Monday, July 4, 2016

Oxford wouldn't be complete without a little Potter...

As a middle school English teacher, it didn't feel right to visit Oxford and NOT acknowledge the role many of the buildings had in the Harry Potter movies. Plus, I have two kids who are Harry Potter crazy. We started our first full day in Oxford with a self guided walking tour of all things Harry Potter. This lovely trail was available online, so this is what we used to guide us.

We were also looking to build our knowledge of the things we saw yesterday, and surprisingly, this trail basically recounted our steps of the night before.

From our apartment, we headed back to Catte St to discover the Bodleian Library and instead found ourselves in front of the domed building from the night before. The building is part of Oxford University built between 1737-1749 to house the Radcliffe Science Library. Prior to 1810, it housed an array of books on many subjects, but narrowed to sciences in 1810 under Dr. George Williams. By 1850, however, it was still lagging behind the neighboring Bodleian, therefore under the leadership of Henry Wentworth Acland, it merged with the University library, became known as the Radcliffe Camera and changed to the reading room for the Bodleian Library.

Divinity Hall
Which was our first stop on the Harry Potter Trail.

Inside the Bodleian Library, we visited Divinity Hall, which was the Hogwarts infirmary in The Philosopher's Stone. 

We also picked up our own self guided family tour when we entered, so besides just coming for the Harry Potter parts, we explored the different schools housed in the Quadrangle (thanks to Bodley) and learned about the history of the library, which is one of the oldest in Europe housing over 12 million items. An interesting tradition at "the Bod" is that books are not to be lent to readers. Even King Charles I was refused permission to borrow a book in 1645.

We were not allowed to visit Duke Humphries Library, unfortunately, as only children 11 and over are allowed in, at only at specific times.

From here, we headed to New College, another spot from the night before. In The Goblet of Fire, Draco and Harry come face to fact by a tree, after Harry has had a falling out with everyone. Draco tells Harry, "“you won’t last 10 seconds” and Harry turns him into a ferret. Well, that happened in the New College Cloisters under the tree you can see in the distance (the biggest one). We didn't pay to go in and see a tree, plus our big interest was at the next stop. But we did stop here for a moment to admire the Bridge of Sighs (okay, as you can see in the picture, they kept going, but I stopped to admire the bridge...) It connects two parts of Hertford College. It isn't actually named the Bridge of Sighs, but is called such due to the similarity to the real Bridge of Sighs in Venice. It's actual name is...wait for it...Hertford Bridge. You know, because it connects the college.

The Great Quadrangle
This was a quick diversion as we soon headed to Christ Church, which is actually a part of Oxford University. The name comes from the Christ Church Cathedral which serves as the college chapel and whose dean is ex officio the college head. This space is absolutely stunning, and we couldn't just visit the Great Hall, so we did the entire tour, which included the Great Quadrangle, the Cathedral and the Canterbury Quadrangle.

The main thing we came to see, though, was the Great Hall, which became the inspiration for the Dining Hall at Hogwarts. It was, until 1870, the largest Hall in Oxford and has been in near constant use since the 16th century. The room wasn't nearly as big as I expected! Despite this, the room's Renaissance architecture was stunning. Three meals a day are still eaten in this room, including a formal dinner where gowns must be worn. The walls are adorned with portraits, including one of the current Queen. I had to wonder how many of those coming to visit did so because of the history in the room or because of the influence of Harry Potter. Either way, the room was impressive and we were better for having visited.

We headed to the Cathedral next, which was built at the end of the 12th century. The interior has been altered since then, most recently in the 19th century. Upon entrance, we were surrounded by stained glass and a towering organ loomed overhead.

Pillars divide the center from shrines lining one side of the Cathedral, and on the other, memorials to those who lost their lives during the world wars, among others who have shaped recent history.

It was a lot to take in. We walked around for about 30 minutes, just admiring the beauty of the Cathedral. Religious or not, no one can debate the immense art and beauty found in building such as this.

Simply breathtaking to think of the layers of history that go into a building such as this.

After the self guided tour of Christ Church, we made our way to the Christ Church Meadows, enclosed by the Rivers Cherwell and Thames. (Fun fact: the Thames is known as the Isis when flowing through Oxford.) We admired an array of flora and fauna on our walk, and decided that the punters out on the water were having too much fun and we wanted in on that.

We had seen the punt boats from the Magdalen Bridge and tonight was to be the night we finally gave it a go. In true "me" fashion, I had to look it up ahead of time to figure out how it all works and what the history of this funny boating tradition was. A punt is a flat bottom boat with a square hull intended for shallow rivers. The boat is propelled forward and steared with a long metal pole that is pushed against the bottom of the river and then ruttered behind the boat. Easy enough.

Unfortunately, when we arrived, they only accepted cash, of which we had none. Fail.

Instead, we went for ice cream. There is always tomorrow...

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