Tag Archives: DLSayers

Literary Walks: Dorothy Sayers’ Oxford

If you know me at all, you know I love Oxford. You also might recall that I adore the mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers. While in Oxford this summer I was determined to put together my own literary walk to celebrate Sayers’ Gaudy Night and its two main characters, Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey.

I even made a map with the help of Google:


Google says this is a 50 minute walk. If you really want to soak it all in, however, 2-3 hours would give you plenty of time to see everything. If you wish to linger and visit colleges/pubs/bookstores along the way, you might give yourself at least half a day.


The walk begins on Brewer Street, where you’ll find a plaque that commemorates the birth of Dorothy Sayers in this very building. Her father was headmaster at the Christ Church Cathedral Choir School and a chaplain at the cathedral. This will be a brief stop, as you can’t go inside, but it’s a nice quiet street and no one should mind you taking a photograph. (I do it every summer!)

From here go east to St. Aldates and continue north. On your right you will see Christ Church College. In Gaudy Night, Harriet runs into Peter Wimsey’s nephew, Lord Saint-George, who is a student at Christ Church. When Saint-George hurts himself rather badly in a car accident, she must write to inform Peter. And thus the plot thickens… (If you have the time, this college certainly is worth visiting.)

Follow St. Aldates as it turns into Cornmarket, Magdalen, and then St. Giles. Bonus: At the intersection with Pusey Street look left and behold The Eagle & Child, a pub famous for hosting meetings of The Inklings. Sayers was friends with the Inklings, but never an official member, according to the Mythopoeic Society.


Finally you will come to Somerville College, Dorothy Sayers’ alma mater and an inspiration for Shrewsbury College in Gaudy Night. This college ordinarily does not welcome tourists during the summer, but they did allow me to stand in the doorway and take some photos. Perhaps you might be allowed greater access at other times of the year?

Google suggests that you return to the city center via St John Street, which should be less crowded and will take you by the Ashmolean, a museum well worth seeing that also offers a rooftop restaurant and a cozy cafe in the basement. I always get very hungry when touring Oxford!


Balliol College, Lord Peter Wimsey’s alma mater, is just to the east of the Ashmolean, but you must take Magdalen Street to Broad to find its entrance. The fee to tour the college (as of a couple of weeks ago) is three pounds, and it’s well worth it. Do visit the chapel, explore the grounds, and tour the dining hall. Somewhere on the grounds is a portrait of Lord Peter Wimsey that was presented to the college many years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it (even with the porter calling everyone he knew to determine its location). Perhaps you’ll have better luck?

Upon leaving Balliol, turn south at Turl Street and take a left on Brasenose Lane. Straight ahead is Radcliffe Square (the featured image at the top of this post). Radcliffe Square is the center of Oxford, and you could spend quite some time ogling and photographing the gorgeous architecture. Do take a nice gander at the Radcliffe Camera–in Gaudy Night Harriet Vane tries to get some work done here–and also the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. For a moderate fee you can climb up to the church tower and get a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the city. AND if you didn’t stop for lunch at the Ashmolean, I suggest you venture into the Vaults & Garden Cafe. Even if you already ate lunch, you might stop here for afternoon tea! You’ll find delicious, wholesome food in a setting that is comfortable and offers sublime views.


When you’re finished admiring Radcliffe Square take Catte Street north to Holywell and walk east until you reach St. Cross Street. Go north until you see St. Cross Church (pictured above) at your right. This building belongs to Balliol College and is now an archive rather than a church, but you can wander the grounds and enjoy the lovely views. This site is very important in the story of Peter and Harriet. For now, however, I won’t spoil it.

Bonus: Explore nearby Holywell Cemetery, a Romantically overgrown graveyard. Kenneth Grahame (author of Wind in the Willows) and his son are buried here, among others. There’s a wooden bench perfect for enjoying an afternoon snack–might I suggest a sandwich from the Alternative Tuck Shop on Holywell? Grab your sandwich and a drink on the way to St. Cross. OR take your sandwich along for our final stop on the tour…


A punt on the Cherwell! Walk south on St. Cross, continuing as it turns into Longwall Street, and take a left onto High Street. Find the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse (look for the signs) and rent a punt just as Peter and Harriet did in Gaudy Night. (Above you see Steve manning the pole most efficiently with Magdalen Tower in the background.) You can try punting on your own OR hire a “professional” who will do all the work and offer a little tour.

If you go it alone, expect some bumps along the way:

[Peter] was, in fact, a pretty punter to watch, easy in action and quite remarkably quick. They picked their way at surprising speed down the crowded and torturous stream until, in the narrow reach above the ferry, they were checked by another punt, which was clumsily revolving in mid-stream and cramming a couple of canoes rather dangerously against the bank.

“Before you come on this water,” cried Wimsey, thrusting the offenders off with his heel and staring offensively at the youth in charge (a stringy young man, naked to the waist and shrimp-pink with the sun), “you should learn the rule of the river. Those canoes have the right of way. And if you can’t handle a pole better than that, I recommend you to retire up the back-water and stay there till you know what God gave you feet for.” (Ch. 14)

Eventually Peter and Harriet move on to the less crowded Isis River–you can, too, if you’re punting yourself.

