History Comes to Life Here
In books we read about castles, Shakespeare’s tragedies, and Harry Potter’s magical world. All these came to life for me with my visit to Warwick castle, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and Oxford on a tour this past Saturday.
We met with our tour group at 7:30 am. The morning fog burned off to reveal a gorgeous day. From London, it took two hours to drive to our first stop, Warwick Castle. Warwick is a medieval castle in Warwichshire, on the bend of the River Avon. Self-proclaimed as “Britain’s ultimate castle”, Warwick was first built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The Earls of Warwick and later the Greville Family lived in the castle until the property was bought by Tussauds Group, maker of the celebrity wax figures.
The path leading up to the castle had booths and games for children. The scene reminded me of a county fair, except many children were dressed up as princes and princesses. Our tour guide told us Warwick Castle is a popular attraction for families because of its educational value. When we entered the castle, we saw the central courtyard. Different parts of the castle surrounded the courtyard like dials on a clock. We visited the first attraction on our left, the dungeon, and proceeded in clockwise direction. The dungeon housed prisoners and torture devices. There was a long line at the entrance so we decided to skip this attraction. We went to the Chapel, Great Hall, and State Rooms. Tussauds displayed wax figures that represented the castle’s previous occupants and played voice recordings that brought to life different scenes of a “Royal Weekend Party.” This party took place in 1898 when Frances Countess of Warwick hosted a party, whose principal guest was Prince of Whales and with whom she had an extramarital affair. The rooms were luxurious, especially for that time, and I can imagine it was a comfortable home. Next, we climbed the Mound, one of the oldest parts of the Castle and a great vantage point. We also climbed the towers of the castle that also provided amazing views of Warwickshire. The castle housed so much mystery and history that I could spend the entire day exploring. However, we had to proceed to our next stop, Stratford-upon-Avon.
450 years later, Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where Shakespeare was born, is still profiting from the great writer’s legacy. The quaint town has five Shakespeare houses and gardens that attract millions of tourists annually. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, is next to the Bancroft Gardens and the Avon. Many notable actors have performed there and they are willing to do so at lower pay because it is a great honor to perform there. My friend and I visited Shakespeare’s home, walked around the town, and soaked up its sounds, smells, and sights.
On our way to the last stop of this journey, we passed through Cotswold, a range of rolling hills and farmland. Famous for its beauty, Cotswold was awarded an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966. Our tour guide informed us that the houses in the villages are expensive. No wonder, such charming area does command high real estate prices.
The last stop in our tour was Oxford, home to the University of Oxford. Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. I was excited to visit Oxford because I am a Harry Potter fan and parts of the first movie were filmed in the Christ Church College. At Oxford, there are 38 Colleges that make up the University. The staircase at Christ Church was used to film a scene from the first Harry Potter movie. I was enthralled by the Dinning Hall, which Warner Brothers modeled Hogwarts’ dining hall after. It was 4:30 pm when we visited, so the staff was preparing for dinner. The tables were perfectly set with silverware and flowers. The walls were decorated with portraits of famous professors and historical figures. The College also reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll, the story’s author, studied and taught at Christ Church. Alice was inspired by then Dean’s daughter Alice Liddell. I would love to eat dinner in this hall. I am envious of Oxford students who can dine in the splendor and culture that surround them.
After exiting the College, our tour guide led us along the beaten paths. I was struck by the thought that I am following the footsteps of many notable alumni. Just to name a few, Bill Clinton, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and J.R.R. Tolkien all attended this school. Arts and humanities seem particularly strong at Oxford, given that the large number of famous authors who graduated. Indeed, Oxford has the mystique to inspire great literary works.
My tour was magical in the sense that I relived history. I think that is the best part about touring England. It has a much longer history than the U.S., and I’m reminded of how young the U.S. is. Each country has its own beauty and for the time being, I am enjoying Britain’s.