26 British Prime Ministers, at least 30 other international leaders, including two Indian PMs - Indira Gandhi & Manmohan Singh, more than 12 saints, 30 Olympic medal-winners, countless authors, notable scientists, and famous composers & actors. That is the crop this ground has yielded. The University of Oxford. Informally, Oxford University or Oxford.A visit to Oxford thereby becomes nothing short of a pilgrimage as you kiss the holy grounds that has nurtured such illustrious men & women for centuries. There is only one other university that dates further back than 1096. The University of Bologna, Italy(1088). That makes Oxford the second oldest surviving university in the world. It remains the oldest in the English-speaking world .
Oxford's motto Dominus Illuminatio Mea(Latin), The Lord is my Light, has stood it in good stead as the hallowed portals remains top-ranking with occasional competition from arch-rival Cambridge. With its 38 colleges & 6 Permanent Private Halls(PPH), Oxford is a busy place. Made busier by the fact that it is one of the most visited places in the world. Tourists from all over come to Oxford to breathe its intellectual air.
Unlike our BHU, JNU & others, there is no one campus that houses all its colleges. The colleges are spread all across Oxford and students cycling around the town is a common sight. An undergrad student may be taught in any of the colleges of the uni depending on the subject & the expertise of the academic.
Take a walking tour of the town or hop on to the Sightseeing bus for your tour of this scholarly town. If the former, this fishing canal(right) is what you cross as you start walking right from the Railway station.
The Worcester College is one of the first colleges you come upon in your walking tour. There is a nominal visitor's charge if you want to go in and explore. Timings for the same are flashed outside the gates. The 'cottages' of Worcester are among the oldest residential building in Oxford. The buildings are diverse inside, an imposing eighteenth century structure, a chapel, a hall, apart from the quadrangle & the gardens. As you visit more colleges, you realize these are common features in all.
The Oxford Playhouse(OP) catches your attention as leave Worcester & walk past this ancient building. If you have gone to Oxford for more than a day, by all means, enter & enjoy a play. If not, just look, admire, sigh & walk past.
Soon you spot the Ashmolean, the oldest museum in Britain. Admission is free here and we were most tempted to enter. Having had our share of museums in London, Scotland etc, we gave this a miss. Not before capturing these fresh tulips for posterity! We proceed towards the town and take in the sights & smells of this studious town. The Museum of Oxford(below right) is not far from Ashmolean. It is not just history that is there. Tea dance, sale of Persian rugs, Buddhist meditation & zumba classes are some of the regular activities in there. Some museum, that !
The former Radcliffe Observatory catches your attention as you proceed on your walking tour. A grade 1 listed building, it was the astronomical observatory of Oxford University for over a century till the Radcliffe trustees sold it because of the viewing conditions, weather & urban developement at Oxford. This impressive structure now serves as the centrepiece for the New Templeton College off the Woodstock Road.
St. John's College (below), with its ancient structure beckons. You move in to the quadrangle & soak in the tranquility. The
ceiling (below, left) at the college entrance has its own story to tell. Don't get a crick in the neck with all that staring up!
That's the thing with Oxford. It is so seeped in history that you just cannot take in enough. There will be places that you miss & landmarks that you will need to come back for. One day is just not sufficient.
Ask anybody who has studied in a university of ancient repute & they will tell you that even in five years they could not explore all the nooks of their campus.
It is not just the institutions which you marvel at when in this academic town. It is everything. The mysterious doors, the cobbled lanes, the 14th century structure that now sells coffee, the old churches. Even the carriers the scholars have on their bicycles! The old-world charm transports you back in time. To an era you were not born in.
This erudite community, notorious for its stiff upper lip, is not all pedantic. It has its funny bone too, if you care to look. These cards in the road-side shop windows make you smile through the rain.
That films have more influence than literature is widely established. Whether we had heard of the Christ Church College, Oxford,(below) better remain unasked but we have definitely heard & seen Harry Porter's Hogwart's. This College attracts more tourists post the success of the Wizard story than it ever did before. With its sprawling meadows & lush greens, it is indeed a cameraman's dream.
As you leave Hogwart's, Christ College, an exit takes you past Merton College. That's the T.S.Eliot Theatre (below) of Merton. A five minutes walk and you are at the Botanical Gardens(below right) of Oxford. There is an admission fee to see the unique varieties of flora that the garden nurtures. If you have seen the Duthie Park in Aberdeen, Scotland, you wont mind giving this one a miss. And that is free!
Bite into your sandwich as you walk around the town. You don't wanna sit down to eat & miss viewings. Most colleges close at 5pm for visitors. Edward Hall allows visitors in without any charge. The cemetery is within the campus, for those who want a brush with reality.
The New College is far from new. If anything, it looks more ancient than any of its counterparts. Mind your head as you enter the black iron gate. But do enter. You will come back a deeper person for the experience. The imposing structure humbles you, there is a sense of awe accompanied by surrender as you walk along the corridors & cloisters. Another college that could not escape the Potter mania.
Exit New College from this ancient archway(above right) and gasp at the grand structure across the road. The Library! Oxford has 102 libraries of which 30 belong to the the Bodleian Library group, Oxford's central research library.
Within the precinct is the Sheldonian Theatre (below the library) which hosts the 3Cs of the University. Its congregations, concerts & convocations.
English summers have long days & it is daylight till 9pm. But venues close at 5pm for visitors. Keep that in mind as you chalk your itinerary.
You may need to rush as you approach Exeter College(below) & Trinity College(further below) as the clock ticks away & you realise it is half past four.
It has been a long day & amidst the sun and the rain, you have managed to make your pilgrimage. You head towards the railway station & stop to click the last pretty cluster that you see.
You now know why Indira Gandhi ruled as she did(she dropped out from Oxford in between) & what gives PM Manmohan Singh the ability to remain mute even in crises!
And as the train takes you back to London, the gentle rumble makes you think. Are you suitably inspired to join Oxford, or send your children there?
Or, as a Lost & Found board in one of the colleges announced, you have
I leave you to ponder....