July 07, 2011

Oxford Royal Wedding Weekend - 30 April 2011

Day two in Oxford.

The day started fairly early again but on this occassion it was to go down to the pubs dining room for the included breakfast. After bacon, eggs, toast, mushrooms and coffee we left the pub, turned right. We followed the direction of the river and walked around to the Oxford Castle.

Oxford Castle is made up of two sections - the hill or mot and the fortress. In 2003, excavations uncovered the castle ditch, part of the Norman castle and found 64 human skeletons, dating from the late 16th century. The mound dates to 1071 but prior occupation on the site exists.

Having paid the entry fee we waited in the fift show for our tour to start. Looking around the shop it was disturbing to see how much kitsch, touristy shit is for sale. The creepiest item was a caricature covered tea towel of William and Catherine. I didn't take a picture but it was turely one of the works bits of wedding junk I've seen.

Our tour guide arrived in period costume and introduced herself as Anne Green. A name I knew but couldn't place. She took us through a metal door and we entered a mid sized room. The room was used as punishment and once contained a water pump. Think in terms of a donkey in a yoke walking in circles and then replace the donkey with a man. You can see in the floor, the tracks from the many circuits made.

Anne Green led us up a narrow winding staircase and stopped inside the first room. The room was used as a cell and on occassion, accomodation for 60+ people. A terrible thought because it would have been dark, hot, cramped and incredibly smelly, as the only toilet option was literally the floor.

Legend has it that Princess Matilda, Henry I's only daughter, was beseiged in the castle by her cousin Stephen, who had seized her thrown. The legend goes on to say that during the winter, after fresh snow fall, Matilda, dressed in a white cloak and deer antler skates, scaled the wall and escaped across the frozen Thames. I don't know I believe this but who knows.

The castle, during the civil war refortified as a garrison but nearly 100 years later it is back in use as a prison, even though the state of dispair made it dangerous for human habitation I assume it must have been bad if it wasn't safe for prisones during this era.

Heading up more stairs we reache the roof. Should note this is after I let Angie out of the stocks in the previous room. On the roof or battlement I was suprised at how minimal the view was. It makes me wonder what the landscape looked like when it was originally constructed. I'm comparing this to Arundel and Windsor even though ther are the two biggest castles in the country. The size of a Norman castle against a Saxon town though would have been quite intimidating.

Oxford Mound

View from the Battlements
After the panoramic shots, we made our way back down the stairs and down into the crypt. The crypt was where priests administered to parishoners and bodies were held for burial. In the crypt I turned around at one point becuase I could feel someone standing nearby and staring at me. I thought it was one of the other bods on the tour but ther was no one there. I couldn't shake the feeling the whole time we were there. After a few minutes we were taken back into the more modern cells where Anne Green told us her story of how she came to be in the gaol. She had been a servant girl who found herself pregnant. When the baby was born it was still born but someone accused her of smothering the baby. She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang. On the day she was hung, it didn't quite got to plan. Her body was cut down and taken to the crypt where it was so cold her breath was seen coming from her mouth. It was deemed a miracle and a pardon from God. Anne then went on to run simple scams for the rest of her life. This concluded the tour and we were able to explore the rest of the castle.

Angie and I went back down into the crypt to have another look and to see if anything else like that senstaion would happen again.  While we were down there, my ears started to feel like they were going through a change in air pressure. It wasn't painful, just annoying and I didn't pay it much attention. We walked out of the crpyt and as soon as we did my ears cleared.   I was interested to learn in the weeks that followed this visit, to learn that others have reported the same kind of feeling when in the crypt.

Back outside we climbed up to the top  mound. As we made our way to the top we passed a gated doorway that leads down into a well. Thi swell was very important strategically as its placement meant you could both hide from attachers as well as have a maintained source of fresh water.

When we were finished at the castle we made our way back into the hear of the town and headed for the Ashmolean museum.

I can't remember how long I've wanted to visit this museum. It was great to see the death mask of Cromwell and the statues and busts of influential Englishmen. I say men because they were the only ones included. By this point we were starting to flag so we found the care and got a coffee and one of the most delicious pieces of cake I have ever eaten. The gift shop also offered up some of my Christmas presents so many jobs are taken care of.

Also found this, which should explain a little more of the historical significance of my tattoo.

Our next stop - the Pitt Privers.

Outside the museum are upfooted trees from various countires, turned into art. The roots are amazing.

When you first enter the museum there are two sections. In the main hall are displays of dinosaurs, large crabs, birds, elephants and sculptures of some of the worlds greatest thinkers.

Somewhat disturbing though are the taxedermied leopard and pony. You're allowed to touch them but they look so old and you can see the incisions made in them.

Now the Pitt Rivers museum itself is crazy  and I love it. This museum is both the kind I like best and the kind I believe shouldn't have lasted so long. PRM goes against current museological thought on design but for my research, it works. The items, because of their exhibition style, are easily viewed by children and adults. The varied heights mean you have plenty to look at.

My favourite section was the shrunken heads.

We stayed here at PRM until it closed at 5pm.

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