(If you missed Part 1, click HERE. Sadly, the weather was still grey on our second day so the photos are still a bit dark and dreary – but I hope you’ll still enjoy them! 🙂 )
One of the things I was most excited about, on my recent visit back to Oxford, was seeing my old college again. I hadn’t been back to visit Christ Church in the 15 years since we left England and it had been such a huge part of my life for so long, with so many happy memories…
Just like the rest of Oxford, Christ Church seemed hardly to have changed much from my student days. Well, except that there seemed to be a lot more barriers and signs directing tourists – a side effect of the Harry Potter movies being filmed in many parts of the college!
Christ Church has always had more tourists than most other colleges – as students, we’d got used to seeing strangers wandering through our dining hall, past our dorm staircases, peering at us through the library windows as we studied, and taking photos of us as we went about our day…
…but now that number seemed to have doubled, tripled, as every Harry Potter fan on the planet makes this one of their top stops on their pilgrimage.
In particular, every fan wants to see the Hall – our dining hall which provided the inspiration for the movies, where Harry and his friends met the Sorting Hat, ate their meals and watched the tutors at High Table… just like students do in real life at Christ Church. Well, except that we don’t have an enchanted ceiling nor owls to deliver our morning mail. 😉
But even without the magical embellishments, the Hall is still pretty spectacular. It was weird walking in and looking around – at 19, I had never really appreciated it properly. It was just the place I ate dinner and sometimes lunch and did Collections (exams) at the beginning of term – whereas this time, I stood there and thought, “Wow.”
Christ Church has both Informal Hall and Formal Hall each night – I usually went to the latter, mainly because it was a later sitting so not such a rush if I was late back from the labs, but also because – to be honest – I quite enjoyed having to “dress for dinner”. 😉 Formal Hall requires that men wear a jacket & tie and women something “decent” (no jeans), plus we had to wear our academic gowns on top. If you didn’t have your gown, you couldn’t go in to eat.
The meal was always preceded by Grace said in Latin and was a formal three-course affair served by uniformed staff. It’s a real experience and we were thinking of reliving it on our one night in Oxford but in the end decided that it would probably be weird sitting there surrounded by students we didn’t know – so we went to have dinner in our favourite Indian restaurant instead!
They didn’t actually film the Harry Potter movies in the real Hall as it would have been too disruptive so they built a replica on set – but they did film some scenes on the grand staircase leading up to the Hall. In fact, they were filming the first movie in our last year in Oxford and we happened to see Dame Maggie Smith in her witch costume going up the staircase – it was quite thrilling! 🙂
Even without the associated fame of Harry Potter, Christ Church is a must-see for every visitor to Oxford. It is probably one of the grandest colleges – it certainly has the largest main quadrangle, affectionately known as “Tom Quad” – after Tom Tower, which guards the main gate of the college.
There is a huge bell inside Tom Tower which tolls 101 times at 9:05pm every night – to recall in the 101 students who were the original members of Christ Church. (And if you’re wondering why 9:05 – that’s because it follows “Oxford Time” which is 5 minutes behind GMT. Yes, it’s one of those idiosyncrasies of Oxford!) It also tolls every hour and the deep sound of that great bell is one of my most vivid memories of life at Oxford.
Christ Church is quite an austere college – unlike many of the smaller colleges, the quads are quite bare and there aren’t pretty flower displays or elegant landscaped trees and shrubbery to soften the formal spaces. Still, you can’t beat it for sheer majestic grandeur.
Again, it’s one of those things I took for granted at 19 – if anything, it was slightly annoying how big it was because if you were late for a lecture, it took ages to walk across it! – but now I understand better why tourists would come in and stand staring. It is quite breathtaking.
Christ Church is unique amongst the Oxford colleges in that its chapel is also the cathedral for the diocese of Oxford and members of the community are often seen coming to choral Evensong and to services on Sunday. We decided that since we were skipping dinner in Hall, we’d at least attend Evensong and although I’m not religious, it was quite a magical experience – sitting in the beautiful candlelit interior of the cathedral, listening to the harmony between the voices of the college choir and the notes of the organ.
The cathedral is surrounded by ancient cloisters and I used to have to walk through them every day to get to my room – they could get very spooky, especially at night. The murder scene in Two Down, Bun To Go, the third book in my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries is inspired by my memories of walking through the cloisters! 😉
Some parts of the college have been modernised – such as the “Plodge” (Porter’s Lodge) and I found that a bit disturbing, which is silly really – the new modern porter’s lodge is so much nicer but I guess you like to hold on to your memories!
The other thing that was a bit sad was that none of the custodians I knew were there anymore. They had all retired and been replaced with “strangers”. They were still lovely and friendly, though, and we got chatting to several of them.
