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The Journal of a Journey,
UK and Ireland 1999


Day 2—Friday, October 1 1999
Oxford and Stratford Upon Avon

Oxford's oldest street, town logo, Sheldonian Theater, Inklings' pub, Inklings' photos and plaqueIt rained hard before dawn as I tried in vain to sleep in our little basement room and it was still drizzling as we started out for London's Paddington Station, to catch a train for Oxford, about two hours to the west and north. Once in Oxford, still dogged by drizzle, we took the Guide Friday on-off bus tour* about the city that's home to the world's fourth-oldest university (William Penn was among its alumni). When our bus guide pointed out the Eagle and Child Pub as the place where my favorite author, Oxford don C.S. Lewis, along with J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and other writers met once a week as the Inklings for 23 years, I opted to leave the tour for a closer look. We had a pot of tea in the room that is dedicated to the Inklings, who have probably inspired more writers' groups than anyone else, a real treat. I was able to get some excellent video in the pub. (You can see some reenactments of at least informal Inklings meetings in the 1993 film Shadowlands, which is now out on video and first inspired me to read everything I could get by Lewis.) To the pub's credit, it publicizes the Inklings but does not have a plaque saying "featured in the film, Shadowlands.

After our tea, for which we had a perfect day—one begins to understand the whole thing about the English and tea on such days—we walked up the main street (which is open only to foot traffic and was teeming with students and other academics) to rejoin one of the Guide Friday bus tours. We saw the various colleges that comprise the university, including a graduation ceremony forming outside the Sheldonian Theater designed by Christopher Wren. There was more rain, so I suggested we cut Oxford short and continue north an hour's train ride to Stratford Upon Avon. Our Britrail passes, purchased in advance at home, gave us unlimited use of England's—and Ireland's—railways for 10 days that could be taken over the course of a month.

The River Avon, Stratford; the Shakespeare Theater; Holy Trinity Church; British Safeway, Stratford Upon AvonThe weather was better by the time we got to Stratford and we were able to sightsee without getting wet. Our first stop was at a Beefeaters Restaurant at the foot of Bridge Street, where we had dinner. It was a good repast, but a forgettable one, as I don't remember what we ate.

Outside again we filmed the boats on the canal and River Avon and walked a mile or so on the left side of the river down past Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, and back via the church to the train station at dusk for our return to our miserable room in London. While waiting in the train station there I got video of a large Safeway supermart across the way. The large British chain was probably once related to the one based in California (they still have many similarities), though they're independent now. (The UK does, incidentally, still have a thriving Woolworth's five and dime chain, dubbed "Woolies" by the locals.)

We were too tired for any more walking after catching the Underground from Paddington to the Baker Street stop, our nearest Underground station. It was back to the Interattica for our last night in London. Since my first visit in '94, the city seems to have grown less friendly, more hurried and harried. Its subways (Underground) have some of the world's longest escalators, which move at a brisk pace, yet people routinely run past you up or down them, seemingly unable to make that next pound fast enough. On the sidewalks you'll get jostled and bumped, but seldom a "pardon me" or any other cordial word. Still, looking bewildered about which way to go for one of our subway connections, a woman approached us and offered to help, so this isn't a general complaint.

*"On-off" bus tours are popular throughout the UK and Ireland. You purchase a ticket good for 24 hours (say 2 p.m. one day to 2 p.m. the next) and get a general survey of the city you're visiting, and can get off the tour at any point, walk around, eat, or whatever, and rejoin the tours later. Some companies, like London Pride in London, offer a variety of tours, any combination of which can be taken for a single ticket. Prices range from about 7 to 10, depending on discounts you may qualify for.

—jon

Next station: On to Scotland

Planning to spend time in Oxford? Check out the Nanford Guest House

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