Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Last Weekend Trip: Oxford and the Cotswolds

Well, Saturday was my last weekend trip in England with the University of Westminster, and it was the trip I was looking forward to the most, going to Oxford and the Cotswolds.  I'd been through part of the Cotswolds before on my way back from Wales, but it was nice to actually stop at one of the villages.

The Cotswolds are what you think of when you think of small English villages in the country.  You know, stone structures, thatch roofs, beautiful gardens with flowers crawling up the sides of buildings, the works. The area is about 2,250 square miles in total, stretching from south-western to west-central England.  We went to Burton on the Water, which has a very small river running through it and 6 bridges over the river, which gives it its nickname "the Venice of the Cotsworlds."

It was definitely a nice change of pace from London.  There were children and dogs playing in the river and people walking around all over the place.  Everything was just slower and more laid back here.  There were tons of little shops all over the place too that sold all sorts of interesting gifts and such.

Just to give you an idea, this is what a lot of the houses looked like at Burton on the Water.  All the buildings are made of the same type of stone.  You can tell where in the Cotswolds you are based on the color of the stone.  The area we were in had a more honey-colored stone, but there are two other shades used in other parts of the Cotswolds.  There are many villages to visit in the Cotswolds, and they give you a wonderful taste of the small-town (well, more like a village) life in the English countryside.

Our last stop for the day was Oxford, home of Oxford University.  Now, I didn't know that Oxford University is actually a whole series of smaller universities, some a little more prestigious than others (but, I mean, it's Oxford, so they're all still pretty amazing and prestigious).  One of the first things we saw was the Martyrs Memorial to Bishops Cranmer, Lattimer and Ridley who were burned at the stake in Oxford under the reign of Bloody Mary.  It's almost fitting that Mary brought about Cranmer's demise since he's the one who granted the divorce between her parents, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon (there we go, got to mention him again!).  The memorial doesn't mark where the bishops were martyred though.

This simple stone cross marks where the three Protestant bishops were burned at the stake.  Cranmer was last, and he had to watch the demise of the other two bishops.  In an attempt to save himself, he signed a document renouncing his Protestant faith, but he was still executed, and he said that he hoped his right hand burned first since he never should have signed that document in the first place.

The highlight of the trip to Oxford was Christ Church College, which combines my two favorite things in life: Harry Potter and Henry VIII (it works, I swear).  Christ Church College was originally founded by Cardinal Wolsey and was going to be called Cardinal College.  Wolsey fell from favor, however, when he couldn't get Henry that divorce from Katherine of Aragon that Bishop Cranmer did, so the college was named Christ Church College.

So you may be saying to yourself, well, how does Harry Potter fit into all of this?  For the first Harry Potter movie, they filmed several scenes at Christ Church College.  Above you may recognize the halls as the ones in Hogwarts, and that's because, well, they are.  Some of the halls at the college were used at halls at Hogwarts since they look like they belong in a castle.

This staircase also has a crucial part to play in the first Harry Potter movie.  This is where Harry, Ron and the rest of the first years get their first taste of life at Hogwarts.  They walk up these stairs to where Professor McGonagall is waiting for them to take them into the Great Hall to be sorted into their houses and meet their classmates for the first time.  The scene is also where you get to meet the amazing Professor McGonagall (played by the absolutely wonderful Dame Maggie Smith) for the first time.

Now, this is what Christ Church College is known for: its dining hall.  This was used to film the Great Hall for the first Harry Potter movie, and let me tell you, this room is TINY, like WAY smaller than I ever thought it would be.  Our tour guide kept saying that they didn't actually film here, but she's wrong.  They filmed here for the first movie, and when it was a hit (like there was ever any doubt), they were like "well, it's stupid to have to drive up to Oxford and close down the college and film all the time, so let's build our own Great Hall."  If you go back to my first Harry Potter Studio Tour post, you'll see that set, which is 1 1/2 times bigger than the one at Christ Church College.  All along the walls here are paintings of famous monarchs and people, and at the very end is a portrait of Henry VIII flanked by portraits of his youngest daughter, Elizabeth I, and Cardinal Wolsey.  There's also the Alice in Wonderland stained glass window, but it's super small, so I'm not going to include a picture of it.  Along the bottom of one of the stained glass windows they've added in characters from Alice in Wonderland, since the gardens here gave Lewis Carroll the inspiration for Wonderland.  It's really small though, I was expecting something a lot bigger.

So that was my trip to Oxford.  I'm not going to go into my rant and rave about our tour guide for the trip, who was pretty awful at her job.  I'd like to go back to Oxford, because there's so much I feel like I missed.  What I did see was gorgeous though.  If you go, take extra time to appreciate it just for me.

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