Tag Archives: Oxford

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…

England 2015 postcards: Oxford Botanic Garden


Steve and I have always loved the Oxford Botanic Garden, and I’ve subjected you to many photos of it over the years. Can you bear with me once again? And perhaps help me with flower names? Above you see beautiful pinky purple flowers (I never pay attention to labels, argh) with Magdalen tower in the distance.


This is my favorite doorway in the garden wall — I tend to take a photo of it every year.


A gorgeous burst of red by a window — wouldn’t it be lovely to have an office with such a view?


I love this riot of color! There are poppies in there, but what else? And what are the blue flowers?

Methinks I need to find a guide to English flora . . .

Postcards from Wonderland

We returned from Lyme Regis yesterday, but I’ll save those details for a post later this week. For now I want to share photos from last Wednesday when the clever Brasenose conference organizers put together a Mad Hatter Tea Party for all the conference groups. Attendees were encouraged to dress up in their maddest hats, or in pretty much anything related to Alice in Wonderland.


A few of our students (shown here with members of the Brasenose crew on either end) took this as a challenge.


But I was even more impressed by the amazing treats!


No matter which way you turned, there was something fun and/or delicious to tempt you.


My hat was not very “mad” at all, but Steve got as creative as he could at the last moment. The ears are part of a zebra headband from Claire’s (yes, they have those little jewelry/accessories stores here, too). Can you guess what the blue and white knitted part is? Because it certainly wasn’t meant to be a hat!

Going to the city

For our anniversary weekend (23 years!), Steve and I will spend three nights in London. There will be theatre, a concert, and at least one full afternoon tea. Many postcards to come!

In the meantime I offer you these:


A rare shot of Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College with partly blue sky and NO PEOPLE. Huzzah! (Also, the funny face makes another appearance.)


And here’s a photo of the folks in our summer law program at Brasenose (excluding two students, a faculty member, and moi.) A fine looking bunch, don’t you think?

I wish you all a wonderful weekend!

The mystery of the wee blue door, an Exeter window, and more…


Every time I walk along Parks Road, I wonder about this small blue door. The building is on the grounds of Wadham College, but I can’t seem to find any information about its history or current use. Was the door used for deliveries only?


A closer view of the door. Any insights?

Last Friday we went to a concert at Exeter college — Kah-Ming Ng always partners with talented musicians for his Charivari Agreeable performances, and that night two Baroque cellists were featured. (Do you say “Baroque cellist” or “Cellists who play Baroque”? I don’t know!)


Before the concert began, I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of this window outside the chapel door. Isn’t it so very Oxford? A few seconds after I took this, a man came to the window and gave me a dirty look. Needless to say, I scurried off.

Yesterday we enjoyed a concert at the Holywell Music Room, and I was delighted to see Edward Petherbridge in the audience! (He will always be Lord Peter Wimsey in my mind and heart.) I waited after the concert to see if I’d get a chance to talk to him, but he looked tired and shy — as though he really just wanted to be left alone — so I didn’t push the matter. It was nice enough to have seen him in person.

The first half of yesterday’s program at Holywell featured Arcadiana by British composer Thomas Adès (who is TWO years younger than me, argh). Most of it was a bit too strange and modern for me to appreciate, but the sixth movement, “O Albion,” brought tears to my eyes: