2020 has not been the best year for international travel, but it has seen an increase in people opting instead to go on a UK staycation.
With concerns still prevalent regarding the current pandemic and what this means for the coming 12 months, it appears that the UK holiday and hotel market is booming. Of course, there is still plenty that we need to consider (even with the potential of a vaccine coming soon) and we all have a duty of care to remain vigilant to make sure that we remain fit and healthy and do not add to the current Coronavirus figures but that doesn’t mean that we cannot explore. In fact, the tourism sector in the UK has seen an increase in bookings and you have to wonder whether this could be the start of great British Holidays making a comeback.
For the latest guidance on both international and domestic travel, we are all advised to check the current government recommendations before embarking on any trip.
With all of that in mind, we are going to provide you with a series of different literary staycation ideas, designed to help you follow in the footsteps of your favourite writers, starting with a trip to Oxford.
Why all Bookworms should visit Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire, and in particular Oxford, has always been and will continue to be a haven for artists and writers. Realistically, who wouldn’t find inspiration surrounded by the historical university buildings and the gothic skyline?
Not only can the city boast that it is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world attracting the learning elite from across the globe, but it is also perfectly located for those seeking a weekend break surrounded by culture and a wealth of bookish attractions.
Which famous authors then, many of them literary alumni from one of the many colleges that make up the University, have left their mark on this city of spires?
Famous Writers of Oxford
It’s far to say you cannot wander far in the city before stumbling upon a literary connection.
Still unsure who features amongst the literary royalty of Oxford?
On top of Percy and Heaney, you will also connections to Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis. Phillip Pullman, John Le Carre, William Boyd, Helen Fielding, Val McDermid, V.S. Naipaul, Vikram Seth, William Golding, Dr. Seuss, John Fowles, and Colin Dexter to name just a few.
Where to stay when visiting the city
Not only does this hotel, which is surrounded by Oxford colleges and opposite the Bodleian Library, ooze history, but it also has an exclusive library for its residents which means that after an exhausting day of sight-seeing you can relax in comfort surrounded by bookshelves while sipping on a well-deserved cocktail or glass of wine.
This 17th-century old country house exudes charm and character as well as housing a modern first-floor library where the patio doors slide open to reveal a private courtyard hidden away from the rest of the city.
If you enjoy both luxurious surroundings and Inspector Morse, a stop at this iconic hotel built-in 1864 is for you. The Randolph has played host to prime ministers and presidents, writers and actors and has long been a filming location for the Inspector Morse episodes and the spin-offs of Lewis and Endeavour. Even if you don’t book a stay here, the classically decorated Morse Bar is open to all so there is still an opportunity to enjoy a pre-dinner drink, including several literary-themed cocktails like the Inspector, named as a remainder for their most famous detective, The Graduate or The Scholar.
If you are after a stay in the heart of the Cotswold countryside but still close to the city, this boutique hotel mixes both the traditional and the quirky to create something completely unique. With five bedrooms situated above the traditional thatched Mason Arms, and a further three in the nearby outbuildings along with a shepherds hut, this won’t be for everyone, but for those who love Alice here could see you relaxing in The Rabbit Hole room.
5 Things to see and do while in Oxford
With so many literary locations to visit within the city, bibliophiles will have their work cut trying to squeeze everything in if they only intend to stay for a day or two. However, whether you are planning to stay for just a short time or slightly longer these are the things you really shouldn’t miss out on.
#1 University College Visits
No trip to this historic university location would be complete without a trip to some of the most famous colleges that sprawl across the city. Ones not to miss include:
- Balliol College – where both Graham Greene and Aldous Huxley studied
- Brasenose College – where William Golding resided.
- Exeter College – where not only where greats like Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett, and J.R.R. Tolkien studied, it is also where the death of Inspector Morse was filmed.
- Hertford College – where Evelyn Waugh and Jonathan Swift studied.
