Sunday Special – Oxford, UK

One of the regrets I had when I was on my big trip was that I never made it Oxford, England. I spent a week in the London area and it is only 92 km / 57 miles away with frequent train service. I easily could have spent a day there (or more). Well, another reason to go back to the UK, one of my favourite countries to visit. 

Dating back to the time of the Saxons (around the 8th century, CE) Oxford grew as an important military center. Over the centuries it was not a dull place – invasions, religious growth, epidemics, martyrs, civil war, industrial growth, and of course the founding the well-known educational institution of Oxford University and it’s 38 colleges within the city centre.

Today Oxford seems to shine as city with old-world charm with its array of beautiful architecture. Noteworthy buildings include Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Carfax Tower, Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian Theatre, University Church, and much more. Other areas of interest include Hertford Bridge (a.k.a. Bridge of Sighs), the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens, and the oldest covered market in England: Oxford Covered Market.  Add museums, cafes, theatre, bars, and nightlife it seems it will certainly keep you busy. Oh and don’t forget that Oxford was the location for various scenes from the Harry Potter movies. 


The Great Hall at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England. This hall was replicated in a studio for use in the Harry Potter films. – Photo credit: VictorperramonChrist Church HallCC BY-SA 3.0


Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England – Photo credit: Varun Shiv Kapur from Berkeley, United States, Hertford BridgeCC BY 2.0


Aerial panorama of Oxford, England – Photo credit: Chensiyuan1 oxford aerial panorama 2016CC BY-SA 4.0


Sunday Special – Harry Potter Everything, UK

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series brought magic to life. The series and subsequent movies are loved by millions around the world. I myself am no exception. I credit my older sister with this as she left me her copies of the first three books to read after a visit back home. In my travel’s I have only seen three HP related places: Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London, Grey Friars Cemetery in Edinburgh (where Rowling drew inspiration for several character names), and walking past the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh where Rowling penned much of her books. In my future travels to the UK I plan on seeing some more. And there is no lack of selection! Let’s take a look at some of what is available.

  • Warner Bros. The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour – Step behind the scenes to see how the books were brought to life. You can visit the sets, see props and costumes, learn about special and visual effects, and how the it was all came together.  What a way to spend a day! Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • Tour for Muggles: This award-winning walking tour takes participants around London to seek out HP-related locations. Booking in advance required.
  • Brit Movie Tours: Offering a number of HP-related tours they are bound to have something for everyone. Walking tours and mini-bus tours offered in London;  walking tours in Oxford;  visits in Glouchester and Lacock; and the WB Studio Tour are among their highlights. Advance booking highly recommended
  • The Jacobite Steam Train – Ride aboard the Hogwart’s Express while taking in the history and splendid scenery of Scotland. This is a 2-night tour with advance tickets required.
  • Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 theatre production – The Palace Theatre in London is now showing the lastest story in the HP world. Tickets are required
  • Platform 9 3/4 – As mentioned above, I did see this HP site at King’s Cross Station in London. I did not wait to have my photo taken as the lines were long, though I did snap a photo or two of my own. There is also a HP store nearby.
  • Durham Castle (a.k.a. Hogwarts) – Durham Castle in Durham was one of the movie locations for HP and served as one of the many castles used as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Tours of the castle are available. Admission fee for tours, castle entry by donation (without tour).
  • Alnwick Castle (a.k.a. Hogwarts) – Alnwich Castle in Alnwich, North Umberland was another location used for Hogwarts. Tours are available and other activities such as broomstick training. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the admissions office.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are many tour operators and other locations and places that have connections to this wildly popular book and movies series. I hope this list gives you a bit of an idea of what is out there for Harry Potter fans of every age. 


Platform 9 3/4 Kings Cross Station, London – Photo taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders The World

Diagon Alley, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – Photo credit: Richard Croft, Diagon BY-SA 2.0


IMG_0610When I was young I would sometimes accompany my mom to the local cemetery as she tended to the flowers and plants of loved ones since passed. Despite the cemetery being close to main roads I found it a peaceful place. A place where those visiting barely spoke; actions of visiting, watering plants and a wistful memory speaking more than anything that could be voiced. During those visits I would quietly wander around the headstones, taking in names and epitaphs. Some passed recently, others decades ago.

