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Published: July 25th 2016
Christ Church College
Well, this is the last epistle for this trip as we have just one more day of travel left. Our location for the past 5 days has been the small village of South Leigh, about 7 miles from Oxford. The village is a collection of houses; no shop nor post office and a pub that has been closed for the last two years because of a dispute with the developer/owner. The population of the village is about 350 and its main claim to fame is its parish church; the Church of St. James the Great. I was on my way to visit the church yesterday when I met the lady who locks/unlocks the church – she’s also a bell ringer and a Sunday School teacher. She kindly offered to show me around which was nice. The oldest part of the church dates from the late 12th
century but there have been many additions and renovations over the years. During the late 19th
century major renovations were being undertaken and at this time extensive 15th
century wall paintings were uncovered. They include a Doom painting over the chancel and a large painting of St Michael weighing souls with Mary adding rosary beads to
Christ Church College
the weighing pan to help the souls on their way to Heaven. The church has a peel of 8 bells in its tower, the tenor bell weighing over 10 cwt; so many bells is quite unusual and posh for a church of its size. The church was the venue for the first sermon preached by John Wesley in 1725, prior to the formation of the Methodist Church. When he next visited the village, some years later, he was locked out of the church and so preached in front of the pub. Most movingly, the lectern in the church was donated by a father grateful for the safe return of his three sons from WW1. The village’s other claim to fame is that Dylan Thomas lived in the village for 2 years during the late 1940s and is said to have written a large part of " Under Milkwood” while living in South Leigh. The village is under the flight path for RAF aircraft using Brize Norton, the largest RAF base in the UK – apparently they line up with the church bell tower for landing. Thankfully there hasn’t been too much noise, as they are prohibited from flying at night,
Christ Church College - Great Hall
but we have certainly noticed a few large transport and refuelling planes (according to Wikipedia Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Airbus A330 MRTT Voyager are used) taking off.
We’ve had a pretty relaxed time here as we are really feeling that our holiday is coming to an end. We spent a day in Oxford, mostly wandering around, but we did visit a couple of the colleges. Our trip into Oxford was via the backroads (on purpose) and involved crossing an old toll bridge where we paid a toll of 5p. Our first stop was Christ Church which received a large boost to its finances following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. While we were standing in line I listened to a tour guide telling some customers that when the college was founded the Oxford locals were not happy to have a bunch of well-to-do students living amongst them. Thus the concept of the college was initiated with the actual form of the college based upon an abbey – i.e. with a central cloister/quadrangle, dining room, library, rooms and chapel. In the case of Christ Church, the college chapel also serves as the
Christ Church Cathedral
cathedral for Oxford and is home to the famous Christ Church Cathedral choir. The Great Hall (dining room) has probably increased in fame as it inspired the design of the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter films. Some filming was undertaken at the college and the staircase to the Great Hall was used in those films. Consequently, lots of tourists stop to have their photographs taken on the stairs. The Great Hall is pretty impressive with the walls decorated with portraits of famous alumni. Probably most famous amongst these is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) who wrote the Alice novels whilst a Maths tutor at the college. Others include John Locke whose philosophical theories are reflected in the US Declaration of Independence plus 13 former UK Prime Ministers. We also visited Magdalen College which was home to Chronicles of Narnia
author, C.S. Lewis and Lord of the Rings
author, J. R.R. Tolkein. This college has large gardens, including a deer park, and a pleasant walk along the banks of the Cherwell River. We passed by other notable building including the Bodleian Library & Radcliffe Camera but by that time we were hot, tired and basically couldn’t be bothered.
Magdalen College cloister
On our second day we visited Blenheim Palace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. The land for the palace and a large sum of money to build the castle were awarded to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, by Queen Anne for his defeat of the French and Bavarians during the 1704 Battle of Blenheim. On arrival at the palace I was intrigued by the “Do not walk on the gravel” signs placed in numerous locations around the forecourt of the palace. When the palace was first built this gravel was supposedly gravel from Blenheim in Bavaria. Apparently, prior to the 11th
Duke’s death (in 2014 aged 88), if he saw a visitor walking on the gravel he would “race” outside brandishing his cane and tell them to get off his gravel. I don’t know if this is true but it was mentioned during a tour of the private apartments. Dukes numbers 5 to 8 were much better at spending money than making it and so the family were soon asset rich but cash poor. The 9th
Duke’s solution to this problem was to marry money and so he married an
Magdalen College - window and gargoyles
American, the heiress to Vanderbilt fortune. This was not a love match but the bride’s mother was desperate to see her daughter a duchess and the marriage of convenience gave the duke the money he needed. The marriage lasted for about 11 years and eventually ended in divorce. The grounds of the palace are huge with gardens designed by famous landscaper Capability Brown. He dammed the local river to create 2 lakes on the property plus a cascade and planted numerous trees which are now huge. Formal gardens around the palace were created by the 9th
Duke. With appropriately deep pockets you can hire the palace for your wedding. For inspiration, Silvester Stallone was married at the palace and spent his wedding night in the private apartments.
The last couple of days have been much more relaxed and we’ve visited nearby towns/villages. The town of Witney is only 3 miles away but provided us with some pleasant wandering for a couple of hours. The town has a population of about 20,000 and once was famous for the production of woollen blankets. Today the town is home to the Wychwood Brewery that produces Hobgoblin and Brakspear ales. Today
we marked the end of our holiday by Sunday lunch at a pub by the River Windrush. This was preceded by a walk through the picturesque Cotswolds village of Burford. The town has a long High Street lined by old houses and shops – think stone houses with roses/wisteria around the door and wonky, half-timbered houses. The town’s church was the site for the execution of three Levellers – the Levellers were a political movement during the English Civil War that emphasised equality before the law and religious tolerance.
As I write these last paragraphs I’m sitting in a room in a hotel at Heathrow the night before we fly out. The most memorable thing about this hotel is the size of the weeds (tree-like) growing in the gutters of the warehouse/factory outside our window. We drove to London via Milton Keynes so that we could visit Bletchley Park, the home of Britain’s codebreakers during WW2. I’d been aware of Bletchley Park for many years, having read the biographies “Carve Her Name with Pride”
and “The White Mouse”
as a teenager or young adult. More recently, during our last visit to the UK in 2012, we watched
the Manchester Pride March. The focus of that march was Alan Turing, presumably to mark the centenary of his birth but also to recognise him as an LGBT icon, especially in the city of Manchester where he worked after the war. And we’re both a bit geeky so it was nice to close some circles and visit this historic site. We quickly visited the various huts where the cryptoanalysts developed their techniques and learnt a little more about the happenings of that period. During the war, 75-80%!o(MISSING)f the people working at Bletchley Park were women; many of these mathematicians, physicists or engineers working as cryptoanalysts. The facility was located mid-way between Cambridge and Oxford as these universities were expected to supply most of the mathematicians that would be trained as cryptoanalysts. Most people these days probably know of Bletchley Park through the film, “The Imitation Game”,
about Alan Turing and his development of the electro-mechanical decryption device known as the bombe. Unfortunately, all bombes were disassembled at the end of the war but one machine has been rebuilt in the last few years. We could have spent a lot longer there than we did but felt that we needed
Radcliffe Camera (science library)
to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Heathrow.
Our trip to Heathrow was uneventful but we were surprised at the amount of congestion on the M25, London’s ring road. After handing our car back to the rental car firm we walked to our hotel, towing our luggage along the North Perimeter Road – much quicker than getting the Hertz bus into the airport terminals and a second bus back out again.
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