A Fool-Proof Guide to Oxford, Home of Harry Potter and the New Lit Sensation Black Chalk
Oxford’s Radcliffe Square. (Photo: Chris Chabot / Flickr)
Christopher J. Yates’ brand-new debut novel, “Black Chalk,” is set in a fictionalized version of Oxford, England, where he once studied. We got him to create an insider’s guide of things to do in the British university town.
Visit Colleges (Seriously)
Many Americans don’t realize that Oxford University isn’t a single campus—or even a single entity. It’s actually formed of 38 colleges and six private halls spread across the city. They all operate under the auspices of the university, but each has its own setup, character, and unique architecture. No trip to Oxford would be complete without visiting a few colleges, but they have their own rules regarding tourists (differing opening hours and fees). So work out where you’d like to go and check that college’s website before showing up.
(Photo: David Nicholls / Flickr)
Some of the famously pretty colleges are Christ Church, Magdalen (pronounced mawd-lin), New College, and Merton. But I also recommend Wadham, the college where I was a student and the inspiration for the college in “Black Chalk” (you can visit for free). A formidable 75-year-old widow, Dorothy Wadham, had it built starting in 1610. She got the job done in just four years. If you go, wave to the library for me (I lived above it for a year).
Enjoy Some of the Country’s Best Pubs
Because the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, British universities have a different character from American ones. Pubs are places where students go to enjoy each other’s company without fear of being carded or hearing the blare of “Don’t Stop Believin.’” I based The Churchill Arms pub in my book on the King’s Arms on Holywell Street, a major student hangout that’s well worth a visit. Built in 1607 and with a variety of different rooms and beers to explore, this is where you can spy the student in his No. 1 natural habitat (the library only takes second spot).
Turf Tavern pathway. (Photo: cyocum / Flickr)