During my travels I have visited some cemeteries when I had the opportunity. It is not something that I do often but something that I seek out if it may be an old burial place or a well-known one (such as Pere Lachaise in Paris). While in London I made a point to visit Highgate Cemetery in north London (I wrote about Highgate here in one of my Sunday’s Special Spot posts). Since then I have learned that it is one of the “Magnificent Seven”- the name given to the seven large private cemeteries built in Victorian London.

I was intrigued to see this particular burial place as its history includes a time where it was forgotten. Into the 1970s the cemetery “closed down” as it was not profitable. The private company walked away and it was left to nature and vandals. Now it is preserved by Friends of Highgate Cemetery – a trust that relies on volunteers and supported by paid staff for its upkeep. A nominal fee to wander East Highgate is in place with West Highgate relying on tours (with the remainder not open to public).

IMG_0589When I arrived at Highgate, located next to Waterlow Park, it was an overcast day. It seemed to add to the peaceful aura of Highgate. A rather large place, Highgate was a perfect place to wander and contemplate. I began on a marked path. Not the main, wide path but one along the perimeter. A narrow path with kerb set graves on either side, some so close that the headstones leaned together as if to grant support for one another. Sections had rows of kerbs and tombs, several deep resting among layers of winter leaves and moss becoming one with the stone. Stepping between these graves to capture a mood on film, I felt as if I was disturbing something, yet…yet my desire to see the engravings and to try and capture them kept me searching. I meant no disrespect, I only wished to see. I laid my hand upon a headstone to keep my balance and found myself apologizing, as though the memory of the person still lingered in the air. I reflected on the idea of a cemetery. A place of rest for bodies of lives lived before us – a last attempt to be remembered, to be noticed. It is a wonder of an idea. Was this based on the living or a request of the dying? I stepped back to the path and wandered some more. I caught a glimpse of a cat and then another. A black cat was sitting on a tombstone four feet high, a tuxedo cat sat on the kerb. A black cat in a cemetery – I smiled to myself, “Well isn’t that a like a horror movie genre?” I tried to get close but they ran off. I continued along the marked paths and came back to the main footpath. Here was a monument of a headstone – not a mausoleum but definitely a monument. It was the grave of Karl Marx, the only name I recognized of the list of well-known persons buried here. A bust Marx is mounted top rectangular tombstone and I wondered how he came to rest in England. I looked around and saw that the cemetery continued on for some distance. Tombs with crosses, Celtic crosses and angels dotted the landscape. I twisted and turned along the smaller paths, taking photos and enjoying the relative quiet. As I meandered I caught sight of a gravestone askew and covered with ivy. I had to see it. I moved along the leaf-covered grass, making my own path between the narrow spaced graves. As I came across the headstone I was intrigued by others. I stopped to photograph one when another buried deep in ivy caught my eye. I made my way carefully to it and had to brush away the vines to see get a glimpse of a name: “John James…”, the rest too thickly hidden. I continue to wander, enamored by the thick quiet of this area. Most of these graves are dated 1880 – 1920. I look down and saw the word “Son” on the edge of a kerb. Nearby was a family tomb marked with all their lost  young children. I cannot imagine the despair. Yet another headstone boasts of a love so strong. Still more have names and dates only. I spot another angel on the grave, this one with her arm broken off. I continue to take my photos. I see graves entirely covered in thick ivy. Others with moss covering their smooth stone surface. Kerb sets and headstones lay so close to one another I wondered how they were every buried at all. Some had begun to sink into the ground as if nature herself was taking them back to her. At one point Highgate was forgotten and it made me wonder if anyone remembered these souls at all, after all so much time has passed. It did not make me sad, not at all. It just made me think. This place, more than the other (few) cemeteries I have visited had an aura about it. Part haunting, part beauty. No, not one of sadness but one of a forgotten beauty.

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Sunday’s Special Spot – Beachy Head

The south of England, near the town of Eastbourne is the remarkable chalk cliff of Beachy Head. Standing at 162 m/531 ft, it is the highest chalk cliff in Britain. The beautiful rock walls of chalk were formed almost 100 million years ago when the area was completely immersed in seawater. Land shifts and the end of the Ice Age resulted in the unusual white walls with amazing views of the English Channel.  The rough waves and misty air made the area a danger for seafarers. Demands for a lighthouse date back to the 1600s and in 1831 the Belle Tout Lighthouse was erected on the cliff itself. The thick mist resulted in poor visibility and it was eventually moved to the base of the Beachy Head cliff.

Beachy Head and Belle Tout Lighthouse, England

A number of trails and hiking paths are available in the area. Cycling trails abound as well.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons – User Donar Reiskoffer