Sunday, 26 October 2014

City Of Dreaming Spires

Every now and then we get the urge to go to Oxford. The civilisation of the place rubs off and leaves one feeling tranquil, and cultivated by association. This is in stark contrast to our usual personas which might best be described as Rural (or possibly Agricultural).

We get the Park & Ride from Redbridge and disembark on Broad Street, enjoying the mellow stones and dreamy spires (but not the hoards of people) as we walk the well-trodden path to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers. We've been doing this for years; it is part of the children's childhoods and I expect M and I will continue to do it long after they've had enough of accompanying us (and indeed J has already missed out on this trip, being as she is in France improving her muscles picking apples and at the same time perfecting her accent for next year...). 




Oxford started life properly as a Saxon Town during the 10th century (it wasn't of much interest to the Romans or the Celts). It is at a crucial convergence point of two rivers (the Thames and the Cherwell, were we go punting every summer) and lies between the two ancient Saxon Kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, hence it's value to those tribes.

It is famous the world over today for its University, which is the oldest English-speaking university in the world. Teaching has been going on in Oxford since 1096. By 1190 it was functioning as a recognisable teaching establishment. Its oldest college, Balliol, was established in 1249. In 1167 a row between Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket resulted in English students being banned from attending the University of Paris and as a result they gathered in Oxford for learning purposes. Oxford appears to be around twenty years older than its arch rival Cambridge (which is where M went, so I have to be careful when expressing any opinions :o) ). 

It is also famous for its bicycles, which the students use to get around and which are generally to be found padlocked to every conceivable fence or railing space.....




In 1860, the newly opened Oxford University Museum of Natural History hosted one of the most important debates in scientific history when Samuel Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford) and Thomas Huxley (biologist and writer) argued furiously about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the questions it raised about man’s place in the natural world and religious belief. Darwin was unwell and couldn't attend but Huxley argued for him and was called 'Darwin's Bull Dog' as a result of his performance.

It's a fantastic place and well worth a visit (and that's coming from someone who finds museums rather sleep-inducing at the best of times, even while admiring them). It is packed full with specimens and has a marvellous time-line of evolution and adaptations around one wall, as well as being home to several specimens collected by Darwin himself on his travels.







50,000 year old Rhino vertebrae found in the North Sea

The Dodo, hunted to extinction in Mauritius because it didn't know it should be afraid of men.

Wandering Albatross

Whale-headed Stalk









 

 
Puffa Fish



European Skate Leech

Toucan




The Museum has a connection with Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice In Wonderland and was an Oxford resident and don. Personally, I never enjoyed these books and found them distinctly weird.



The Nat Hist Mus backs on to the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is an amazing room crammed full of the most weird and wonderful exhibits and collections from around the world (including shrunken heads). It gives me the willies, so apart from the first time when I went in after hearing M rave about it, I haven't been back inside that room. Instead I tend to dither about on the stairs trying to convince myself it'll be fine and the odd energies coming from all the things in the room won't affect me at all, before I come to my senses and return to the Nat Hist bit while M and F marvel at all the oddments to be found in Pitt Rivers. Like Morris Dancing and The Shipping Forecast, Pitt Rivers is a place I am glad exists while having no wish to sample it's delights myself personally.......



On this trip I found myself rather mesmerised by the incredible cabinet of insects on the right just as you enter the Nat Hist Mus. After a while L joined me there. He sat down dolefully on a chair and proceeded to read how to be an SAS expert in survival while I sat on the floor and stared at all the wonderful things in the cabinet with my mouth open.

I am not a fan of killing and pinning as you know, but the insects in this cabinet are not recent specimens, so it was an opportunity to admire them...... 

You've got off lightly here btw- I came back with at least 50 pics from this set :o) The first one is, of course, the fantastic Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas), the largest moth in the world (wing span of one foot!), who usually lives in South East Asia (6000 miles from the UK).

There is a fantastic story of one who turned up in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, in 2010. It landed on the window of a suburban house and is believed to be the only one that has ever been found in the UK. It's worth having a quick listen to the BBC report of it here. The adults only live for a week, but this one laid eggs which grew into pillars.....







I was a bit befuddled in the head after all those wonderful insects. L complained that I wasn't making any sense and had a head full of butterflies as we walked down to the tenth century Saxon Tower of  St Micheal On The North Gate. We dropped L off at Waterstones next door and the rest of us climbed the tower for the view over the city....




St Michael's contains the door to the cells through which Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop) was led to his execution by burning at the Stake in nearby Broad Street in 1556.



On the way back to the bus home we passed a couple of things that seem to sum Oxford up.....A joke about Handel and a grown man pedaling a stationary bicycle blowing bubbles and wearing a rabbit's head (I know the pic is blurry but somehow it seemed more appropriate than a crisp, sharp, clear one)....




