Having spent the afternoon in Magdalen College, I now made my way down High Street, known as ‘the High’. I’d expected to see a number of colleges on my visit, but was not aware of just how dominant college buildings are in the centre of Oxford. I couldn’t keep count. The street was busy, but not unpleasantly so. Pausing regularly to peer into interesting windows, I particularly liked the look of Sanders of Oxford, and went inside for a nose around. (website listed below)
By now, I was getting hungry. I’d thought carefully about how to organise my meals during my visit. I’m quite comfortable dining alone (I know many people don’t enjoy it, but as long as I’ve got something to read or a window to look out of, I’m happy.) but I have some allergies which can make finding somewhere suitable and safe a little tricky. Also, if I were to experience an allergic reaction (they have led to hospitalisation in the past) I was miles away from home with no-one to help. So I picked up the makings of a picnic from Marks and Spencers and headed back to Keble.
Once back in my room, I had a snack and a shower, then headed back out into the early evening sunshine. Just across the road were the University Parks, where I decided to have a leisurely stroll. (see link below for details and map) The park was much larger than I’d expected, and was being well used by people relaxing, picnicking and so on. I made it as far as the cricket pavilion, then turned back towards the main road. My feet wanted a rest, and the rest of me wanted a proper drink, so I walked back through St Giles to the Randolph Hotel. I’ve seen it mentioned a number of times that Lewis took tea here, and the film Shadowlands used it as a location. But for once I didn’t just have Lewis on my mind. I really enjoy the Inspector Morse series, based on Colin Dexter’s novels. Dexter famously drinks at the Randolph, and Morse was filmed there on more than one occasion. The hotel bar is now named the ‘Morse Bar’ in his honour.
The Morse Bar is small but perfectly formed, the staff attentive but unobtrusive. Having a drink alone in some bars can be an uncomfortable experience for a woman, but I felt completely at home there (although it’s quite a bit fancier than my usual haunts.) The decor is traditional, and I settled into a leather armchair next to the stone fireplace. The barman brought me a delicious French Martini, which I sipped as I worked on a crossword. Drinking a strong drink while solving a puzzle was not only my little salute to Morse, but also to my late Dad, who loved Morse, crosswords and having a ‘decent drink’ in a ‘civilised place’. He would have loved it here.
Strolling back through St Giles I felt most at ease (thanks in part to the French Martini, no doubt.) I gathered up the picnic items from my room and took them down to the Pusey Quad. There, I sat on a bench, munching my way through pork pies, beetroot salad and cake. I was quite alone under a blue sky, the only sounds coming from some distance away. Bliss.
After my higgledy-piggledly meal I decided to visit the Keble Chapel, which was on the far side of the Liddon Quad. After some time doing battle with the door, which was so stiff I almost gave up once or twice, I managed to gain access. Unsurprisingly, the chapel’s design was completely in keeping with the rest of the college buildings. It was strikingly decorated with brightly coloured brick and tile (the hallmark of the architect, Butterfield), as well as the more usual stained glass and stone carving. Everywhere I looked were patterns and pictures, including friezes of Bible scenes on the wall, with life-size figures in bold colour. Even the organ pipes were covered in dazzling geometric patterns. As I was the only person there, I felt able to just sit for a while, staring at everything and trying to take it all in. In the side chapel I found Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’. I thought at first that it was badly lit, but after a while I spotted the button to press which illuminates the painting for visitors.
Leaving the chapel, I had a wander around the different college quads, where lavender and jasmine made the evening air sweet. There was even a little water feature. I couldn’t help but think how utterly different it all was from my own university accommodation, in run-down terraced houses with shared bin yards and metal grilles on the doors and windows. Upon returning to my room, I pottered for a while, and read. As the night drew in, I looked out of my window across the quad. The buildings looked even more Hogwartian, thanks to their turreted silhouettes and the odd twinkling light in a window. I slept well.