Visit to Oxford – Thursday 14th February.

We departed from Marlow in fog, but by the time we reached Oxford the sun was shining and the sky was blue and so it remained for the whole day, displaying the City of Spires at its very best.

Our first stop was ‘The Ashmolean’, the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology founded in 1683 and containing world famous collections which range from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, telling human stories across cultures and across time. We were able to enjoy a cuppa before having free time to scatter and browse through the many rooms of wonderfully diverse artefacts. I personally spent most time in the Oriental area and have resolved that next time I visit will be to see the European art on floor 3M. On the top floor the current exhibition was of American contemporary artist Jeff Koons’ extraordinary work, into which I think none of us ventured – but that’s not to say that nobody glanced through the book to gasp at some of his daring and outrageous depictions of the human body!

After lunching in one of the city’s great variety of eating establishments we gathered for a tour of an even older Oxford foundation, The Bodleian Libraries. We entered via the Divinity School, which was built in 1424 and is the oldest teaching room in Oxford. Apart from being a stunningly atmospheric room, it today serves as a popular location for film locations (a popular venue for Hogwarts!) and even weddings. We climbed the stairs to the room which was later built above Divinity, in 1439. This housed a library full of books donated by Humphredus Dux Gloucesteriae, since called Duke Humphrey’s Library. Sadly, the entire original contents were removed and destroyed during the Reformation and by 1550 the room was empty. However, by 1602 Thomas Bodley had restocked the shelves with books from all over the world, all of which remain there to this day. (Note: no student is allowed to take a single book out of the library; they have to read them in situ.) To date, the Bodleian Libraries hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts.

On the opposite side of Broad Street are the modern buildings of The Bodleian, The Weston Library. It houses yet more books and special collections, a café and exhibition and reading rooms. We also had enough time to fit in a quick visit to the current exhibition “Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared” before Darren drew up outside The Sheldonian to take us home.

When we arrived back at our first drop-off stop in Marlow Sue presented driver Darren with a ‘medal’ and farewell card, because that was to be the last time he would be driving an MNTA outing on a Heyfordian coach. His excellent driving and timekeeping over the years will surely be missed and we wish him all the very best in his new job based in Bicester.

Many thanks to Sue for another interesting and varied outing.

Alison Rae