Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 20 -- Oxford and Highclere Castle

Monday, August 13th


Monday, August 13th Our last full day of sightseeing in England was bound to be a day of sadness, but the anticipation of seeing Oxford and Highclere was sufficient to keep our spirits up.

We did not have any specific destinations in Oxford, although there were a few sights that we wanted to see. At a friend’s suggestion we used the Park and Ride, which proved very helpful. The only thing worse than driving on English country roads is driving on English city roads!

We found the perfect place for Dad, who is a teacher at a classical school:

Although I didn’t know what it was at the time, I took a picture of the Oxford Martyrs’ Memorial.

I later found out that it was erected (as it says on the monument): "To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI”

How Providential that I took a picture of it!

Just down the street from the memorial was the Eagle and Child -- or the “Bird and Baby,” as it was affectionately known by a group that met there. That group was the Inklings, whose members included such names as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. We went inside and saw the room where they met.

Naturally, we stopped by several bookstores. The best in Oxford is Blackwells, which has a story devoted to used books, and another that houses extremely rare books. We browsed in the rare section, admiring the books through their glass cases. The sumptuous leather bindings made my mouth water. We even saw a three-volume set of one of Charlotte Brontë’s novels – published under her original pseudonym, Currer Bell!

A few more sights from Oxford.

These rather peculiar fellows (no pun intended) graced the pillars of a courtyard. I rather wonder what they were intended for…

Highclere Castle

We were a bit rushed getting out of Oxford, as we wanted to get to Highclere Castle before closing. Through the graciousness of the tour guides, we were able to go inside before it closed, and were very glad we had made it in time! Highclere was used as Mistlethwaite Manor in the 1980’s version of “The Secret Garden,” and also as Totleigh Towers in the hilariously funny “Jeeves and Wooster” series. It is imposing on screen, but nothing can compare to seeing it in person. The library stretched for almost the entire length of the house, with shelf upon shelf of beautifully bound books. Our tour guide was quite delightful and chatty. She told us all about the earls, past and present, and even let us step into a bedroom for a moment to get a glimpse of the marble bathroom beyond. One of the previous earls had an interest in Egyptology, and was one of the men who helped discover Tutankhamen’s tomb (this explained the Egyptian exhibit advertised on their website! I had been racking my brain to decipher why an English country house would have such an exhibit…). Tiffany and I rambled around the beautiful grounds:

Highclere is absolutely breathtaking from any angle:

Here is one of the “follies” built by a previous earl.

We took one last, lingering look at Highclere from the car park, without the bustle of tourists that usually crowded the other places we saw. It was almost twilight on a grey, drizzly day, and the great mansion stood alone against the darkening sky.

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