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Ask William: Oxford is a Literary Love Affair


After a whole year of limited exercise, now’s the time to pull on the plimsoles and book a fantastic walking tour.  Ask William has teamed up with some of the best guides in the city, using state of the art sound systems, to offer truly memorable guided tours where you will be delighted by glimpses of Oxford well off the beaten path – with access to sights not normally enjoyed by the casual visitor.   

Everywhere you go in Oxford, inspiration leaps out at you; to walk, savour, study and write!  Authors and poets have long found inspiration from the city, the University and its Colleges, the architecture and the fields and rivers that surround the city.  

The writing group knowns as The Inklings was famously formed here, two members of which most people will know – John Ronald Reginald Reuel Tolkien (JRR Tolkien) and Clive Staples Lewis (CS Lewis). Oxford is a wonderland and this thought was, I believe, shared by a certain Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.  A quiet and shy man by all accounts, he felt more comfortable in the company of children and particularly those of his friend, the Dean of Christchurch, Henry Liddell.  One day, he took the children rowing and told a story which Alice Liddell begged him to write down. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is now internationally renowned and beloved, and although it is described is as ‘fantasy literary nonsense’ I beg to differ – you just have to know Oxford and its people! 

Harry Potter, the best-selling book series of all time, was written by JK Rowling. We can’t claim Rowling as an Oxford graduate; she studied at Exeter University, but Exeter College in Oxford have bestowed an honorary fellowship on her. However, some of the most memorable scenes in the equally popular movies were filmed here and a walking tour is a great way to discover these places.  After all, Hogwarts is a place of learning that has been around for a thousand years – just like Oxford! 

 Another author with more tangible links to the city is Dorothy L Sayers, who studied at Oxford’s Somerville College. And, talking of crime writers, Colin Dexter moved to Oxford after graduating from Cambridge. He worked for the Examination School and it was in the early 70’s on holiday in Wales that he first conceived of ‘a grumpy detective based in Oxford’.  Inspector Morse was born. Dexter’s 13 books were then made into 33 episodes of ‘Morse’ for ITV, with a further 33 following in the shape of Lewis. The latest series of the prequel Endeavour takes it’s tally to 33, too.  Does this mean it was the ‘final furlong’? 

 Of course, this isn’t a complete list: Deborah Harkness was at All Souls and wrote ‘The All Souls Trilogy’ (now on Sky TV), and speaking of popular adaptations, local author Mick Herron’s Slow Horses series on Apple TV stars Gary Oldman as spook Jackson Lamb. in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ Trilogy and Lyra’s Oxford, the names of the Colleges might have been changed but it’s still the Oxford we know and love. For example, Lyra’s College ‘Jordan College’ is actually Exeter where Philip Pullman studied. Other authorly alumni of the University include (but in no way are limited to) Percy Shelly, Vera Britten, Dr Seuss, John Betjeman, Philip Pullman, Evelyn Waugh, William Golding, Jonathan Swift and Aldous Huxley. And for those who didn’t make it inside the ‘Gown’ side to this ‘town’ there is Thomas Hardy’s tragic Jude The Obscure, in which the fictional town ‘Christminster’ is based on Oxford.   

 On a more lighthearted note, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889) is a humorous account of a two- week boating trip down the Thames to Oxford.  We even have a ‘grotesque’ depicting the book here in Oxford (come on a walking tour with us to find it!) 

 Even if you live in Oxford, the beauty of this city is that there is always something new to find. Ask William and who knows what you might discover!   

Ask William can assist with all these experiences and many more. No request is too grand or modest – get in touch on or call 07960 289961  


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