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HISTORY, MYSTERY & MAGIC: Exploring the dreaming spires of Oxford

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This year we began our History, Mystery & Magic retreat in the Cotswolds with an afternoon spent exploring Oxford, the city of dreaming spires. That very phrase gives me a shiver of delight! 

We went to see an amazing exhibition of the Bodleian Library's greatest treasures, including hand-written letters by Jane Austen, the journal written in turn by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley after their elopement, a locket with small tendrils of their hair, the original hand-drawn cover of The Lord of the Rings with Tolkien's instructions to the printers in the margins, a copy of the Magna Carta ... too much to describe in a single blog post. My favourite exhibits were all the letters and manuscripts written in the author's own hand ... there is something so awe-inspiring and magical about seeing their unique idiosyncratic style and nothing that their hand had touched tat paper. 

We walked the streets and took in the sights ... 

T our very great delight, we were then showed a door in Oxford which may have inspired C.S. Lewis to invent Narnia. A wooden face is carved on the door - it is a Green Man (one of my own personal obsessions) but arguably can be see to look a little like the face of a lion. Just down the road is an old-fashioned iron lantern-posy, and - most exciting of all - two smiling gilded fauns hold up the lintel. 

Apparently ... the story goes ... he walked down this laneway one snowy winter's afternoon, and saw the faun and the lamppost and the carved lion's head, and his imagination sparked ....

(Thank you to the internet for this atmospheric snowy picture of St Mary's Passage - I couldn't find the original photographer so thank you to them as well!) 

We visited Blackwell's and bought books, then enjoyed high tea on the rooftop terrace of the Ashmolean ... (no cucumber sandwiches, to my disappointment) but utterly delicious lemon macaroons and scones with jam and clotted cream.

This is the view from the top of the Ashmolean - I love the glimpse of meadows and fields behind the church spire.

Then we made my annual pilgrimage to the iconic Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings (J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis &  friends) used to meet every Tuesday evening for a pint and a read-aloud of their stories. These are the authors who helped shaped my imagination, and who introduced me to worlds of shadowy enchantment. To sit where they once sat, to touch my hands where their hands once touched ... it never fails to move me. 




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