A Tale of Two Countries — Day 3: The Lewis Close

Such a magical day! We took the bus to Oxford, where we met up with our dear friends MariAnne and Gail at Christ Church’s Tom Tower. After a quick tour of this astounding college town (which I’ll blog about next time) we grabbed sandwiches and dashed off to catch a bus to nearby Headington, where the renowned author C.S. Lewis lived with his brother Warnie and others.

On the bus to Headington we met a charming 85-year-old gentleman with a hat and cane. He gathered that we were going to the Lewis Close and told of meeting C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien years ago when he was a student at Oxford and was misbehaving with his classmates at a pub called The Eagle and the Child.

Evidently Lewis commented on how unruly he and the other boys were behaving. The gentleman chuckled about that experience and went on to say that his own property is adjacent to the Lewis Close. He added that his late wife is buried only 15 feet from C.S. Lewis in the Trinity Church graveyard. What an interesting chap! He brightened our day with his friendliness, stories, and delightful English accent.

At our stop, we got off the bus and took a very short walk to the Lewis Close.

As MariAnne had suggested, we ate our tasty baguette sandwiches right there in C.S. Lewis’s garden. I truly cannot think of a lovelier spot for a picnic.

Afterward we stepped inside the house for a fantastic tour by our guide Rachel, an Oxford student who resides in the house.

This is the study upstairs where Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia in the 1950s. I love that the desk is situated so that he looked out the window, which was dressed with scratchy World War I army blankets for curtains. From this desk, Lewis had a clear line of sight to the attic room, where the children he cared for during World War II would often play.

Lewis smoked a pipe and wrote his books with pen and ink.

Thankfully, Lewis’s older brother Warnie very kindly typed up the stories, enabling them to be published and enjoyed by all of us.

This door leads into the attic room where the famous wardrobe was. I won’t share my picture of the attic room itself. In case you visit someday, I feel I must leave it a bit of a mystery for you.

This is the only original doorknob in the home, and all the aspiring writers on our tour were encouraged to touch it. So we did.

Those of you who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will appreciate the significance of this dish of rose and lemon flavored Turkish Delight.

Like Edmund, we could not resist the temptation.

Next we trekked on to a spot not far beyond the house called the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve. This area was part of Lewis’s private property and includes a large pond and woods, which they say he wandered about while he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Nature Reserve felt a bit magical, I must say. It obviously creates quite a scope for the imagination.

He might have been there, but we did not encounter Tumnus the Faun nor did we find the lamppost. But nonetheless, the entire visit to the Lewis Close was most magical and memorable! Special thanks go to MariAnne who coordinated this special tour for us. We loved it!

More of Oxford itself is coming up next time.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Countries – Day 2

On Day 2 in London, we set off to Kensington Palace wearing raincoats and carrying an umbrella. But the rain didn’t begin until we were inside the palace, and it only lasted a short while because the sun came out by the time we made it outside. Brief rain showers are not uncommon in London, I’ve learned.

My favorite room on the tour was the room where Princess Victoria (who became Queen Victoria) was born on May 24, 1819. It became her childhood bedroom, and on display are her doll house, dolls, and other toys, along with many portraits of her as a child.

My girls enjoyed rummaging through a toy box of antiques in this room.

Several of Queen Victoria’s frilly and flowery dresses are on display. She was tiny and measured 5 foot tall.

Before becoming queen, Victoria was required to be escorted down these stairs as a precaution because she was heir to the throne.

This staircase is where young Victoria met her cousin (and future husband) Albert for the first time in 1836. She wrote: “Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth.”

This table is in the very room (The Red Saloon) where Queen Victoria’s first privy council took place the day of her accession to the throne in 1837. In the background is the 1838 painting The First Council of Queen Victoria by Sir David Wilkie, which portrays the noteworthy event.

Another famous resident of Kensington Palace was HRH Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived here 15 years. A grand collection of her elegant dresses — along with sketches by her fashion designers — is on special display in the palace this summer.

I was surprised by how tall Diana was. At 5’10” she was a full 10 inches taller than Queen Victoria!

Stepping outside, the gardens at Kensington overflow with a breathtaking array of blooms in tribute to Diana.

Not far from the entrance is the Round Pond, where dozens of water fowl and pigeons gather.

This swan glided along with quite a majestic air about it.

A short walk from Kensington Palace is St. Mary Abbots church. This particular structure was built in 1872, but Christians have been worshiping at this site since the 12th century. Isaac Newton was among them.

Our exploring continued beyond Kensington as we took the Underground (aka “the Tube” train) back to Westminster Station. Look kids, Big Ben!

There we boarded a clipper/water bus on the River Thames. Because why would we travel underground like moles when we can go by boat instead?

Here’s the clipper coming in to dock, and that’s the London Eye across the river.

We traveled the river to Bankside, where we hopped off to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, reconstructed in 1999. Later in the week we returned here for a full tour of the theatre.

Up next is Oxford and the C.S. Lewis Close — one of our most memorable days of the trip!

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Countries – Day 1

After years of daydreaming about it — not to mention enduring my husband’s countless business trips to Europe and elsewhere overseas without me — I finally crossed the pond and visited England and France a few weeks ago. An extra delight was that our daughters were able to join us for this very educational trip.

It was fascinating to visit palaces where kings and queens lived, to see ancient castles on distant hillsides, and to humbly enter majestic cathedrals where so many notable saints have worshiped — all the while pondering the centuries of history that each of these places called to mind.

On our first full day in London, we toured Buckingham Palace. It was quite a tour that included the State Rooms, the Throne Room, the Ballroom, the Drawing Rooms, and the Picture Gallery.

Getting to see Queen Elizabeth’s carriage as well as a very lovely tribute to HRH Diana, the former Princess of Wales, made up for the fact that the guards outside were not wearing red uniforms or bearskin hats. On special display were Princess Di’s desk, trunk, typewriter, pointe shoes and several other personal belongings chosen by her sons to honor her as England marks the 20th anniversary of her tragic death.

Another favorite part of the tour for me was seeing Queen Victoria’s piano as well as the painting The Royal Family in 1846, which is a family portrait of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their five oldest children created by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. It was huge!

As you may have guessed, pictures were only permitted on the exterior of the palace. This rule helps boost sales of the palace’s official souvenir guide. (Yes, I bought one.)

Not a long walk from Buckingham Palace is Westminster Abbey, where coronations take place, where kings and queens are married and buried, and where other notable Englishmen, such as Isaac Newton, are buried. We arrived just in time to attend a beautiful Evensong service, which featured a choir from Michigan.

The Parliament buildings and Big Ben are also quite near Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. We didn’t visit those but I did have to take a picture and say, “Look, kids! Big Ben” as we walked back to the train station.

Up next is Kensington Palace, which I thought was actually a much better place to tour than Buckingham because the crowd was remarkably smaller. And as a bonus, Kensington allows pictures inside!