A day in Oxford + a Hertford college formal dinner.

Last week, my friend Sarah who is studying Linguistics at the University of Oxford asked Namita (who is holidaying in London at the moment) and I to come to Oxford for a day and attend one of the special formal dinners held by each of the Oxford colleges. It was such a rare, special treat – I was so lucky to get to attend. Just a forewarning: this post is very, very long.

So, you will just have to scroll through and see all the beauty of the town. I just took so, so many photos in Oxford because it was all just so stunningly beautiful. I got up really early today as there was a tube strike in London, and only just made my train in time from Paddington station. It was super foggy, and the train sped through the trees and fields, grey and shrouded in the thick fog. But as soon as I arrived in Oxford and stepped off the train – the sun came out. And it stayed out all day. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

 

First things first, breakfast. I head to Vaults & Gardens, housed in the Old Congregation House of the University, built in 1320.

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I ordered a Welsh Rarebit, and had heard good things about their scones. They concentrate on good, homecooked food using local and sustainable and largely organic ingredients to feed the Oxford students proper food. The scones are served with homemade jams and local clotted cream.

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I had this beautiful view from my table.

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After breakfast, I started to wander. Namita was arriving later in the day and Sarah had class until 3PM, so off I wandered to explore Oxford.

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I wandered past canals and over bridges, marvelling in the history of everything. Everything was so regal, and you could almost see the hundreds of thousands of Britain’s finest young scholars that have attended the tradition-filled University over the centuries, resting on riverbanks, running over bridges in their robes, and punting along the many canals.

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I made my way into the University Botanical Gardens, and while I have visited beautiful Botanic Gardens everywhere, there was something special about these. As a child, I loved the film The Secret Garden, and used to watch the VHS recording over and over, pretending I was Mary (however a little less obnoxious and spoiled). These gardens looked like how I imagine the garden from the film before it was locked up. I wandered, listened to birds, ran my hand along the old, stone wall and walked through huge ornate cast iron gates.

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Sarah was done with class, so we all met up and head off to the Turf Tavern, a 13th century ale house down winding alleyways that has housed the shenanigans of Oxford scholars for over 700 years. I ordered the Potted Smoked Mackerel with toast soldiers, and a Cotswolds Brewery porter.

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After lunch, Sarah used her student card to get us into all the colleges, so we wandered some of the most beautiful buildings and courtyards I have ever seen. We stepped through into one courtyard and all of a sudden I realised – Harry Potter! We were in the New College Cloisters, where a number of scenes were filmed.

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We wandered a few more colleges, and spent some time wandering in each college’s private gardens and rivers.

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We visited Codrington Library in All Souls College, as Sarah had a membership. Listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, Sarah had to ask permission from the head librarian to show us around. It was so quiet, and filled with so much knowledge.

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It was almost time to head up to dinner, so we started the walk back to Hertford College. We walked past some very English looking men shoving leaves into a chickenwire frame. We were intrigued – Namita asked what they were doing, to which they replied: ‘Why, we are building Jack in the Green of course!’ Without wanting to seem silly, we thanked them and moved on, and researched later what on earth Jack in the Green was. Our visit coincided with May Day, a celebration of spring. Jack in the Green is a wireframe covered in flowers and leaves, worn by a man who runs around in this on May Day. It’s a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and is another one of those things that seems preposterous to foreigners, but completely normal to locals. Why, it’s Jack in the Green! How could we not know what it was!!

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We walked back towards Hertford, arriving just in time to head up for dinner.

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Everyone was in their robes, and we head up the winding staircase to the old wood panelled room, where white-shirted waiters were lighting candelabras along the table.

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We had a lovely three course dinner, with confit duck, antipasti and a cheesecake for dessert.

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We met some very interesting people – the table was full of lively intellectual discussion.

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I was sitting next to an American studying medical anthropology, across from people from all around the world. It was a gathering of diverse, interesting people, and it was lovely to eat such a fine meal under the watchful eyes of the many old portraits, hanging where they have for hundreds of years. The professors came in as we stood, and then they implored us to sit and eat in Latin, as is tradition. Oxford is full of interesting quirky old traditions, for example the Hertford College cat is always selected with a white patch and white socks to represent the students in their gowns. The cats have had the same name and same marking for 8 or 9 generations at least. It is a huge part of the charm of this lovely little community. It was such an amazing experience to get to be a part of a tradition so old, and be a part of Oxford even if only for a day.

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