Tuesday, November 20, 2018

. . . And Oxford and Peter Pan, Too

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. Here is Day 2. Here is Day 3. Here is Day 4. This is Day 5.

After a very long day in Haworth and then travelling to Oxford--and in fact after four very, very full days of intense traveling and sightseeing--I was more than a little tired upon waking up in Oxford. I woke up at my usual early hour. I can't recall quite how early, but I was up and dressed and out the hotel door looking for breakfast by about 7:30.

The view out my window in the morning--a red hot air
balloon rising over Magdalen College.

Hot tip. It is not easy to find breakfast in the U.K. (or at least Oxford) before 8:00. You wanna know how I know? Because I tried. Good Lord, I tried. But the High Street was deserted, as were the back streets. I wandered a bit along rainy Oxford streets cluttered with bikes, past ancient stone buildings that housed various bits and pieces of Oxford University. But I was hungry and really in search of food, so I kept walking and walking, towards the covered market at the heart of town. Oh, there were cafes. But were they open? No. I saw light and people inside one and went in--the door wasn't locked--only to have the people behind the counter look at me like I was insane and tell me they weren't open yet. They weren't rude, but they--oddly--seemed surprised that I would walk into an open cafe. At last, I found a Cafe Nero that was open. It's possible it was 8:00 by this time, or else that was the only cafe in ALL OF OXFORD that was open before 8:00. Which, come on. Cafes should be open bright and early for breakfasters. Isn't that the point of them? Do you want my money or not, guys?

Logic Lane--appropriate for Oxford.

Hooke and Boyle and microscopes and cells!

Oxford is very bike-centric.

In any case, I fortified myself with a chocolate croissant and some hot chocolate (what? I was feeling grumpy and therefore rather indulgent of myself). Then I went back to my hotel, checked out (and left my bag), and went back out as a light rain started to fall. I waited for the 3A bus nearby, and was delighted to find it was a double-decker. It was my first double-decker on this trip to the UK. I sat on the top deck at the front, watching the rainy landscape.

By the time we reached my destination, Rock Farm Lane, the rain had lightened up. I had carefully examined maps and satellite images beforehand, so I set out fully prepared to find my destination: a marble monument on a dam above the pool--or "lasher"--created by that dam. The monument is to a series of young men, mostly (all?) Oxford students, who drowned there in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now why, you might well wonder, would I care about this pool and this monument?

Because one of these young men was none other than Michael Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired Peter Pan. He and a friend, Rupert Buxton, drowned there in 1920. The exact circumstances of their deaths aren't known. They were seen swimming ("bathing", they would have said), and they were seen going down (maybe?). It's hotly debated whether it was accidental or suicidal and whether J.M. Barrie's role in Michael's life had anything to do with it. There's at least one blog post-worth of material there, so suffice it to say that I believe it was an accidental drowning. Michael was afraid of water and could not swim. It's possible he got into trouble and his friend tried to help him, but they both went down (a drowning person can become very desperate and drown their rescuer); or, Rupert got into trouble and Michael tried to help even though he couldn't swim, and ended up drowning himself. After all, that place had claimed more than a few other lives. It's still entirely possible it was suicide. Who knows? There are rumors the two young men were homosexual, but there's no actual evidence of that. Possible, but not conclusive. The truth is, we'll never know exactly what happened.

But in any case, given my fascination with the story of the Llewelyn Davies family, this was one site I wanted to see, even if it is a little macabre. 

It was about a ten-minute walk from the bus-stop to the little cluster of buildings around Sandford Lock and the Kings Arms Pub. It's a picturesque spot right on the Thames, with a lock across the river. Everything was lush and green, and it was a calm morning; the rain had stopped. I watched a boat go through the lock, then crossed the top of the lock once it was closed.

The lock closing.

On the other side of the lock, I turned right and started walking along the riverbank. I was on an island there. To my right was the main channel, leading to the lock that was now behind me. To my left, on the other side of the island and not visible through the trees, was the other channel, which had a dam instead of a lock, which was further upstream than the lock. Obviously, all the boats on the water would be on the side of the river that I was on; you can't go over a dam, but you can through the lock. Houseboats lined the river, and a group of kayakers were skimming the water.

