After sitting for some time by the lily pond, soaking up the loveliness, I decided to continue my stroll back through the Fellows’ Garden and onward. Addison’s Walk pulled out all the stops to make itself memorable. Shafts of sunlight turned the leaves to gold, and made dappled patterns on the path in front of me. Branches reached forward from either side in salute as I passed. Butterflies and squirrels led me onward, pausing just long enough for me to take their pictures in suitably charming poses. Punts passed alongside me with gentle creaks and splashes. Magdalen tower presented and re-presented itself in a series of perfectly-framed views. I passed a handful of other people, but retained my sense of solitude. Everyone moved as if in their own private world. The experience was all I’d hoped for. If I had had to return to the train station at this point, I already felt that the trip had been worthwhile.
This was where Lewis used to walk with Tolkien, Hugo Dyson and other friends. This was where he was finally convinced by them that Christianity was a myth, but a true myth – one of the pivotal points in his life. This was where he would stroll, smoking a pipe or cigarette, talking about life and books and nature. I’d made my pilgrimage. A number of interestingly shaped trees made me think of Tolkien walking along this path, creating Ents and Huorns for his Middle Earth stories. Just before returning through the gate, I stopped to read the Lewis poem which is carved into a plaque set on the wall. It suited my mood perfectly.
Returning through the gate, to my right was New Building. I knew that this was where Lewis’ rooms were located so I headed towards it. I’d reached another stage of my pilgrimage. I believe that his rooms were the two windows to the right of the central section of the building (see below).
New Building, along with the other buildings of Magdalen where staff or students would be working, is not accessible to the public. (For understandable reasons.) Giddily, I snapped some selfies and explored as far as I was able. As I was doing so, probably looking a little peculiar, a woman – presumably on the university staff – approached and entered the door pictured above. I wondered if she was lucky enough to have Lewis’ old rooms. Lewis wrote about the views he enjoyed from his rooms, mentioning the herd of deer which still graze there today. It was in these rooms where he entertained the Inklings, with tea and beer and conversation, where he worked and wrote. I wonder how much of the Chronicles of Narnia were composed there.
I sat on a bench outside New Building, looking back across the lawns to the older part of the college. I realised why so many of the politicians who studied at Oxford are so out of touch with the realities of modern life, and why they make such terrible decisions. If you’d spent your formative years in a place as attractive and timeless as this, particularly if you’d already spent time at a similarly appealing school, then gone straight to Whitehall, you would think that Britain is just perfect as it is. Who would want to improve a country which arlready seemed this wonderful? If this was your main experience of life in modern Britain, you’d have a very different view of the country from most of its population.
The sun was shining ever brighter, so I decided to make the most of it and return to Addison’s Walk, travelling in the opposite direction this time. Dawdling along, I soaked up all the little details around me and wished I knew the names of more plants and trees. Partway along the path is a bench which offers a fantastic view across the water meadow towards Magdalen Tower. A man sat painting the scene.
After a good fifteen minutes of happy strolling, I was back at the gate. I took a closer look at the borders, which were in full bloom, then returned to the cloister, delighting repeatedly in different views of it from different windows. A set of stairs leading off to the left took me to the dining hall, where Lewis would have eaten his weekday meals. I could almost hear the clink of glasses from the hundreds of dinners and celebrations it must have hosted over the years. (I defy anyone not to think of Hogwarts when they see the long tables in college halls like this, something I’ll be returning to in later posts.)
After the hall, I made my way to the college chapel, where Lewis attended services after his return to Christianity, but I was disappointed to find the seating area roped off, as I had hoped to look at the plaque which marks where he sat. The chapel did contain other items of interest, however, such as stained glass and stone carvings.
Behind the chapel was a quiet area, the Chaplain’s Quad, containing a modern sculpture. The bright sunlight made it appear that the woman in the sculpture (Mary Magdalen) was shielding her eyes from the sun. Returning to St John’s Quad, I had one last happy look around, spotting the gargoyles above me, and then headed back onto the street outside, buzzing with excitement at having retraced Lewis’ footsteps, and at experiencing such a beautiful place.
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