A Tolkienist’s Pilgrimage
I do not claim to know every nook and cranny of this most exquisite town (or city, if you prefer the moden word) in the heart of the English countryside. But I can assert that I’ve visited the place twice so far and had the opportunity of exploring and witnessing some of the most important landmarks in relation to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Hopefully in this post, I’ll be able to give you a taste of what I’ve seen and where I went (all in a day).
Perhaps you’re planning a trip yourselves …
This is less a guide, than an informative piece on what a Tolkien fan can do in Oxford: to experience just a taste of what life and the environment was like when Middle-earth was being put on page.
Getting There …
I took a bus from London’s Victoria Coach Station, and spent the next 2 hours of the journey witnessing the beauty of the English countryside.
London is a fantastic city, but it was equally rewarding to emerge from the dense urban area and blend into the rich and natural world. Looking through the coach’s glass window, I felt like a viewer experiencing some fantasy land – perhaps, Middle-earth itself; as the rolling hills and wide grasslands seemed to go on forever into the distance.
Truly, a visual feast for the mind.
Even from the outset, Oxford embodies everything of a typical English village. The rustic aesthetic of the houses. The little hidden pathways with overhanging trees. The idyllic lifestyle.
Oxford is not a big town and walking around its alluring streets, is the best way to soak in all the beauty and enchantment it withholds.
The Eagle and Child
Formerly known as The Bird and the Baby, this is perhaps the most popular visiting site related to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Residing in the equally-alluring (and surprisingly wide) street of St. Giles, the pub was made famous due to regular gatherings of the Inklings – between the late 1930s and 40s.
It’s top on this list not out of preference, but rather due to its relative short distance from the bus station.
As you make your way through a narrow alleyway, you suddenly find yourself within a brightly-illuminated street (if it’s sunny) and just round the corner, is the welcoming and cozy-looking facade of The Eagle and Child.
Inside, it is equally gorgeous – reminding me of the popular scenes from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the hobbits’ Green Dragon inn.
The lighting, the structure and the general atmosphere of a typical English pub are all enclosed within this small space (not to mention the exquisite beer on offer 😉 ).
It’s a thrilling sensation as you walk inside and just think about the great writers – Tolkien, Lewis, Williams – all gathered here; lost among papers, beer mugs and plumes of smoke.
A definite must-see.
Unfortunately, the pub only opens after 12pm, so in case you arrive a little early, you can always visit the next locations first …
No. 20, Northmoor Road
As you leave The Eagle and Child and make your way north, you end up in Banbury Road. After a short walk, you take a right turn and plunge within the neighbourhood of elegant residential houses.
Somewhere here, hidden from the bustling main street, is Northmoor Road.
Precisely, a house with the No. 20 assigned to it.
This was Tolkien’s home – having lived here from the 30s till the late 40s, and it is where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were mostly written.
How amazing is that?
I’ve had an opportunity to walk around in that area – managing to get a picture or two next to the road sign and The House.
(p.s. Notice the perfectly-placed, parking sign)
I’m sure the residents who saw me there, wandering about in a daze, thought: “Ah, there goes another one of those Tolkien loonies.”
Just being able see the view of the house from outside was a thrilling experience.
Much of Middle-earth was crafted here.
Merton College (University of Oxford)
You can’t go to Oxford without, at least, going past the building where Tolkien delivered many of his lectures, as Professor of English Language and Literature .
Unfortunately, I couldn’t enter inside, but was lucky enough to visit other similar colleges within the area – all forming part of the famous institution known as the University of Oxford.
The architectural style is so particular. Elegant, sophisticated and somewhat “classical”.
Just walking around one of the quadrangles of these colleges, I could easily conjure up images of a young Tolkien (in his lecturing gown) – books in hand – scurrying to some lecture room.
If you’ve got time, you’ll certainly enjoy the academic feeling you get.
This is the University of Oxford after all!
This is perhaps the most important feature in any Tolkien Pilgrimage.
Lying just on the outskirts of the city (to the North), is the Cemetery of Wolvercote.
Here, in this peaceful part of Oxford, lie the final resting places of J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife, Edith.
Frankly, I’ve never seen nor thought, that a cemetery could look so beautiful – considering what it is.
A grassy plain – scattered here and there with enormous trees – stretches over a large area of land. Placed in a certain symmetrical pattern, are tombstones of every size and shape.