Custodians are another thing that’s unique about Christ Church. Also known as “bulldogs”, they are a distinctive sight in their bowler hats and black coats and suits. They guard the entrances to the college and direct the tourists around – but for me at the time, a young student away from home for the first time, they also provided a friendly, fatherly presence around the college.
Two Down, Bun To Go is dedicated to the custodians who were at Christ Church during my time there, as well as my scout, Jean. 🙂
Of course, no visit to Christ Church would be complete without seeing my old room. I didn’t actually get to see inside my old room (as I didn’t think the current student living there would appreciate me knocking on the door and asking to look around! And actually, I don’t think I would have wanted to see my room filled with someone else’s things!) – but I did get to see it from the outside and pick out my old window.
My room was on the top floor of the Meadow Building, up eight flights of stairs, and I kept the same room the whole time I was at Christ Church, so it has a special place in my heart.
I had a view of Christ Church Meadow from my window and I loved it. It was so beautiful and serene to look out and see how the meadow changed with the seasons, from the daffodils in spring to the misty floods in winter.
I often used to walk around the Meadow by myself, early on Sunday mornings, when I was a student… and I was delighted to see that the herd of English Longhorn cattle was still there 🙂 – although I think my special favourite, Hercules the bull, is long gone.
The Poplar Walk (above) leads from Christ Church down to the River Thames at the bottom of the Meadow, where it joins the Christ Church Meadow Walk – my favourite walk in Oxford. Those of you who’ve read Muffins and Mourning Tea (Book 5 in my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries) will know the important role that path plays in the story…!
We were excited to see a squirrel collecting some autumn nuts. Yes, I know – British readers are probably rolling their eyes 😉 but hey, after 15 years Down Under, where we only ever see possums and fruit bats and kookaburras, a squirrel is a real novelty!
After the brisk walk, it was time for some tea – and we decided to treat ourselves to a posh Afternoon Tea at the Randolph Hotel…
It was a lovely way to end a lovely day!
To be continued…
Coming Soon: Visit to the Cotswolds!
Following my time in Oxford, I spent a morning in Burford, one of the nearby Cotswolds villages – and part of the inspiration for the quaint little village of Meadowford-on-Smythe in my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries.
I loved your Return to Oxford — thanks for taking the time to share such wonderful pictures with us!
You’re very welcome, Celia – I’m so happy you enjoyed the photos! 🙂
Thank you for the lovely shots. You’ve managed to make Oxford look so much more romantic than I remember it. I was born at the old Radcliffe infirmary and worked for 9 years in an estate agent that was next door to the Eagle and Child pub in St Giles (I believe it is now a coffee shop). The Eagle & Child was a great place for a Friday lunchtime tipple I remember and was once used by such greats as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien amongst others, known as the Inklings.
Haha – Janice, your comment made me laugh! Yes, I know what you mean – I always watch movies which feature London and make it look so romantic – and have to remind myself that the reality is often cold and grey and dreary, with traffic jams and other big city problems. And I’m sure it’s the same with Oxford and the Cotswolds too. I have to say that I have a much more romantic, nostalgic view of Oxford now that we live in Australia, than I did when we were living there!
Oh yes, I used to go to the Eagle & Child sometimes when I was a student. Very atmospheric pub!
I thoroughly loved your photos of Oxford ! I have read all the tearoom series books and had developed pictures in my mind of what Oxford looked like. It was amazing that your photos matched the images in my mind so closely. I am sure that can be attributed to your excellent way of describing both people and places. I would love to visit Oxford someday, but for now I content myself with visiting vicariously through your books. I can’t wait for the next book in the Oxford tearoom series. Please continue to write that series even though you may branch out with another series. Thank you for the hours of pleasure you have given me through your books.
Aww, thank you, Beth, for the kind words! I’ve always loved books that gave a vivid sense of place and made you feel like you were there yourself so I feel very flattered that you think my books do that too! I hope you do get to visit Oxford yourself some day.
And don’t worry – I will definitely be continuing with the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries for a while yet! 🙂
Absolutely loved all the photos and the notes. It is so so kind of you to share all those with us, I am glad that you enjoyed it and that you are now home down under safe and sound. Can’t wait for your next book.
Thank you, Vera, for your lovely comment – so pleased you enjoyed seeing the photos and sharing my trip! 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing, Hanna. I avidly watch Endeavour, Morse and Lewis, so now it is confirmed that the settings are ‘true’!
Oh, you’re so welcome, Julia – glad you enjoyed the photos. I love watching Morse & Lewis too! I haven’t watched Endeavour yet – must try and catch that sometime! 🙂
I love and enjoyed your pictures. I visited in early November and wish I could have stayed longer. Can’t wait for your Cotswold pictures.
