Blog: December 2016

Windsor Castle

Written by Sophie Poston, Assistant Course Director at Somerville College

The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor has been the home to British kings and queens for more than 1000 years. Building began in 1070, over 400 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to America. The Queen usually lives in Buckingham Palace during the week, but she spends most weekends at the Castle, and spends a month in Windsor over Easter every year. You can see whether she’s at home by checking which flag is flying above it; if it is the Royal Standard, then the Queen is there too.

There is so much to see here that this day-trip location never disappoints. To start off the day: Changing of the Guard, a famous ceremony through which the Queen’s guards exchange duties. People line the streets to watch the soldiers, in their bear-skin hats, march from their barracks to the castle.

Changing of the Guard

Other highlights of the castle include St George’s Hall, which seats 160 guests at a single table when the Queen holds her State Banquets. Queen Mary’s Dolls House is the largest and most famous in the world. Created in the 1920s, it is complete with fully functional plumbing; both hot and cold water runs through the taps, and the toilets all flush. It also has electricity, with working lifts.

St George’s Chapel is a spectacular display of Gothic architecture. Some elements of this architecture will be familiar to savvy Oxford Summer Courses students, who have seen a similar fan vault ceiling above the dining room staircase in Christ Church, Oxford. Ten of our monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII and Charles I, but despite its importance to the royal family, the chapel still holds services every day that are open to the public.

Before heading back to Oxford, there is a time to explore a bit of the historic market town in search of lunch. Some choose to picnic on the benches outside the castle, or down by the river, whilst others find traditional pubs, or even fish and chips. Just a short walk from the castle, over Windsor Bridge, is Eton College. Founded in 1440, this fee-paying, all-boys school is world renowned. Both Prince William and Prince Harry attended.

Back in Oxford, the day continues, with dinner in a local restaurant and then one of our evening activities such as a punting trip, a ghost tour of the city, karaoke or a debate.

Posted: December 12, 2016

A trip to London

Written by Rachel Evans and Bramwell Blower, Student Helpers at Somerville College

24 students and 3 pastoral staff arrived promptly at the break of dawn at Oxford train station, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to set off on our adventure to London. The journey was swift and smooth – the international contingent of our group greatly appreciated the opportunity to admire the beautiful British countryside that is the London commuter belt. After a short tube journey from Paddington station to Tottenham Court Road, everyone relished the leisurely stroll to the architecturally inspiring British Museum where, raring to go with an intellectual scavenger hunt to improve their cultural experience, the students ran off eager to educate themselves on the history of art and civilisation, taking a particular interest in the design of the 21st century café.

Thoroughly enlightened, we headed off in an orderly procession to Covent Garden for food and some casual lunchtime shopping on Oxford Street. The sun was shining and the street performers were out in force – some students were content to relax and enjoy the buskers’ refined musical skill, whilst a lucky few were incorporated into a musician’s show.

The next stop on our whistle-stop tour of the capital was Trafalgar Square. Some of the students ventured further afield to take some truly artistic photographs of London’s main attractions. Many of the students enjoyed exploring the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery and took inventive selfies to submit in our London ‘selfie contest’. Again, the students found themselves mesmerised by London’s varied selection of street performers, including the floating Frodo who photobombed our group photo.

We next headed down Whitehall, passing significant political landmarks such as Downing Street and Westminster. There was time for more photo opportunities as we stopped on Westminster Bridge to take in the iconic views.

Our final destination was St James’ Park, where the students had a much needed rest next to the beautiful lake. Some of the more energetic students burned off some steam playing football. A summery picnic soon arrived at the park, and the students happily dug into fresh fruit, a deli selection and cookies. The trip was not complete without a solid attempt to create a human pyramid. The formation managed to last just long enough for a few quick snaps before everyone collapsed onto the floor. The journey back to Paddington on the tube was a breeze for now experienced Londoners. We arrived at the station in good time for our 8:22pm train back to Oxford. Despite nearly twelve hours of educating and adventuring, the students still managed to initiate an ad hoc karaoke session on the train, which the tired London commuters greatly appreciated.

Posted: December 12, 2016

Harry Potter World

Written by Kezia Fender, Assistant Course Director at St Benet’s Hall

As the curtain rolled up to reveal the carved doors to the Great Hall, I realised all 57 of us had found something in common. No, it wasn’t Nando’s as a large group of the boys would like to think, neither was it the ‘weird British eggs’, as Scotch eggs were dubbed by one student, it was the intricate magic that built the sets, props and costumes of Harry Potter. Students practised their flying on a broomstick and wand waving and had a chance to see all the original props, costumes and sets, and to learn about how they were created by specialist designers and special effects teams. A moving Buckbeak and life-size Aragog are incredible feats of engineering. The world that Warner Bros created was so much more real than I had realised, right from the oil paintings on the walls of Hogwarts to the three-domed room that is Dumbledore’s office. To walk around the studios is to walk around the life-size world of Harry Potter.

Having been an English Literature student I was caught up in how J.K. Rowling’s words had been made objects, but then transferred to the medium of film, but I can imagine the more scientifically-minded being fascinated by the intricate architectural and engineering plans and sketches. It was actually not possible to take it all in in one trip!

This trip felt like an accumulation of excitement that had been building since we had seen the Great Hall, staircases, and cloisters that had been used in the filming of Harry Potter, on our tour around Christ Church College. The previous evening we had also set up a photo booth after formal hall with all-out Harry Potter costumes and our very own homemade butterbeer. Plus they got to try on and see us in our gowns which Oxford and Cambridge students wear to formal events. Students had been asking me questions about my love of Harry Potter all throughout these activities and in the restaurant on the evening after the trip I was inundated with pictures they wanted to show me – their enthusiasm was incredibly infectious.

The day had actually started in the world of Alice and Wonderland which had sprung up around Oxford City Centre with a series of street performers, improvising comedians in rabbit costumes and special exhibitions around the Bodleian and the Story Museum about the animals of Alice’s world. Lewis Carroll taught Maths at Christ Church College and wrote Alice in Wonderland while he was here and is a big part of the rich literary history of the city. Thanks to the Harry Potter films, Oxford has gained a new layer of cultural richness, held in its centuries old buildings, and it is really interesting to see those layers interact as our journey took us from Christ Church to Harry Potter World through the course of the week.

Students at St Benet’s Hall trying on some of the Harry Potter costumes

Posted: December 12, 2016

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