Oxford is a city located in the south of England, near Birmingham and also London. Many people decide to travel to Oxford to visit the famous (and elitist!) University of Oxford. However, when we dedicated a weekend to him in the month of July we did so with a very different motivation: to discover the Oxford of JRR Tolkien, the famous writer of works such as the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings.
Our Oxford getaway was definitely full of light and dark; at times it left us a bittersweet taste and didn’t come out at all as we had hoped… so I let a few weeks go by to tell you and make sure that my travelling story is true to my experience: you know, zero posture.
What to do when trips go wrong.
Since we didn’t have much time, we decided to book a tour with “I’ll tell you on the way”, a company that offered exactly what we needed: a two-hour tour in which we would discover all the secret places in Oxford related to my favourite writer.
We made the reservation well in advance, bought the train tickets and when the appointed day arrived, we were ready for the adventure at the meeting point, the Carfax Tower, half an hour before lunch (yes, we were anxious!).
When the tour started and the guide of “Te lo Cuento de Camino” had not given any signs of life, I began to fear the worst. Ten more minutes passed, fifteen more minutes… and already a little nervous we decided to call the company’s telephone. Although the office tried to solve it, there was no luck since the guide who had to pick us up for the tour was not reachable, so the company canceled the tour.
Before we continue our Tolkien route through Oxford, I would like to emphasise the unfairness of the situation. If it had been us who cancelled the tour, “I’ll tell you on the way” would have refused to return the money and logically we would have suffered the consequences. However, in this case they were the ones who failed at the last minute (in fact, we were waiting for the guide and they cancelled the tour half an hour after the supposed start time!) and even though the cancellation of the tour screwed up our trip to Oxford, they washed their hands of it.
Once the situation was accepted, we decided to try that the irresponsibility and wrong doing of “I’ll tell you about the way” did not bother us the whole trip. Although at first we were very angry and disappointed by the terrible service, I am of the opinion that all these unethical companies, unable to keep their word, are never going to do well in the long run; for traveling karma exists.
So after having a cup of coffee to vent and feel better, we decided to turn the tortilla around and use that day to create JRR Tolkien’s authentic, wonderful and incredible tour of Oxford, which we would offer completely free of charge to all readers of The Travel Blog. Who better to take you for a walk with JRR Tolkien in Oxford than a Middle-earth freak like me?
Traveling friend, be sure to bring plenty of lembas bread and Lorien leaves to hold your cape, because we are going to discover everything about our particular Ilúvatar. Adventure, hobbits!
JRR Tolkien’s Oxford tour – free!
1- Radcliffe Square
In this square there are two buildings that had a great relevance in the person of Tolkien. The first is Exeter College, where Tolkien enrolled in 1911 to study Classical Letters, although he later switched to English Philology.
It was at this time that JRR Tolkien met his best friends and together they formed the literary group they understood as a semi-secret society, called “TCBS” (Barrowian Tea Club and Society, a somewhat special name that was due to the countless cups of tea they drank at “Barrow’s Stores” near their college). Tolkien came and went daily to this Oxford University building and presumably saw the gargoyles that adorn its façade continuously, inspiring him to imagine the fearsome orcs.
The other building is the “Radcliffe Camera”, a beautiful circular building that is actually a library. It is believed that Tolkien was inspired by this construction to create the temple that Sauron dedicates to Morgoth in Numenor. You can’t visit this building, but it’s definitely worth stopping to see it from the outside.
2. The Bodelian Library
The Bodeliana library is very close to this square and fortunately you can visit it. For about six pounds you can enter and admire a universe of books and silence. On the walls of the library is a map of Middle-earth that Tolkien drew while writing the books, although the pictures are changing so if you want to be sure you can admire this original document, ask at the box office before buying the ticket.
3. Blackwells Bookstore
And since it’s all about books, the next stop is the Blackwells Bookstore. Few people know that the first thing JRR Tolkien published was a poem entitled “Goblin Feet”, thanks to the trust of Blackwells Publishing.
It was his first print job and he must have been enormously excited. The bookstore is huge and has its own section on Tolkien, so it is worth a visit to satisfy our curiosity.
4. White Horse
One of the pubs Tolkien frequented, although not the favorite, was The White Horse. Located next to the Blackwells bookstore, it is said that he came to drink beer with his friend and also writer CS Lewis. There are suspicions that Tolkien used this place as an inspiration to create the Pony Pisador, a mythical site for the first meeting of hobbits with Trancos.
5. The Eagle and the Child
However, JRR Tolkien’s favorite pub was “The Eagle and the Child”. Here he met with his friends and read what they had written during that week, as well as drinking beer and eating a few times. The food here is highly recommended and prices are just like anywhere else, so it may be a good choice to eat in Oxford.
Surely Tolkien fans will recognize the painting hanging from the chimney… indeed, it is a portrait of Tolkien! And without a doubt, the drawing hanging from the exterior façade will remind you of one of the most famous scenes of The Return of the King. Tolkien had this in mind when he planned the rescue of Frodo and Sam, after destroying the ring.
6. The house of JRR Tolkien and Edith
A little further from the centre, you will find the house where Tolkien lived with his wife Edith. This is a private property inhabited by ordinary people like you and me, so you can not visit and is to thank a little discretion when taking pictures.
7. The Cemetery where he rests
To finish the Tolkien route in Oxford, we suggest going to the cemetery where he rests with his wife.
Many travelers decide to go and pay their respects and also leave some notes and writings. We spent about an hour reading messages and getting excited about their content, and Tolkien was much more than a formidable guy: he created a universe that still unites many people today and makes us enjoy it.