Thank you, Rachelle – I enjoyed your Oxford pictures too – thank you again for sharing them with me! 🙂
It must’ve been great to return to Oxford after so many years! I enjoyed reading your two posts and seeing all the pretty pictures you made. It sure helped me get an even better feel of what the city looks like, although your descriptions in the books already really helped to form a good image in my mind of Oxford.
Aww, thanks, Lola, for the kind words. That’s lovely to hear as I always love books with lots of description & a strong sense of setting myself. So pleased you enjoyed the photos!
Hi, your comments and pictures from your Oxford trip really buzz with your pleasure at returning to somewhere which obviously has such a very dear place in your heart. They are a wonderful diary of your trip and I thank you for sharing these.
Thank you, Catherine, for your lovely comment and I’m so pleased you enjoyed the photos!
Oh how beautiful thank you so much for sharing with us. I’m in love with the scenery & the college. Makes me want to go to school again!!
Glad you enjoyed it, Katja! Yeah, I sort of wish I’d appreciated it more when I WAS at college – that’s the irony of youth, isn’t it? You’re always rushing, rushing, rushing to get to the next stage in your life and it’s only as you get older, you wish you appreciated the “moment” more. 🙂
Love your Oxford Tea Room Mysteries!!! Can’t wait for a new one 🙂 We are going to be in the Cotswolds in early March ’18 = Which villages are must-see’s in your opinion? We have only 2 days + 1 in Oxford. We’re quite excited! Thank you. (Love Muesili – we’ve got two “boys” ourselves and one loves the office chairs)
Thank you for your lovely comment! I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries – and how exciting that you will be visiting Oxford and the Cotswolds! It’s really hard to pick a favourite village, as they are all special and gorgeous in different ways! It may partly depend on your planned route and which are the most convenient for you to visit, since the Cotswolds covers quite a large area.
Here is a good article with a run-down of all the different villages in different geographical regions of the Cotswolds and a handy map. It also gives a little description of each village/market town, so that you can see which ones appeal to you – whether you’re into castles or antique shops or just a wander around a quaint, hidden village…
I have to confess, I didn’t get the chance to visit many myself (too busy studying & playing in Oxford! 😉 ) – but the one I visited the most was Burford. There is a lovely traditional tearoom there. It’s about 30mins drive from Oxford and has a quaint high street filled with antique shops and other traditional shops. Another village that is often mentioned is “Bourton-on-the-Water”, which is also known as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”. If you’re heading out west towards Bath, then Castle Combe would be a good one to stop in.
And if you have the time, then Blenheim Palace – just outside Oxford – is a wonderful place to visit! https://www.blenheimpalace.com/
In Oxford itself, make sure you visit Christ Church – one of the largest, grandest colleges and where they filmed most of Harry Potter (you must see the Dining Hall!)… and it’s also my college! 🙂 The walk around Christ Church Meadows down to the river is lovely too. Again, all the Oxford colleges have their individual charm but some worth visiting, in the city centre are Magdalen, Balliol, Trinity and one of the smaller colleges, like Exeter. Make sure you walk past Hertford and the famous Bridge of Sighs, and of course, take a pic in front of the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford’s most famous landmark! For fantastic 360 degree views of the “dreaming spires”, climb up to the cupola at the top of the Sheldonian Theatre – it’s well worth the steps! 😉
Oh – and try to visit The Turf Tavern down Hell’s Passage (under the Bridge of Sighs) – it’s very quaint and a hidden gem! And if you have time, stop by Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street (opposite the Sheldonian Theatre) – and make sure you walk through and down to the Norrington Room – it’s quite a sight! There are hundreds of books, on shelves over 3 sunken levels, like an Aladdin’s Cave. You’d never believe how big the store is from the tiny frontage on the street.
I hope this is helpful and have a wonderful time on your trip. I’m really envious! 🙂
What a wonderful walk down memory lane. I felt like I was there with you some of the time. I studied at Christ Church the summer semester of 1994.
I have recently discovered your serie of books (in french : “Les thés meurtriers d’Oxford”) and I really enjoyed my reading ! Thank you for thoses wonderful books, and for sharing your photos and memories.
My husband and I are very found of UK, and we visited Oxford a few years ago (mainly because I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I must admit it !). Everything was so beautiful, impressive… We loved this city so much, and it’s a great pleasure to travel again there through your books (especially in this time).
So, I wanted to warmly thank you for everything ! <3
PS : and sorry for my awful english : it’s true, french people are not the best in languages !!!
Thank you for your comment! It’s lovely to hear that you’re enjoying my books in French and I’m delighted that I’m able to help you “re-enjoy” your happy times in Oxford. I hope you will get a chance to travel & visit again soon someday. Thank you for reading my books and for taking the time to get in touch!
ps. your English is great! Certainly much better than my French – haha!