I managed to dive off into Hotel Chocolate for a few minutes and splurged on some choccies, which I am looking forward to eating all by myself...... :o)






This is allowed because it's now half past five and it's DARK already :o(

Oh well, a lovely day out has more than made up for the loss of that precious daylight hour at the end of the day. Roll on Spring!

CT :o)


22 comments:

  1. Looks like a lovely place for a day out and that museum looks like one I'd enjoy too. I'd be straight into the insect section as well! That Violin Beetle is just incredible, and those amazing flutterbies! Enjoy your chocs.... :-)

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    1. You would LOVE the museum. My naughty son told me afterwards there was a whole butterfly section upstairs which I missed, so I shall go back! I thought the Violin Beetle was incredible, and the two Stags- one blue, one green, so beautiful x

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  2. A wonderful piece about the joys of Oxford, museums and insects - what a heady cocktail for your day out! I am ashamed to say you know more about Oxford than I do and I was a student there... Thank you for evoking the place - I am now going to plan a trip to the Pitt Rivers - I rather like the shrunken head type of exhibit (I'm wondering if M knows the Wellcome collection of fabulously curious and somewhat disturbing things?). Lxx

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    1. It's funny how you don't always know so much about the place you live in as the ones you visit. M says thanks v much re Wellcome, he had heard of it but will try and have a look when he's next in London. I think you would love Pitt Rivers- it's a place everyone should go at least once :o) xx

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  3. I've never been to Oxford but it looks an interesting place.... I could spend a whole weekend just in that museum I reckon!

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    1. You would enjoy the museum, Louise- so much interesting stuff on evolution and nat hist. It's part of the uni of Oxford and houses their collection.

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  4. Love that owl! So long since I was in Oxford, touring with an extremely substandard production of King Lear. It really does have an atmosphere all its own. So p[leased you had a great day and, yes,. isn't it awful that it's dark so early? I'd ban the whole thing personally but at least the clock in the car is right at last. xx

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    1. Your previous existence does sound thrilling- I should imagine even touring with a sub-standard production had its high points :o)
      M is with you on banning the time change, and on the clock in the car too. You have to jump through hoops and contortions to change his, whereas mine just requires one button push :o) Hope OB had fun with his time away and all is well now he's back home safe and happy xx

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  5. I'm Whispering................I have never been and it's been on my to do list for years...........un whisper lol x

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    1. Ooh Julee- you MUST go. Oxford is such a beautiful place with lots of nice pubs too :o) xx

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  6. Hi CT. I love Oxford as well. We have visited a couple of times in the last 2 years when we were visiting the Cotswolds, and the park & ride buses are great. I think we used one called Pear Tree P&R. Like you, I couldn't get on with Alice in Wonderland as a child, even though I was a total bookworm. I never did finish it. Looks like you had a great day. Carol.

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    1. Hey Carol. I don't think there is anywhere in the UK quite like Oxford. I do love Cambridge too, but it takes us a lot longer to get there :o) I was a bookworm as a little person as well but never took to any of Carroll's works. Tolkien I loved, so we popped into his pub today as well (the Eagle and Child where he and CS Lewis formed 'The Inklings.' ) So much history in Oxford.

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  7. We were there about 3 weeks ago. Good, isn't it?

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  8. Great post CT - the moths are fantastic :) We went to the NH part when the children were little to a Rockwatch event so it was lovely to see all your photos. Visited the Pitt Rivers a few years back when the NH part was closed for renovation. Actually I quite enjoyed it but yes it has got some spooky stuff in there!

    Hope you enjoyed the chocolates :)

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    1. Choccies were yummy :o) (I did share them).

      The insect collection was incredible, I could have sat there staring at it for hours, but the family would have left me!

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  9. Lovely post and a great place to visit... While watching Autumn watch, hubby said " forgot to tell you I saw a water vole at the park the other day"!!!!!!! Guess what I'm doing tomorrow......
    Amanda x

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    1. Excellent! Mine seem to have tucked up for the winter, but it has been so mild you might be lucky. If you don't know what to look for it really is worth doing a course (usually only a day) to learn the signs. They are obvious when you know what to look for, but very hard to spot when you don't. The wildlife trusts run them. Lovely to know they are in the park :o) x

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  10. Oxford looks great, another place I've never been to. I agree the dead..or well dead creatures are not my thing so I would sick to the beautiful buildings of Oxford instead.

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    1. There is something special about Oxford, it's well worth a visit if you get the chance. Lots of interesting things too see :o)

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  11. Brilliant blog post, wonderful THINGS... I was a Cambridge girl myself, husband was Oxford. But when I was an archaeology/anthropology student we visited the Pitt-Rivers - I still have the postcards to prove it! We must visit Oxford again - I must find him something else to do while I absorb the natural history museum. My mouth was open just looking at your pictures!
    All the best :)

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    1. Does that make for interesting rivalry between you?? We didn't make it round the Ashmolean this time but will go back and do that as well. I'd like to do one of the college tours too- I had friends at Oxford and used to love visiting them :o)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x