Besides its history, I only really wanted to go to Oxford because of Inspector Morse / Lewis. Call me nerdy, but that’s the truth. The romanticized version of England’s supposed murder capital was what I wanted to see in person.
I booked the bus pretty last minute, so I really didn’t have time to plan what I was going to do. From experience, if you’re in that situation, the official visitor’s center is always the best place to start.
It was raining when I got there. Luckily, I had planned for it, so I marched out of the bus, umbrella in hand. I wandered around a nearby market for a bit and then headed to the visitor’s center. Once there I found out about and booked a filming locations walking tour. After all, that’s what I was here for, right?
While I was waiting, I wandered about some more and had lunch in the Covered Market: an indoor complex of narrow lanes, twisting and turning and lined with everything from cafés to butchers to shoemakers. (I have a thing for markets, if you couldn’t tell.) Eventually the rain had cleared up and even though everything was still damp, it was turning out to be a lovely fall day.
Finally, it was time for the tour. We gathered outside the visitor’s center and the guide, a charismatic, middle-aged woman, began with a basic history of the city. She pointed out where parts of the medieval city wall still stood and told us about how old the colleges were (around 750 years, which is mind-bogglingly old to an American whose whole country is just over 250 years old).
We eventually made it over to Exeter College where they’ve filmed several movies and TV shows. We walked into the chapel where they’ve shot numerous Inspector Morse / Lewis scenes, including Morse’s last. We were shown the dormitories used as the set of the fictional Jordan College in The Golden Compass. We took notice of the Old Parliament building where they film pre-Victorian parliamentary scenes in historical movies. And finally, we gaped at the windows of the infirmary and library of the first two Harry Potter movies.
We were then led to the Radcliffe Camera, site of not only many scenes in Inspector Morse / Lewis, but also Young Sherlock Holmes, and even a Bollywood film. Next, down some winding lanes, was Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs. (There’s only one despite what you might think with its constant appearances in films and TV shows, especially in Inspector Morse / Lewis.) From there, we walked through the coal-stained alleyway often used for Industrial period pieces and gloomy prison entrances (sometimes located across the world like in one Tom Cruise movie).
Then through alleyways and sports fields, we made it to Christ Church College. It’s open to visitors (within limits) all year round, and as you would expect, the place was packed. But being a part of a tour group, we were able to skip the ticket line and head right in. It was here that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) and plenty of other famous Britons went to school. But the college is also known for its Harry Potter connection. Scenes were shot in its corridors and staircases, and its great hall inspired the Hogwarts recreation. It was all a bit hard to believe that people my age still studied here.
By that time, two hours had passed, and it was there that we gave our thanks and said adieu to our tour guide. I’m not usually one for tours but that one was worth every penny.
I wasted away the remaining time by taking a wonderful meal at Vaults & Gardens near the Radcliffe Camera and strolling through the cobbled streets at sunset. The clouds were now just wisps in the sky and the remaining light that reflected off the stones was the stuff they glorify in paintings: Pure golds and blues filling planes in a way that impressionists could only dream of. There was even a rainbow. I fell in love with the city then and when I left, I felt I had saw and experienced something special, something out of the movies.