- Jesus College – was home to William Boyd
- Magdalen College – where the talents of Oscar Wilde and CS Lewis were developed
- Merton College – became home to T.S Eliot after he won a scholarship to pursue his studies further.
- New College where the wonderful John Fowles studied
- Somerville College – which was once a female-only college is where both Dorothy Sayers and Vera Brittain studied
- St Hilda’s College – another female-only college until 2008 is where both Val McDermid and Suzanna Clarke graduate.
For opening times, pricing, and restrictions for college visits click here.
#2 Guided Tours
For those wanting to follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors, you will find several guided walking tours being offered that focus on several authors including C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse filming locations.
You can also visit the Harry Potter filming locations,or go on a cycling tour following a story-telling of Alice in Wonderland.
For those short of time, there is also a combined College and Literary Tour lasting about 1.5 hours that you can take while for those that favour poetry over prose there is also an audio guided walk featuring 22 poems and the locations that have inspired them.
#3 Take a walk through the passageway that inspired a magical wardrobe
Ever wondered how writers gain inspiration for their books? Often it is the smallest things that cause a creative spark, leading to an imaginative world of wonder.
C.S. Lewis is one such writer who would wander the streets of Oxford looking for anything that would induce his individual flair for fantasy worlds.
One such outing led him to Radcliffe Square and St Mary’s Passage. If you look closely, you will find an ornate door made with heavy wood, bearing the symbol of a lion, framed with wooden fauns. This is the moment that inspired the beloved Mr. Tumnus from the Narnia books. It is also the door that led to the creation of a wardrobe door that led Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter into the wonderful world of Narnia.
#4 Visit Alice in Wonderland’s Shop
In 1850, while Carroll was lecturing at Christ Church College formed a close relationship with the Dean of the college, and consequently came to know his daughter, Alice Liddell.
Alice, who became his inspiration for the main character in his fantasy novels, use to purchase her sweets in the shop directly opposite her childhood home on St Aldates, which instead now sells beautiful gifts and collectibles based entirely on one of the most well-known children characters of all time.
Just imagine walking through the same doorway that Carroll would have done 150 years ago.
#5 Visit the final resting places of some of the world’s greatest wordsmiths
Perhaps morbid for some, many of those that spent their days wandering the streets of the city have also been interred here for all of eternity.
For fans of C.S, Lewis you will need to head to Holy Trinity churchyard, while those looking to make a pilgrimage to the graves of J.R.R Tolkien and his wife will need to visit Wolvercote Cemetery.
If you are a fan of Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger from The Wind in the Willows then you will find Kenneth Grahame buried at Holywell Cemetery.
Places all Book Lovers should eat and drink
With more than 400 places to eat in Oxford, it is often a daunting experience trying to figure out where to head. Perhaps some of these suggestions will therefore help during your planning. Some are known for their literary connections while others are there because of their quirky character or simply because they serve amazing food.
#1 Have a drink at one of Dylan Thomas’ favourite watering holes, the Port Mahon Pub.
#2 If you are an Inking Fan, you need to head to the historical ‘Eagle and Child’ pub and enjoy a drink in the very same location as so many extraordinary writers of the past. Unfortunately, the Rabbit Room, a private lounge used by the group was destroyed during a modernization, but there is a wall filled full of mementos to take you back in time.
It is also where C.S. Lewis distributed proof copies of ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in 1950 and was a favoured pub of Colin Dexter.
#3 The Lamb and Flag of St Giles Street, is believed to be where Tom Hardy wrote most of his novel Jude the Obscure. The pub is also another location of Inking meetings and featuring in several episodes of Inspector Morse. P.D. James also mentioned the pub in her book The Children of Men.
#4 After visiting the Story Museum, an immersive experience that celebrates the written word, head to the Story Cafe and enjoy a lunch of homemade delights or treat yourself to a slice of cake with your afternoon tea.
#5 If you have been inspired to sit down and start your own novel or perhaps just want a quiet space to spend a few hours reading with a good book, head to the Missing Bean, where they sell their own blend of coffee plus many other ethically sourced from around the world.
