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How to plan a walking tour through literary Oxford

Alice, Aslan, Lyra and Lord Voldemort — literary tales abound on a walking tour of the City of Dreaming Spires.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 4 Aug 2020, 08:00 BST
Visitors walk past the Radcliffe Camera, one of the city's most iconic landmarks with over 250 ...

Visitors walk past the Radcliffe Camera, one of the city's most iconic landmarks with over 250 years of history. 

Photograph by 4corners

1. The Story Museum

Begin at this innovatively revamped landmark of Oxford’s museum scene, which celebrates the telling of tales in all forms. Step into an interactive wonderland where Author Phillip Pullman co-narrates City of Stories, an audio-visual time-travelling journey through Oxford’s literary history, explore an enchanted library, see stories brought to life through puppet shows, theatre and spoken-word performances in the Woodshed, and don’t get lost in the Whispering Wood.

2. Christ Church College

Take a tour of the college where Alice in Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll lectured in maths and keep an eye out for the little door in the Cathedral Garden said to have inspired the entrance to Wonderland. Go punting on the nearby Isis, where Carroll spun a surreal tale to entertain the college dean’s daughter, Alice Liddell — supposedly the inspiration for the titular heroine.

Christ Church College is where Alice in Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll lectured in maths. 

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Bodleian Library

Although New College’s cloisters and Christ Church’s dining hall are Oxford’s most iconic Harry Potter film locations (the latter not actually featured but recreated in the films), don’t forget to visit the Bodleian; one of its wood-panelled reading rooms, Duke Humfrey’s Library, doubled as the Hogwarts library. The gothic vaulted ceiling of the Divinity School, meanwhile, was Harry’s hospital ward in the first film.

4. Exeter College

Phillip Pullman set much of the His Dark Materials trilogy in the city, having studied at this beautiful college. Exeter itself takes a lead role in the recent TV adaptation, as it doubles for Jordan College — Lyra’s first home in Northern Lights. Can you spot the gabled attic window from which she escapes dreary academic life? Within dashing distance: the Covered Market, another favourite Lyra haunt. 

The Whispering Wood, an immersive exhibition at The Story Museum, is an indoor forest of spoken stories. 

Photograph by Andrew Walmsley

5. Ashmolean Museum

The author J R R Tolkien was both a student and professor at the University of Oxford, so it’s no surprise the city is littered with artefacts and addresses said to have influenced his most famous works, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Well worth a look are the gold Posie rings at the Ashmolean; the inscriptions on the inside of the hoops are said to have been the inspiration for the all-powerful One Ring. 

6. The Eagle and Child

By now you’ve earned a drink at The Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien and C S Lewis met with other members of the Inklings literary discussion group (a document, signed by the authors, praising the pub’s ham hangs above a fireplace). Then head to Magdalen College, where animals carved into the cloisters are said to have inspired a scene in Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

Published in the May/June 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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