There were only a couple of hours left of my visit to Oxford now. I wanted to squeeze in some more exploration while I could. I headed to the Museum of Natural History, which is the sort of place anyone who has had to entertain under fives will be familiar with. Housed in a neo-Gothic Victorian building, with a lawn full of picnicking families in front, it was a busy, bustling place full of stuffed animals, dinosaur bones and ever-patient grandparents corralling small children and doling out snacks and juice boxes. It was light and bright and I really liked it. I walked through the museum to a doorway in the far wall. This led into the Pitt Rivers Museum.
What an astonishing place. The eight-year-old me (who is never very far away) squeaked with joy. The entire place (one large open room, with galleries across multiple floors) was a gigantic cabinet of curiosities. Miraculously, it had been spared over-modernisation, streamlining or ‘tidying up’. There were tens of thousands of artefacts from all over the world. Weapons, clothes, toys, money, models. I wandered about for some time and didn’t see anything I wasn’t interested in. The items were all displayed in traditional glass cabinets. I chanced upon some shrunken heads which may well have inspired the prop designers who worked on Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. Numerous pre-teen children were skipping around the place, evidently enjoying it as much as I was.
Time was running out, so I left the museum and, just around the corner, I entered the Weston Library. I’m very glad I did. It was a pleasant, modern building. First, I visited the Shakespeare exhibition, which included a first folio. Next, I headed to the ‘Treasures’ room. Here was a small display of immaculately selected, lovingly displayed items of particular interest. Of course, my favourites were the Pauline Baynes sketch of Puddleglum, and Tolkien’s picture of Hobbiton, but they were given a good run for their money by the other pieces on show.
Next door to the Weston was Blackwell’s, the famous bookshop. I picked up some gifts and admired another original Baynes (Wimbleweather, priced at slightly more than I spent last time I bought a car) and some interesting first editions: Narnia, Dymer and A Grief Observed. I also made a mental note that such a thing as an Inklings Colouring Book exists.
After a last visit to Keble’s chapel, I collected my suitcase and walked to the train station. (It only took about 15 minutes.) At the station I stocked up on snacks and waited for my train. I was sorry to leave Oxford, but as ever missed my own bed and home comforts. I was looking forward to sharing my adventures with my husband when I arrived at home.
My return journey was to Newcastle via Kings Cross, so naturally I popped into the expanded Platform 9 3/4 shop. Why they have still now sorted out the air con in this place? It’s like the seventh level of hell in there. Is it intentional, to discourage dawdlers and gawkers? I got out as soon as I could squeeze past the people and displays. The queue for Platform 9 3/4 photos was unbelievable. I’m glad I got mine when it was still on the outside of the building, with nobody there.
All the way home on the train, I plotted my return to Oxford, my new favourite place. I’d made my literary pligrimage and had not been disappointed.