodleian

Oxford’s Libraries – The Bodleian

Home to more than 100 libraries, Oxford is one of the most bookish cities in the world. Each of its 38 colleges has at least one library, some have two or three and Magdalen college has five! Every faculty has a specialised subject library and the mother of them all is the great Bodleian library.

The University’s first library (the Cobham Library) was in an upstairs room of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and opened in 1320. In the days before damp proofing, keeping books as far as possible from the ground was the only way to save them from mouldering. Still today, a large number of our Oxford libraries are on upper floors.

However, Merton College breaks all records as the oldest ‘continuously functioning’ academic library in the world, dating from 1373. Merton’s books weren’t originally kept on shelves, but in a locked chest and only Masters of Arts could access them. Later, owing to their great value in the pre-printing world, they were chained to the shelves. You can visit the Merton College website for a virtual tour of this stunning library. Merton College . Notice the beautiful ‘waggon’ ceiling and take a look at some of the stained glass.

The Bodleian Library is positively modern by comparison, founded at the beginning of the 17th century. However, it is now one of the most important libraries in the world and in the UK is second only to London’s British Library.

It is named after Sir Thomas Bodley, who studied at Merton and there developed a love for books. He was a lucky man and his first piece of luck was finding a rich widow willing to marry him. Mrs Bodley’s first husband had been a successful pilchard merchant, so some say that the Bodleian was ‘built on fish’.

However, there was nothing fishy about the deal Bodley made with the Stationers Company of London in 1610. Sharing his vision and keen to promote their books, the Company promised him a ‘free and perfect’ copy of every book ever published in this country. The deal they signed is still in force today and UK publishers still have to send their books. So the Library has quite a collection! Around 13 million books at last count. You can see the original agreement here: Click here

The second most important rule in the Bodleian is that nobody is allowed to take out books. You want to read? You sit in the library. This rule applies to royalty too. During the English Civil War, King Charles I was holed up at Christ Church, having lost London to the Parliamentarians. Desperately needing advice, he decided to consult the Seigneur d’Aubigny’s book on military strategy. So he sent a note to the Bodleian asking to borrow it and the librarian …turned him down. The Bodleian still has the note. The King of England had to come sit in the library. (Not that the book helped, obviously – he still lost the war and, ultimately, his head…)

As observed, books and water don’t mix, but books and fire are an equally major disaster. So rule no. 1 is that anyone who wants to become a ‘reader’ in the library has to take an oath. You swear ‘not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame’. This may seem a tame method of fire prevention, but the Bodleian has been as lucky as its founder: it has never had a fire.

As for the Bodleian’s collections… this period of lockdown is the perfect time to investigate and admire them at your leisure. The Marks of Genius Exhibition of 2015 was truly extraordinary for both its range and its depth. It contained everything from the Magna Carta to the Audubon Book of American Birds, from The Wind in the Willows and Tolkien’s Hobbit dust jacket, to 15 century maps, Newton’s Principia and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Access it here: http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/about/marks-of-genius/ In fact, you’ll get a better view and more information online than had you visited the original exhibition.
If you are interested in Women’s history, try this: Click here for the ‘Women Who Dared’ Exhibition 2016. You can click on each exhibit for more information and for access to a whole world of related exhibits.

The Tower of The Five Orders

In normal times, a tour of the Bodleian Library (https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/plan-your-visit ) is ideal for bookish people who have already enjoyed a Simply Oxford Tour with Walking Tours of Oxford. Simply Oxford Tour informationWalking Tours of Oxford also offer a wide-ranging and thoroughly entertaining Literary Tour of Oxford and specialist tours on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

©Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford

Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Musuem

Had a certain widow not been found tragically (and some thought suspiciously) drowned in her garden pond, then Oxford’s oldest and largest museum might never have come to be.

The unfortunate victim was the former wife of John Tradescant the Younger. Her recently deceased husband had left his collection of ‘rareities’ to his friend Elias Ashmole, who had helped him to catalogue it in 1656. However, Mrs Tradescant was unimpressed and was in the process of contesting the will, when Ashmole moved in next door to her (!) A hop over the fence, a little push… we shall never know, but the consequence was that Ashmole secured the collection and Oxford, England and the World its first public museum.

You can see portraits of the John Tradescants in the Ashmolean Museum today, the Elder framed by vegetables, fruit and flowers and the Younger proudly wielding a spade. Both were royal gardeners to Charles I, a role which (unusually) involved international travel on a grand scale. Their job was to collect plants, but their hobby was collecting anything they found interesting, the aforementioned ‘rareities’ or ‘curiosities’.

Elias Ashmole was a well-connected lawyer, scholar and antiquarian collector. He eventually gave his and the Tradescants’ collection to the University of Oxford in 1677 on the proviso that it be housed it in a building dedicated to the ‘advancement of knowledge’.

The Ashmolean Museum opened in 1683 but it was considerably smaller than today and was located in the building of what is now Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science on Broad Street. The collections were on the top floor, the ground floor was a lecture theatre and in the basement was the University’s first Chemistry and Anatomy Laboratory. It was here that the University’s first Reader in Anatomy dissected the remains of any criminals hanged within 21 miles of Oxford. (You can see the building here with the famous Oxford heads outside – no, nobody is entirely sure whose heads they are – herms, Roman emperors… the original sculptor left no notes!)

Today’s Ashmolean Museum (see photo) is a short walk from the original museum in a classical building built in the 19th century to the designs of Charles Cockerell and is on a much larger scale. The original collections have been added to over the centuries, there was a redevelopment in 2009 and in 2011 its new Nubian and Egyptian galleries opened. The Ashmolean Museum is primarily dedicated to Art and Archaeology. It houses the largest collection of Raphael drawings in the world, it has a stunning Pre-Raphaelite gallery and an extensive collection of everything from casts, ceramics and coins to sculpture and tapestries. It also has important artefacts from Oxford’s history, such as the coins minted here by Charles I during the Civil War.

Whilst the museum is currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it is still visitable online. And don’t think it will be a quick visit! – There are 112,500 objects in the online collection, so that’s around 625 objects every day for the next six months!

Top Tip:
Start with the Treasures Click here.
In particular at this difficult time, look for Walter Sickert’s painting ‘Ennui’ – this may chime with your mood – or remind you how well you are doing… Or look at the Messiah violin by Stradivarius ‘Like the Messiah, worth waiting for’ 😊

Once we are up and running again, a perfect day in Oxford features our Simply Oxford Walking Tour at 11.30am which ends around the Broad Street area, perfect timing for lunch and then afternoon at The Ashmolean Museum.

[For more information about the Tradescants, visit The Garden Museum in Lambeth Click here

©Victoria Bentata 2020 for Walking Tours of Oxford