Circle Weekend in Oxford, 17-19 Sep 2010
We have just come back from a very successful weekend in Oxford which was attended by 24 brothers, wives and friends. We gathered at Keble College on Friday afternoon/evening and went off for a meal at the Pierre Victoire Bistrot (sic) calling in at the Lamb and Flag for a swift drink before the meal. The pub was rather cramped by the time we had all squeezed in but we managed to find a snug corner to accommodate the majority of us.
The meal in the restaurant was excellent and, judging by the amount of noisy chatter in the room, a good time was had by all. Despite our efforts to eat reasonably early, we didn’t get out until just gone 11.00 so there was no chance to try out another pub or the College Bar. Still, a fairly early night won’t do us any harm.
On Saturday morning, we rose with the sun streaming through our windows in the Arco block and gathered for breakfast in the magnificent Dining Hall which is the longest in Oxford. A self-service cereals bar was backed up by the full English breakfast with lots of fresh orange, tea, coffee and toast set out on the table. It was very interesting to watch how everyone managed with the low benches and some were concerned that their dignity would be compromised; however, we all managed very well.
After breakfast, we hurriedly gathered in the Porter’s Lodge and set off back to St Giles where we were to meet our tour guides at the Martyrs’ Memorial. Both of our guides were originally from abroad – one Danish and one German – but had lived in Oxford for many years and were happily conversant with all the history and mythology of the city and its colleges. The tour took us from Broad Street, through the courtyard at the back of the Sheldonian Theatre, into the courtyard of the Bodleian Library and past the Radcliffe Camera towards St Mary’s University Church. In there we settled down for a few minutes’ rest and recuperation whilst our guide explained about the significance of the church for Methodism, martyrdom under Elizabeth I and Mary, and then the Oxford Movement who preached there. She was very knowledgeable about the role of Cardinal John Newman, to whom there is a memorial on the pulpit, and the impending beatification ceremony which Pope Benedict would preside over on Sunday.
After this welcome rest, we moved over to the other side of High Street and passed Oriel, Corpus Christi, Merton and University Colleges picking up interesting titbits about Newman and his Oxford Movement colleagues, as well as more contemporary alumni such as Bill Clinton who was a Rhodes Scholar at University College in 1968. Just as we were moving towards Merton College, the road was filled with TV equipment – one of the ITV companies was in the middle of filming for the “Lewis” series and this road is one of the few cobbled streets still used widely for the programme.
Passing back over the High Street we were led to the Indoor Market, a veritable cornucopia of fresh food, flowers, shoes, clothes and much more. Here our guide left us to our own devices after a very enjoyable and educational two hours. Most of us disappeared off to have a coffee and a bite of lunch, then made our way back to the College.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to an intimate and interesting tour of Keble College, led by Dr Jan Grabowski, a Fellow of the College and my eldest son. He explained how the College began and some of the history behind various sections of the building, then took us up to the Dining Hall to admire its fantastic ceiling, the portraits of the College Wardens (and one of Cardinal Newman, looking for all intents and purposes like a 19th century Jonathan Miller) and its magnificent Minstrels’ Gallery.
We popped into the College Library and had a browse through some of their volumes; some of the stock held particular interest for certain individuals and Charles, for example, found some texts by his grandfather who had been Principal at Hertford College. Somehow we managed to affect a respectful silence in order to avoid disturbing the graduate students who were working hard in one corner. Downstairs, we were taken into the holy of holies, the Senior Common Room (SCR) and a discussion about College admission policies ensued whilst most of us took time to rest weary limbs on the comfortable seats.
Moving on from there, we visited the other quads and then gathered in the Chapel, welcomed by an Organ Scholar practising for the Sunday service. The mosaics and stained glass were fantastic examples of how much of value was in there. The crowning glory was the original painting of William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World which is on display in the side chapel. Jan then took us over to the Arco building and answered all our final questions before leaving us to rest before Dinner.
At 6.45, we gathered outside the library for a few group photos and then went into Dinner.
It was a fantastic meal (various starters, guinea fowl, and apple lattice pie with cream) in a beautiful setting:
The service was good and unobtrusive; they even laid on 2 chairs for the two members of our group that had back problems. After Dinner, a few of us went down Parks Road to the Kings Arms to indulge in a glass or two of an excellent Young’s beer (some had other drinks as well) and then drifted off a few at a time when tiredness set in. Most of us were tucked up in bed soon after 11, having had a busy and enjoyable day.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, we dropped off our bags in the Porter’s Lodge and walked the short distance over to Blackfriars Hall, one of the religious houses that is part of the University. Blackfriars is run by the Dominicans and their little parish is run for and by their congregation. The 9.30 Mass is the family Mass and was well attended by locals as well as a party of schoolchildren from the Dragon School. Following on from our Mass there was to be a Polish Mass and then a Spanish one, so they cater for a wide range of needs across Oxford. After Mass we went into the Priory refectory for a coffee and chat with the community, then departed for home – some leaving early to beat the inevitable jams at Silverstone (a race event there creates chaos), and the possible holdups around Birmingham as the gathered pilgrims were released from the event with the Pope which finished early in the afternoon; others stayed on for lunch or an open top tour to get a feel for other parts of Oxford that we had not experienced on the walking tours.
Overall, a very successful weekend away. The next challenge is where to go next year (Cambridge has been suggested) and whether we make this an annual outing on our calendar. If it goes this well and we can attract sufficient numbers for a viable group, it would be worth doing something every year.