House boat + kayaker.
As for me, I kept walking, through a fence and through yet another sheep pasture, then through another gate. I kept going along the trail that paralleled the riverbank. It became heavily forested as I went; I went over one bridge, then stopped before I reached the second.
The first waterfall I passed.

From my research, I knew that if I turned left, there was a faint path leading towards the dam and the memorial. I had figured from my reconnaissance that this might be a bit sketchy, so I wasn't put off when the path became more and more overgrown and I was pushing through branches and wet leaves. I came to the end of this path at a big chain-link fence advertising that it was dangerous to go any further and everything beyond that point was part of the dam property. I couldn't get through there, but I could (kind of) see the monument, so my heart leapt.

The, uh, "path".

Through the links of the fence, looking towards the monument.
I wasn't easily deterred, so I crashed on through the thick woods along the riverbank, trying to get a better perspective. I came out of the brush at two different points; the second spot was the best, and I had a decent view of a the weir/lasher/pool below the dam, with a swan gliding towards me across the water, and the monument atop the dam, and the campers on the other side of the river.

The dam and the monument (it's a little lost amongst all the
machinery, isn't it?).

The monument atop the dam.

The swan that was hanging out there on the pool.

A different view.

Zoomed in on the monument. If you open the full-size
picture and zoom in, you can just make out Michael's name. There
are better pictures of the monument (though not the inscription)
if you just Google it.
[As a side note, I'd tried to determine exactly what was on the other bank and had concluded that it was some kind of industrial site and that I wouldn't be able to go there--though the presence of campers (?) makes me think I was wrong. Oh, another note: there was trash here and there through the woods, so it was clear I was not the first person to go back there; obviously, people had gone back there to hang out and leave their chip bags (ugh).]

I stood there a minute, listening to the rush of the water at the dam and watching the surface of the lasher. It looked quite calm. From what I understand, though, there's a strong current underneath. However, unlike Oxford students of the 19th and early 20th centuries, I had no desire to test that water, so I turned and crashed through the woods, back towards the actual path along the other bank of the island. I found myself following faint deer paths (sheep paths?). At one point, going over a log, I pricked my finger on a stinging nettle, so that was exciting. In any case, I broke through back onto the path just as someone else was coming by. He looked a tad bemused at this petite girl clambering through the woods. Maybe he thought I was doing drugs back there or something. The truth was much . . . nerdier. [I also wasn't 100% sure I wasn't trespassing, so I just kept walking.]

In any case, I walked back the way I'd come (Church Road) and watched another boat go through the lock, then hopped on the 3A bus back to town. It was about lunchtime, so I took the bus past my hotel to the heart of town. I considered where to go for food, but what I really, really wanted was a damn hamburger. I wanted some good ole Mickey D's, dammit. I found a Burger King first, and that was just fine with me. And no, I felt no guilt or qualms about eating Burger King while in ancient Oxford. You don't think they had quick/street food in medieval times, too? And besides, it was exactly what I wanted, and it hit the spot precisely. I was a happy girl with my burger, fries, and Coke.

My next stop was Christ Church College, just down the street. This stop was Alice in Wonderland-related. I mentioned Peter Pan, of course, and in previous posts I mentioned Jane Eyre. But I also am interested in the story and symbolism/iconography of Alice. It was here that the Revered Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) met a girl named Alice Liddell and wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Also, bonus: the Great Hall here was the inspiration for the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

Lucky for me, it was actually an open house that day, so I got to go in for free, and more things than usual were open. It was BEAUTIFUL. After entering, I went up the grand staircase and into the Great Hall (the Harry Potter-looking one), which was just as spectacular as you imagine. All along the walls are portraits of famous graduates of Christ Church. And, oh yeah, Henry VIII (who was, uh, not a graduate).

