Travel Adventures · Vintage Love

Finding Narnia in Oxford

2020 is shaping up into quite a year, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone can say it has gone to plan!

Last weekend being a case in point. This year is a big one for us. Big birthdays, fifteen years of marriage (well done, Mr THL!) and our eldest daughters graduation. The original plan involved a European rail journey and a couple of countries. Covid hit pause on that plan.

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Plan B: A weekend in Oxford with a very unique overnight stay and an evening ghost walk. Two days prior, the tour was cancelled. For good reason, the host likes to make it interactive and family friendly and wasn’t convinced he could do it safely. Long story short, the following day the lodgings cancelled because the volunteer who runs things had been hospitalised.

What you see and what you hear depends a great dealon where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are. C.S LEWIS

But, in the spirit of , ‘I can’t control what happens around me but I can control my attitude’, I decided not to be discouraged. We’d still explore beautiful Oxford, maybe definitely stop off for coffee and cake.  Positivity and perspective. Actually, what I decided was we’d go off in search of Narnia. Not literally of course, I wasn’t going to go peeking into any wardrobes. Sorry, what do you mean Narnia doesn’t really exist?

There is a strong connection between CS Lewis, writer of the Chronicles of Narnia, and the city of Oxford. He lived there ,wrote there and there he  found inspiration for the world he created . He never really left; C.S Lewis is laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Church in the Oxford suburb of Headington.

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So. Another day, another church, another graveyard. I had a good feeling about this one. It’s set off the main road along a leafy lane so you can’t help but leave the hustle of daily life behind as you go. Its also officially a family friendly church. It all makes for a sense of  welcome.

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The church itself ? Modest, but lovely. Colourful prayer cushions and pretty flower arrangements give a splash of colour and warmth to the interior. Shelves of well worn children’s books suggest that this truly is a family friendly place to worship and, yes, there were lots of copies of the Narnia books.

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But Narnia doesn’t just exist on the bookshelf. C.S Lewis used to attend this church, and he had his favourite pew. One close to a window. As a tribute to the man and the world he imagined, the glass in that window has been replaced with an etched glass tribute to his most famous work.

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It is a thing of  whimsical beauty. The pictures I managed to take really don’t do it justice. You’d think an etched glass window might not catch the eye the in a church of colourful cushions and traditional stained glass windows but it stands out beautifully in its simplicity.

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There is a little sadness is how the window came to be, though. It was paid for with funds left to the church by the Howe family. George and Kathleen Howe lost both of their children at a young age. Upon their death, money was gifted to the church to create a window in their memory but with free choice as to the subject. It’s a touching tribute and the families names have been added below.

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Mini version of the Mighty Aslan, tribute to the family who funded the window behind.

While we were in the church, the rain started. More on that is a minute. Mr THL kindly went off to scope the churchyard for the grave of C.S Lewis while we sheltered in the porch. He’s a good ‘un. Also, he’s in the army so being sent on a bit of a goose-chase in the rain is nothing new to him.

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With the help of a handy sign and his searching skills, we found it. But you’d easily miss it. It’s a very modest grave for such a celebrated man. I was expecting something a bit more. Two nuggets of information picked up from reading the grave inscription.  One: the ‘C’ stands for Clive. For some reason I always presumed it was Charles…Charles just seemed like a writerly name. Clive, not so much.

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Two: Despite seeming to be the quintessential Englishman, C.S Lewis  was actually born in Belfast. So there you go. Every day a school day. But really, remember that. It’s the kind of thing that comes up on pub quizzes or The Chase. Thank me later.

 

As we left the rain that started when we were in the church got heavier and heavier. Cue a mad dash back to the car. Undeterred, we pushed on into Oxford centre in the hope that it would dry up by the time we parked. No such luck. It rained torrentially. For hours. The roads flooded. The drains spouted water. Me in flip flops and a denim jacket. What was I thinking?

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In good humour, we decided to call it a day. The Narnia themed sights of Oxford can fight another day. Even the kids in the Chronicles of Narnia knew when to retreat and head back to the wardrobe. We didn’t have a wardrobe to retreat to so we went for a McDonalds on the way home instead. Consumed in the car as the restaurant wasn’t open yet. But Mr THL saved the day again, finding us the best space in the carpark. Table for five, space with a view. You’ve just got to laugh and make the better of it sometimes, hey?

Despite the weather and some mild disappointment we did round off our day in Oxford with a real laugh-out-loud moment. Are you ready for something completely different?

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This. The Headington shark. Dropped into the top of a completely normal house on an otherwise non-descript street. Its bonkers. And brilliant. That shark probably felt right at home the way the rain was coming down. Not the best picture, snapped from the car. I wasn’t getting out again.

That was our weekend. Whimsical, bonkers and wet with a side order of determined positivity. I hope yours was lovely, too.

If you like this you might also enjoy Library Love @ The Lit & Phil Newcastle and We’re all mad here….

Helen x

 

17 thoughts on “Finding Narnia in Oxford

  1. Brilliant. Who needs a guide when you can make all the discoveries yourselves? And real discoveries too, that hadn’t been previously pointed out. Well done on an enterprising, if wet weekend.

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  2. Fascinating post. Had no idea either that he was a Clive or that he was Irish. Love all of the references to his work around Oxford too, that sort of thing is so interesting and gives the city another dimension.

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    1. I can’t wait to get back to Oxford to delve a bit more into it. Either on a better-weather day, or a better dressed-for-the-weather sort of day!

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  3. I had assumed he was a Charles too! You certainly made the best of the torrential rain and I loved your burger bar in the car park experience. That’s what we all should do, just carry on regardless and adjust to the circumstances. Hope you have a good week. Marion

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  4. A day of infinite variety! I first came across Narnia aged 7 when my teacher read it to us, a bit at the end of each day. I loved it and eventually owned my own boxed set of the books. It’s still on my shelves now, though a bit worse for wear and I suspect the yellow, brittle pages would spring out from the spines if I tried to open them.

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  5. By coincidence I was finishing off my Narnia in Belfast when I read your Post – how’s that for serendipity? I’ve put a link in mine to yours so hopefully, a few more might wander over to yours and read about C S Lewis. Mine is at https://travels-with-my-camera.blog/2020/07/30/narnia-in-belfast/ should you wish to take a look. Now I have to figure out what to do about the Wikkiwands image of Lewis which is just too big for a header image.

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  6. Loved your post and thanks for ‘Clive’ , filed it away already . My favourite though was the shark picture. What in the world was that? A sculpture , a real thing , Sharknado perhaps?

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  7. I really enjoy your writing and narration Helen and a part of me feels like I was there with you in Oxford. Clive S. Lewis? Quite the writer name indeed and I wonder what the S stands for. It could be another surprise don’t you think. The church did the right thing!

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