#6 If you consider yourself a cake snob, you need to visit Barefoot Bakery, and sample one of their stunning creations. What’s more, if you develop a craving for more, they now have an online shop that delivers straight to your front door, which means even when you leave, you can take a slice of Oxford with you.
#7 Struggling to find somewhere cozy when it’s raining outside? Head to Thirsty Meeples, a unique cafe where you can, for a slight charge, spend the afternoon playing any one of their 2700 board games.
Bookshops and Libraries to Explore
It will come as no surprise to know that Oxford, home to many of the world’s greatest minds, has over 100 libraries and numerous bookshops to explore. Not all are open to visitors and some are extremely specialised, so which ones should you visit while in the area?
No trip to Oxford would be complete without a stop off at the Bodleian Library. Harry Potter fans especially, will want to take a peek inside as it was transformed into the Hogwarts Infirmary in The Philosopher’s Stone,and the Duke Humfrey’s Library into the school’s library in The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of Fire.
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain, it is second in size only to the British Library containing more than 11 million printed items. Make sure you visit the Weston Library, home to some of the rarest books in the UK.
For book nerds out there, (and I wholeheartedly place myself into this category), who wouldn’t want to visit a location where some of the greats have found inspiration for their work. So far, five kings, at least forty Nobel Prize winners, and twenty-six prime ministers have wandered the halls.
For those that want to experience the library before visiting, from the comfort of their own armchair, they also have an online virtual tour.
If you are going to visit any bookshop in the city, surely it has to be the most established one and has been printing books since 1478. Today, it is the largest University Press in the world and publishes dictionaries, English language teaching materials, children’s books, journals, scholarly monographs, higher education textbooks, and schoolbooks.
Blackwell’s has become legendary. Although there are now nine branches of Blackwell’s in the city, and more than 50 throughout the UK, the original is still the one to head to.
Established on Broad Street in 1879, it covers four floors and houses more than 250,000 books.
The Norrington Room holds the official title of the largest single room selling books in the world in the Guinness Book of Records, and at 10,000 square feet with three miles of shelving that’s hardly surprising.
Don’t discount this one if you are looking for some interesting titles.
Opened in 1987, this is a popular haunt for students looking to pick up cheap copies of the books needed for their reading lists. There is also a wide selection of fictional works to peruse through and you just never know what you might find. Back in 2008 a Graham Greene novel worth £15,000 was donated to the store.
Another gem-filled full of new, second-hand, and rare books to rifle through, the Last Bookshop also holds a selection of vinyl records and its own cafe where you can sit and enjoy a hot drink while looking over all the books you intend to purchase. Visitors also frequently speculate what is behind the mystery door on the staircase. Confused? I suggest you visit for yourself to see what people are talking about.
St Philip’s Books is filled from floor to ceiling with books and you’ll need to squeeze down its narrow passageways as you explore and stocks rare and vintage second-hand books. They have over 10,000 books available to buy so if you’re after something in particular and don’t see it on the shelves make sure to ask.
Of course, there are many others that you may stumble across; with more popping up all the time, but these are some of the best, offering a full range of fictional and non-fictional reads, with both brand new and rare copies in abundance. No bookworm is going to go home empty that is for sure!
Finally, why not visit the city during the famous Literary Festival. Run in connection with The FT Weekend, this world-class event takes place each year bringing together around 500 speakers and authors from all over the world that discuss everything from fiction to biography, the arts, history, science, travel, the environment, current affairs, politics, and business.
As fellow bibliophiles will no doubt agree, Oxford is not only home to one of the world’s leading Universities; it is also a haven for bookworms offering a treasure trove of delights to explore.
Have you visited the city of spires? What other sights or landmarks of literary significance would you recommend to others?
Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, we receive a small commission.
If you are based within the UK or the US and prefer to support independent bookshops, then you can find a full list of all the books and authors mentioned in this article on our bookshop page.
This article has been produced in collaboration with Hotels.com but all views are my own.
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