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Journals from England Fall 2012

2012-11-28 Gone with the... bus?

For the past month I have spent my weekends travelling with the University of Nottingham Travel Society. It’s a wonderful club that spends its time planning day trips to cities and tourist spots in the surrounding counties.

Two weekends ago, I signed up to go to Oxford. My trip began at seven o’clock in the morning with a brisk jaunt across campus to the East Drive bus stops to catch the coaches that had been booked by the society.  A sleepy two-hour bus ride saw me, Allyna Murray, and Avery Dobbs dropped off in Oxford. We met up with two friends from Vienna, Beate and Valerie, and headed off to wander the City of Dreaming Spires.

Wandering the streets of Oxford meant struggling through masses of people and gusts of wind. The first place we went to see, the Christ Church Cathedral, was unfortunately closed to the public because classes were in session. The Harry Potter fan in me was desperately disappointed; Christ Church Cathedral was converted into Hogwarts’ Great Hall for the eight films. However, the grounds held a simple beauty that made the trip worthwhile.

Every place I looked in Oxford, carved spires and pale stone walls stopped my gaze. It is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. We strolled across the city, wandering into Merton College and taking pictures outside of the Examinations School, until we reached the famous Oxford Botanical Gardens. Though it was the heart of autumn and no flowers were blooming, the gardens were still starkly beautiful. Avery was particularly excited because she loves the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman; the final scene between the two main characters is set in the garden. We spent quite a bit of time on the bench where the Lyra and Will, the two main characters, said goodbye--just playing with my camera and enjoying the gardens. Nevertheless, we left to go see more of the city.

Beate, Avery, and I decided to spend two pounds and climb up to the top of Carfax Tower, which is the highest vantage point in Oxford. Sitting in the heart of the city, it has the best views which stretch for miles. The only problem turned out to be the claustrophobic winding staircases to the top.

The final destinations of our trip to Oxford were the Divinity School, where the Harry Potter films filmed all of the scenes in the infirmary and dancing lessons for the Yule Ball, and St. Mary the Virgin Cathedral. After walking through various alleyways we reached the courtyard between St. Mary the Virgin Cathedral, All Souls College, Bodleian Library, and Brasenose College. In the center of the courtyard is the Radcliffe Camera, an enormous dome surrounded with pillars and wrought iron. It is a study room; this was the point in time in which I wish I went to Oxford. Our small party walked into the Bodleian Library, in which the Divinity School is located, and bought our tickets. The Divinity School is stunning. Sandstone pillars lined the walls, shooting up to meet each other high above my head and form arches. Filigree detailing covered the entire hall. No one spoke while we sat on the dark wooden benches lining both sides of the room; no one wanted to shatter the serene silence. Eventually we had to leave in order to see the Cathedral and make it to the bus pick-up point on time, but the Divinity School is definitely a place I could spend hours in. St. Mary the Virgin was beautiful as well, though unfortunately most of the Cathedral was under construction; however, what we did see, was spectacular.

Oxford truly lives up to its title of the City of Dreaming Spires. It was a glorious day in an utterly gorgeous city. Sadly, the journey to Stratford upon Avon and Warwick Castle was not as easy. Just last weekend, Alanna Stanton, Beate Reichl, and I woke up at six o’clock in the morning to get on the coach to Stratford upon Avon. The mornings here have finally submitted to winter’s chill, thus making my trek across the Trent courtyard, which is entirely made of white marble, a test of my early-morning alertness.

Once we got to Stratford, we had a bitingly cold jaunt around the town. The past week had been exceedingly rainy as well, so the Avon had flooded its banks. Still, we spent the majority of three hours wandering down old streets lined with black and white Tudor style houses. However, the first stop we made was to a restaurant to warm up with ridiculous amounts of tea and Eggs Benedict. We passed by Hall’s Croft, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter’s house, on our way to see the Holy Trinity Church. We found the entrance to the church grounds hidden behind a thicket of trees.

A long, tree-lined drive separated the graveyard into two sections. The moss-covered gravestones were tilted to their sides and the engravings had begun fading long ago. Inside the church, brilliant stained-glass windows lined the walls. It is one of the prettiest churches that I’ve been inside yet. However, at the far back of the church protected from the public by a brass bar across some steps were the tombs of William Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway. Next to them were the baptismal font in which the Bard had been baptised and the register of his baptism and his death. We then wandered to see the place of Shakespeare’s birth, a small building preserved in the heart of the shopping district. On our way we cut through parks, and strolled alongside the Avon, watching swans and geese happily swim past multiple half-drowned benches. Sadly we did not go inside; I cannot speak for the other girls, but I am trying to save up money for the month-long vacation (in which students are kicked out of their dorms) to travel and thus didn’t pay the rather pricey admission fee. By that time, we also had to go back to the coaches to travel to Warwick Castle.

It was at this point in the trip that an exceedingly cold day became a generally miserable one. On the drive to Warwick, rain began pouring down and the wind picked up. By the time we went to the castle, it was windy enough to break Alanna’s umbrella. However, the three of us decided to power through. We first toured the wax exhibit, which showed how the castle operated during war. I must say it was rather creepy and we sped through it. We ended up outside of the Great Hall and listened to a tour guide explain the impressive display of armour held within. Then we moved on to the state rooms which housed wax figures of Henry VIII and his eight wives as well as the Queen. However, after we had finished going through the state rooms, there was nothing else left to do but brave the wind and rain and climb to the top of the towers.

We started by climbing the Mound, a large mass of earth topped with a watchtower with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and the Avon. As I mentioned earlier, the Avon was flooded, and so much so that from my vantage point I could see the top half of a covered dock, and farther on an entire field which had become a lake. We then walked back down the winding path, and readied ourselves for the one-way trip up the battlements, to the top of Guy’s Tower (39 stories tall), then to the top of the Engine House, and finally to Caesar’s Tower (somewhat shorter than Guy’s tower, but not by much). Though the views from the top, especially Guy’s Tower, were nothing short of breath-taking, the winding stone staircases were murder. I felt as if the staircase would never end as I was climbing to the top of Guy’s Tower.

Once we had finally descended from Caesar’s Tower, the three of us were tired, cold, and hungry. We went to the castle’s restaurant and had a cup of soup and, only in my case, more tea. Despite being frozen down to my bones and feeling like a wet cat, the trip to Stratford and Warwick Castle was truly wonderful. I just wish I had the opportunity to see it in summer.

Rhianna Bennett

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