Travel: The Oxford Experience

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Travel: The Oxford Experience


Pirates, Adventurers and Fortune-Seekers; The Enigma of Stone Henge; The Meaning of Life; Broken Genes; The Arts and Crafts Garden; 200 Years of British Murder; Lewis Carroll in Oxford; Political Thinking in the 20th Century; Upstairs, Downstairs in the English Country House – these are only a sample of the 60-some courses being offered over a six-week period during the summer of 2018.

Photography, courtesy of Oxford University and participating students

Areas of Study

Created in 1991 by Trevor Rowley, The Oxford Experience is just that – an experience. Using much of their same words, The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists in the areas of archaeology and early history; art; music; houses and gardens; literature and creative writing; modern history and philosophy; natural and social sciences – plus it provides you a unique opportunity to sample life in Christ Church – one of the university’s most beautiful, and impressive, colleges.

Small study groups (approximately 12 people) are taught by experienced tutors. Your fee includes the course, which runs from approximately 9:15 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (plus a field trip), as well as three meals per day in the Hall and accommodation in a study bedroom of Christ Church. Each participant is invited to sit at the High Table one evening during the week, and on the final night, a celebratory dinner is held.

Captivating Dining

After attending an orientation meeting in a lecture hall on the Sunday evening prior to our course, a few hundred of us strolled through the Tom Quad to the staircase of Bodley Tower, and made our way up was The Buttery, which is home to one of the college’s oldest bars, where students and guests can enjoy wines, whiskey and beer – some specially produced for Christ Church.

Lawn and garden behind Christ Church

The Hall is the finest surviving section of the college’s original foundation. Completed alongside the kitchens in the 1520s, the Hall has been in almost-constant use since the sixteenth century. It was the Renaissance splendour of this Hall that charmed the makers of the Harry Potter films to build a replica in their London studios.

Tom Quad

At the appointed time, an attendant struck a wooden board three times with a gavel, and announced that dinner was now served. The sheer grandeur of the Hall was irresistible, but I had to pay attention to those who had been there before me and take my cue as to what to do next. We stood behind our chairs until the gavel was struck again and a scholar recited a shorter version (in Latin) of the pre-dinner grace. The efficient staff immediately began to serve, and in no time at all we were breaking bread with fellow participants from around the world – many of whom had been coming back year-after-year, and took more than one course per summer.

Dinner table setting (by class) on the final evening.

Student Life

After a buffet-style lunch, the afternoon is yours to enjoy. As part of the programme experience, you can choose to attend special guest lectures and cultural events, attend an evening of whisky tasting, book guided walking tours or additional outings, and play a round of croquet (weather permitting) on the grounds of Christ Church. Every evening at 6 p.m., Evensong is spoken or sung in the Cathedral, which is the oldest part of the college and located next to the Hall.

Dinner table setting (by class) on the final evening.

Enjoy a picnic in Christ Church Meadow, stroll the gardens or soak up some atmospheric knowledge in one of the more-than 100 libraries in Oxford – the largest library system in the UK.

For some additional atmosphere, grab a pint at The Eagle and Child (nicknamed The Bird and Baby) pub. It was here that The Inklings (a literary discussion group), which included the likes of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, met for lunch during the 30s and 40s in a lounge at the back of the pub known as the Rabbit Room.

The dreamlike world of Oxford is a bit like going down the rabbit hole and, definitely, worth the experience.

Courses fill up quickly and early booking is recommended.


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