Bonus: If you still have energy after punting I highly recommend visiting Magdalen College and walking in their Deer Park. It’s a beautiful and soothing place. If you haven’t yet eaten–or need to refuel after punting–do visit the Old Kitchen Bar (dating from the 1300s). The riverside terrace is lovely!

And that is the end of my walking tour of Dorothy Sayers’ Oxford! Any questions? Suggestions? What did I leave out?

Stay tuned for a Friday Favorite post featuring Tea in Cedar Falls, Iowa…

Swoonworthy Reads

To celebrate Valentine’s Day here on the blog I searched my bookshelves and Goodreads reading list for stories that struck me as delightfully romantic. I’m leaving out category romance and trying only to include books that feature a pairing or a moment that really stayed with me–books that were unexpectedly or hauntingly romantic, where I melted into a puddle of yearning, blushed, or gasped “oh my!”

Young Adult Romance


Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. One of my favorite reads of 2017, this gorgeous fairy tale inspired LOTS of yearning as I read.
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. This fantasy starts slow with a chunk of world-building, but your patience will be rewarded. The romance was unexpected and very swoonworthy.
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I do love a good boarding school story, and this may be the most delightful YA contemporary romance I’ve read!

Yearning Romance


Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. It’s really not fair to include this one because you must have at least read the two prior Peter/Harriet books to fully appreciate it, or ideally have read all the Peter Wimsey books. I had to include it, though, because the romantic bits are so incredibly SWOONY.
Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Two romances–one between Victorian poets and the other between the modern scholars studying them. I’m getting myself worked up just writing this summary. So. much. yearning.
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. This often harrowing story of a Civil War soldier on a journey back to the girl he left behind beautifully epitomizes romantic yearning.

Sizzling Romance


Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. This Dickensian tale of a young swindler who meets her match totally took me by surprise with its SPICY romance, and ever since reading it I’ve been a diehard fan of Sarah Waters.
Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen. I’ve enjoyed all of Allen’s books, but this was my first and remains the most memorable. The emotional and physical intensity of the romance definitely inspired a few “Oh MY!” moments as I read.
The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James. For some reason, I didn’t see the romance coming in this ghostly mystery. I fell for the misdirection, and I’m glad I did because the first sexy scene was a STEAMY surprise.

Just for fun, I’ll add my husband’s offerings to the list: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger; Atonement, by Ian McEwan; and The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks (although he really means the movie for the last option, and he says in particular he’s thinking of Rachel McAdams, but I know he’s really thinking of James Garner and Gena Rowlands.

So what novels have made you yearn, swoon, or blush? I’d LOVE to know!

Read Harder Challenge 2016

In 2016 some dear friends and I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Overall, it was a positive experience, encouraging me to read some truly fabulous books that I otherwise might have skipped. (Who’d have guessed I’d so enjoy a food memoir?) Thought you might like to see the list.

Horror book: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Nonfiction book about science: Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo
Collection of essays: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
A book read outloud to someone else: Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick & Sophie Blackall
Middle grade novel: Summerlost, by Ally Condee
Biography (not memoir or autobiography): Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin
Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R. Carey (EXCELLENT audiobook)
Book published in decade I was born (actually published year I was born): Enquiry, by Dick Francis
Audiobook that won an Audie: Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
A book over 500 pages long: South Riding, by Winifred Holtby (re-read)
A book under 100 pages: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, by Gwendolyn Hooks
Book by or about person that identifies as transgender: George, by Alex Gino
A book set in the Middle East: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
A book by an author from Southeast Asia: Ghost Bride, by Yangze Choo
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands
The first book in a series by a person of color: The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton
A non-superhero comic that debuted in last three years: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
A book that was adapted into a movie–watch movie afterwards and debate which was better:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (A re-read, of course. I watched the Toby Stephens/Ruth Wilson adaptation. The book is better, duh.)
A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: A Serious Endeavour: Gender, Education and Community at St Hugh’s, 1886-2011, by Laura Schwartz
A book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Celebrating Christmas with Jesus: An Advent Devotional, by Max Lucado
A book about politics in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): The Prince, by Machiavelli
A food memoir: My Life in France, by Julia Child
A play: The Weir, by Connor Macpherson
A book with a main character that has a mental illness: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

I’m taking this year off, but here’s the 2017 challenge in case you’re interested.

Other favorite reads of 2016:
Morpho Eugenia, by A.S. Byatt (re-read)
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (re-read)
The Radiant Road, by Katherine Catmull
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
Astercote, by Penelope Lively
The Brontë Cabinet, by Deborah Lutz
The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, by Penelope Lively
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Excellent Women, by Barbara Pam
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers (re-read)
Amberwell, by D.E. Stevenson
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie
No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read

Here is my Goodreads Year in Review (which leaves out the re-reads, argh).

Please share your favorite reads of 2016 in the comments, or link me to your own “Goodreads Year in Review” or blog post!