Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Carfax Tower

The Carfax Tower is the center of Oxford. It's name is somehow derived from a French word for "crossroads" (quatre-face). You'll have to take my word for it - doesn't make much sense to me either.  The tower was originally part of a 13th century church. Today it provides a nice 360° view of Oxford.

To be an Oxford student, you must live on the campus of your college, or within six miles of this tower.

Maria and Robin climb the tower. This is the middle section of three flights of spiral stairs, some of them stone.

Looking towards Christ Church from the tower. From here you can often see Hogwarts students engaged in games of quidditch.

Maria looks over Oxford. The square tower in the background is Merton College, one of the three oldest colleges here. Robin studied there during two different summer semesters. Or at least that's what she said. After being here myself, I'm wondering why all the pub bartenders know her. Just kidding. 

Gotta have at least one photo like this. At least we're not planking or Tebowing.

The round dome in the background is The Camera, a former library that now serves as reading rooms for the Bodleian Library.

Looking down on the High. The street in the foreground is Cornmarket, a popular pedestrian street. Most English towns have a High Street, similar to Main Street in America. But only in Oxford is High Street called "the High." 

Providing information you never knew you needed. That's my mission statement.

The Bear

If you happened to be in Oxford anytime between 1242 and today, you could have stopped by this place for some ale or a meal. It's at the corner of Alfred and Blue Boar Street. It was originally a coaching inn, a place for coach travelers, named Parne Hall, then Le Tabard, then changed to The Bear in the 15th century. The present building was built in the early 1600s as a residence for the inn's ostler (the guy who took care of the horses). At some point it became the Jolly Trooper and in 1774 became The Bear. 

Robin and Maria approach The Bear.

Two American women at The Bear. This is obviously where the action is. And I'm willing to bet Bill Clinton stopped by here at least once. 

Ordering pub food and cider.

Heather served up cider, food, and local information. Including directions to The Turf Tavern.

The walls and even one of the ceilings of The Bear are covered with snipped-off neckties. In 1952 the landlord started a popular custom. For half of your necktie you could get a half-pint of beer. There are over 4,000 neckties here. Each one is identified with a note. Most of them are associated with a club, sports team, or school.

Our table has a nice view of Blue Boar Street.

I prefer real fireplaces in my drinking establishments. 

Another pub crossed off the list and we head towards High Street. Or, as they say here, the High.

The Turf Tavern, 1381

While in The Bear pub having lunch, the bartender gave us directions to Turf Tavern (or "The Turf"). These two pubs are the oldest in Oxford. The Bear is technically older, but the part of the original building that survived, and that the pub now occupies, was probably used as horse stables back in the 1200s.

The Turf Tavern, on the other hand, has been in continuous use as a pub and tavern since at least 1381, as evidenced by a tax imposed by King Richard II. The tavern appears to have changed its name at some point early on from The Spotted Cow to Turf Tavern to reflect its reputation as a gambling venue. Patrons would meet their "turfmen" (or "turf accountants") here to place bets on just about anything, including the tavern's namesake (sort of), horses. 

Directions: Go under the Bridge of Sighs. It's called the Bridge of Sighs because it looks like the original Bridge of Sighs in Venice which was, at one time, a passageway for convicted criminals from prison to their execution. 

After passing under the Bridge of Sighs, take the first alley on the left, St. Helens Passage. You can also see it in the top photo, just past the bridge.

Robin and Maria in St. Helens Passage.

Looks like that could be a tavern courtyard ahead. 

Turf Tavern's entrance, on the right. The tavern is surrounded on three sides by outdoor courtyards. 

Robin and Maria check out the signs in the front courtyard.

You can bet this guy was here a lot when he was going to school in Oxford. The pubs here give me a whole new perspective on the phrase "Oxford scholar."

In courtyard at the back of the Turf Tavern, the wall is the original Oxford Town Wall.

Checking out the history and ales of the Turf.

Busier inside than it looked from the outside. 

Perfect slogan for an Oxford Ale House.

Another entrance to The Turf Tavern courtyard from another alley. Or maybe it was a small street. Hard to tell. I love this place.

Hogwart's Great Hall

The Great Hall in Harry Potter's school at Hogwarts School of Wizardry is actually the Great Hall at Christ Church College. The name "Christ Church College" is considered technically incorrect because it ignores the fact that it's also a cathedral. It's the only college in the world that's also a cathedral. 

The planning and building of Christ Church was started in 1525 by Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII (he showed up a lot in the TV mini-series The Tudors). In 1529 Wolsey fell out of favor. With the construction three-quarters complete, it sat unfinished. It was finished and refounded in 1532 as King Henry VIII's College. Then refounded again by King Henry VIII in 1546 as Christ Church (after he broke with the Church of Rome and acquired great wealth through the dissolution of monasteries in England). I guess that means the monasteries meant to do good, and they ended up doing great.

The visitors entrance where lots of Harry Potter fans gather for a tour. 

Maria in The Hall where Harry Potter and his schoolmates were served their meals. Well, actually, the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies was inspired by this Hall and built as a movie set on an indoor sound stage. The current students of Christ Church had just finished lunch, and the staff was still putting things in order. 

The High Table is in the background, at the end of the room. It's where the faculty, special guests, and high-ranking wizards sit during meals. The faculty wears their graduation gowns. It's more prestigious to wear your MA graduation gown than your PhD gown (if your MA degree is from Oxford) because Oxford awarded MAs long before they awarded PhDs. Robin got to sit at the High Table at Regent's College when she was a guest of Lynn's. She also sat at the High Table of Merton College the couple of times she took a summer course there. During the Merton summer classes, a different student is invited to eat at the High Table for each meal.

A monument in the Christ Church Chapel. I've included it as one of many reasons I don't work in marble. It's just too darn difficult to adjust fonts, point sizes, and margins later. 

Harry Potter fans (or maybe King Henry VIII groupies) check out the main courtyard. 

It looks so... 16th century.

I'd love to see these vines in Spring or Summer.

A tenor rehearses in the chapel. Great acoustics. Sounded very 16th century.

The bell in the tower (Great Tom) is rung every night at 9 p.m. 101 times for the original 100 scholars of the school and one other scholar added in 1664. Originally this was done at midnight to signal the midnight closing of all college gates throughout Oxford. Since it took 20 minutes to ring the bell 101 times, the Christ Church gates weren't closed until 12:20. Even though the ringing has been moved to 9:30 p.m., Christ Church retains the tradition of keeping their gates open until 12:20.