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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. 




HISTORY, MYSTERY & MAGIC: The Story Museum in Oxford

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Every year I run a week-long writing retreat in Oxford & the Cotswolds, an opportunity for me to visit one of my all-time favourite places in the world and soak up as much magic and wonder as I can. I know, I know! I am blessed indeed. 

I've been to Oxford three times and each time I discover something new and extraordinary. This trip, I was determined to go to the Story Museum in Pembroke St, a place that always sounded so amazing. I had only an hour free, but it was absolutely worth taking the time to go. I now want to build a Story Museum in every city and town in the world!

The front door ...

A box to hold brochures ...

The Story Museum is primarily designed for young children, but is brimful of imagination, inspiration, whimsy and delight. Each room has a slightly different function, and is fitted out with real flair and charm. I loved the 'Time for Bed' room. Kids can put on a dressing-gown (arranged in size from very small to large), pretend to clean their teeth and brush their hair, then go into a room hung with curtains with an immense bed (I'm talking IMMENSE) where they can lie and read.


I absolutely adored the lullaby room ...

Another room was dominated by a Story Loom, an extraordinary contraption designed to suck out the imagination of children and turn it into stories ...

Another favourite room of mine held a story wheel in which children spin a giant wooden wheel and the pointer comes to rest on some aspect of storytelling which they can then use to create their own creatives tales.

The whole building is designed to be fun and adventurous and to stimulate children's imaginations while opening their eyes to the ways in which stories are constructed and told. Sadly no storyteller was performing the morning I was there, but apparently the museum has many different kinds of events - storytelling, creative writing workshops, illustrating workshops, and book talks by authors. 

I'd love to go again one day and hear a local storyteller, and watch kids play and imagine and create. Just wonderful, in all sense of the word!

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