The Great Stairs leading to the Great Hall, Christ Church, Oxford. 
Ceiling of the Great Hall, Christ Church, Oxford.

Me in the Great Hall.

After leaving the Great Hall, it was back downstairs, then into the chapel, where I listened to some organ music, admired a few effigies, and marveled at a stained glass window depicting Thomas à Becket.

Chapel's ceiling; Christ Church, Oxford. 
Chapel, Christ Church, Oxford.

Thomas à Becket window.

Organ music, Christ Church, Oxford

Next was Tom Quad, where you get a great view of Tom Tower, designed by Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul's Cathedral).

Tom Quad.

I passed through some archways and into the gardens, and there was a little door that is referred to as Alice's door. It communicates between these gardens and the dean's gardens, where Alice lived (her father was dean of the college). It would have generally been locked, according to the article below.

Alice's door, Christ Church, Oxford.
Here's some more about that: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/travel/alice-in-wonderland-oxford-lewis-carroll.html

Beyond that, through another stone wall, is the ancient Pococke tree, from circa the 1630's.

I came back to Tom Quad, passed through it, and ended up at the Picture Gallery, which was open. I went in and viewed room after room of wonderful paintings, mostly 17th and 18th century and mostly religious in theme. Beautiful things, all of them. No photos allowed.

With that, my tour of Christ Church was done. My next stop was Alice's Shop across the street. I really wanted some Alice themed items. In the end, I was a tad disappointed. The store was tiny, and a lot of the things were somewhat indifferent in quality. I didn't want anything expensive or breakable, so I got a hand towel and some coasters and magnets. Looking back, I wish I'd splurged a little, but oh well. I did splurge a bit on England-themed souvenirs back on the High Street.

I had a bit of time before my 3:30 train left for London, so I took a left turn on my walk along High Street and walked past the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian. It became increasingly apparent to me that there was some kind of graduation going on, because the High Street was no longer deserted. It was absolutely thronged, and there were a lot of people running about in cap and gown and very fine suits (it was disproportionately men, and they were a bit older, ie not undergrads by my reckoning).

I passed under the Bridge of Sighs on my way towards the River Cherwell. As I reached the bridge over the river, which was stacked three-deep with skiffs, the bells of Magdalen Tower started tolling, and they kept on tolling. This was, no doubt, for the graduation. [By the way, it's pronounce mod-lin, a bit like the word maudlin; it's not pronounced mag-duh-lin like Mary Magdalen from the Bible.]

With that, my little adventure in Oxford was done. There was a heap more to see, but I simply didn't have time, and I'd hit all the places I'd set out to see. I had a few minutes to relax at the hotel, then got on a bus to the train station, passing by Oxford Castle along the way. The weather had cleared, and it was a lovely day as I waited on the platform for the train.

The train back to London was fairly quick--only a little over an hour. I took the Tube from Paddington to the Lambeth North station, nearest to my hotel.

You want to know what's funny? My hotel was the "Days Hotel", and it uses a logo with a rising sun that looks very (very) much like the "Days Inn" logo. In fact, I was under the impression that it *was* a Days Inn. But I learned my mistake when I got there. The hotel was okay. It wasn't a luxury hotel, but it wasn't a total dive; it wasn't the worst I've ever been in. In fact, it had A LIFT. An actual LIFT that went to EVERY FLOOR. Miracle of miracles! Most of all, it was right across from the Imperial War Museum, which I would visit in the morning.

For the moment, though, it was time for food. I went to the pub across the street, which, I had seen online, had superb pizza. And the Internet did not lie (in this case, anyway). This was BY FAR my best meal of my entire stay in the UK. The wood-fire pizza was delicious, the salad was actually wonderful, and the ice cream I got for dessert was wonderful, too. I felt like I'd been hungry most the time I was there because my appetite hadn't been good, and the food hadn't been very good, either, but this time I filled up and was so happy about it. It had turned into a lovely evening, too, which also brightened my mood.

As the sun set, I went back to my hotel. I took a shower, watched some terribly depressing show about The Troubles in Ireland, and went to bed.

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