Getting to find the one in particular, proved an easy task. Small signs along the pathway directed you towards the author’s grave.
The walk itself is very pleasant and quiet – except for the distant hum of traffic and the chirping of the birds in the trees.
Occasionally, you might spot an individual carrying flowers and placing them in particular places – most probably, a relative of theirs.
At the end of the journey, you arrive at a common grey, gravestone. Filled with colourful flowers, the most striking features are the various “Thank-you” cards, or Lord of the Rings memorabilia, placed on it.
Signs that other fans have honoured this author and travelled from around the world to pay their respects.
The famous names of Beren and Lúthien are clearly written on the stone – one of Tolkien’s final wishes.
There, in the quietness of that place, I felt like I had reached the edge of the world; a destination of sort.
Time seemed to stop.
Standing on that spot and paying tribute to these individuals, was both moving and inspiring, at the same time. I felt as if I had achieved something important – something which was so strongly linked to my passion towards Middle-earth.
I also had a chance to visit the lesser-known tombstone of John Francis Reuel Tolkien – the author’s eldest son.
Overall, an astounding and nostalgic experience.
Yes, nostalgia played a role in all of this. I don’t know why, considering I’ve never met these individuals. However, being so close to the works and the stories and the characters, I felt as if (like millions of others), I was connected to this man and his family.
Back Again …
Overall, it was a highly rewarding experience. I felt inspired by the visit. Having tread the same pathways and locales that Tolkien once did, reinvigorated my passion both towards Middle-earth and writing itself.
Unfortunately, I missed some opportunities in visiting other important places, such as: the Botanic Gardens and the Bodleian Library.
Nevertheless, I’m so gratified and humbled to have made this journey to Oxford. Ever since visiting, I have been able to immerse myself all the more in Tolkien’s works and came to comprehend a very minuscule fragment of his mind, when he set out to write his stories and essays.
If you’ve been to Oxford before, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, I strongly urge you to do so!
Anyone care to share their experiences here?
Go ahead! 🙂
22 thoughts on “A Journey to Oxford”
Absolutely stunning James!
Cheers Steven 🙂
Lovely trip and you have visited The Master’s grave 😥 lucky you.
Yep … but you never know, you may visit someday 😉
I wish to do so James. It’s my dream *sigh*.
Lovely piece, James. Thank you for sharing your journey.
Thank you for reading 🙂
So beautifully written; such a pleasure to read! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Really beautifully written; what a pleasure to read! Great writers bring you in and make you feel like you’re part of the experience and this certainly did so. Thank you for sharing this with us! 🙂
Many thanks! Not sure about “great writers” but I appreciate your feedback. Hope you like the blog 🙂
Haven’t been on here is ages, I’m sorry I missed this! Your blog is great! 🙂
Thanks for that!
Going to Oxford myself in a few weeks. Can’t wait to shamelessly copy your itinerary.
Hey Jessica! That’s fantastic! I hope you enjoy your stay 🙂
**As a matter of fact, I’ll be passing by Oxford in a few weeks too **
I would love to visit there one day and walk along Addison’s Walk in the evening, on a Saturday if possible, and when I hear the leaves rustle in the wind I will think back to that one Saturday evening when Tolkien, Dyson, and Lewis walked after supper and chatted. Maybe I might even hear a few ancient whispers. 😉
That would be wonderful … A few hours simply isn’t enough to savour the beauty and majesty of Oxford. But nonetheless, I’m glad I’ve experienced a fragment of its academic and literary air 🙂
I very much enjoyed reading about your trip. My partner and I had the chance to spend a day in Oxford this past June on our own Tolkien pilgrimage. I think the highlight for me was visiting the Oxford Botanical Center and, after getting a little turned around, finding his favorite tree. Being able to put my hand on its trunk was a surprisingly moving experience. I also found it touching how all about the ground under it, people had made little cairns of pine cones in his honor. It truly is a wonderful place. Thanks for sparking a little walk down memory lane today. All the best.
Hey crotach! Thanks for sharing your own experiences 🙂
I regretfully never managed to go to the Botanical Gardens and alas! will never be able to go under his favourite tree – considering its been cut down recently.
But being in Oxford and visiting Wolvercote Cemetery, the pub and the colleges was nonetheless a beautiful pilgrimage; and hopefully, I’ll go back there someday 🙂