Sleeping with the Fellows: An Overnight Stay at Christ Church College
A solitary archway adjoins Christ Church’s spectacular interior to the hustle and bustle of modern Oxford, which lies beyond a thick-set stone wall. Outside, buses whizz, buskers hustle and the distinctive sound of high-heels clack rhythmically over cobbled stone walkway. Inside the archway the street is forgotten. Tom’s Gate – as known, due to the bell which resides within the tower whimsically named “Great Tom” – invites guest through to the iconic Tom Quad. A contrasting oasis of verdant green and weathered stone, which by daylight hours buzzes with tours and talk, as scholars and tourists meander along it’s seasoned pathways.
We are staying as residential guests at the college in it’s student dorm accommodation, which serves as a summer bed and breakfast outside of term time. We are informed by an extremely chipper and exceptionally uniformed usher to check in just underneath the archway at the 24 hour Porter’s Lodge, where we are warmly recieved and provided with an electronic key fob which will give us access to the sealed parts of the campus, a lanyard to show we are permitted onsite and a rather quaint hand-drawn map of the campus.
Finding the room required quite a good deal of wandering, asking, wandering more and eventually admitting defeat and being shown by yet another chipper and exceptionally uniformed usher. Our room, situated across the quad and out toward the rear of the campus, in the beautiful Ventian-gothic Meadows Building, which faces out over Chirst Church Meadow and the trickling ebb of the river Thames below. The grounds themselves are awash of twists and turns, hallways which lead to coutyards, courtyards to gardens. Great open halls, spiralling staircases, and of course, the ever-beautiful, cavernous cathedral. It is no joke to be lost in this rabbit-warren of historical passages, and so we set about getting ourselves aquainted as soon as possible.
With our twin room faced neatly out over the meadow, the view from our lancet-arched window frames was ultimately romantic, and – perhaps ironically – I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own former university dorm room, a world-away now, which pailed in comparison in just about every way possible, and smelt quite distinctively of wet dog. On our current beds was placed a stylish amenities kit featuring a section of minature Temple Spa goodies, a sewing kit and optional shower cap, which only stood to underline how much detail has been put in to the guest experience at University of Oxford.
With only a one-night stay we set out to explore the neighbouring Oxford Botanical Gardens, which are just a five minute stroll out through the meadow, passing freshly cut hay-bales, swathes of tourists, romantic strollers, groundsmen and general a smorgasbord of society, who are free to use the meadow during opening hours. The interior of Christ Church – which is accessed via key fob – remains closed to the outside world, only available to paying day-guests during limited hours, who flock to see the famous building, and iconic spaces, which inspired, and even featured as locations for filming the much-loved Harry Potter movies and The Golden Compass.
When we arrived back from the gardens, the campus had fallen in to an eerie silence, with the approach of twilight. Closed for the night, the campus in it’s entirety was ours to wander. Although there are some students attending summer school, the campus is largely empty and wandering its enchanting hallways, lit only by an occasional sullen wall-lamp, allowed us to get a real feel for the history of the building itself, and to see a side to the campus that tourists rarely see.
We ducked down one hallway, and then the next, through courtyards, up stairways, and in to any room that would open to us, occasionally foiled by an unlockable door and assisted no end by the two cocktails I’d just had for dessert. Although much of the campus remains antiquated, there are spattering of the modern world on show, such as a University of Oxford crest digital vending machine, electronic entry systems and of course the ubituois plastic bucket chairs, obligatory in all government facilities since the dawn of time.
Once we’d successfully surveyed the campus to our heart’s content we returned to our room which offered a most comfortable nights sleep. For a change, I was keen to get to bed as I eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s breakfast – the highlight of an overnight experience at Christ Church – or so I had read. Served in the banqueting hall. Yes, the one from Harry Potter, breakfast is quite a stand-out affair. The main hall is cavernous, like an upturned galleon ship. It’s ornate stained glass windows throw splashes of colour in to the room and draw the eye upwards to the magnificent rafters which criss cross overhead like a chess board, embellished with gold. The tables, an iconic sight, laid out in formal style with never-ending bench seating, the tables adorned with finicky golden lamps – which are all but necessarily in this grand renessaince space.
Eating was second on my agenda, for a change. Once we’d gawped for quite long enough at the oil painting of scholars-past, chintzy tableware and even more uniformed young ushers, we took to our seats. Breakfast is served part buffet-style iwith cereals, fruit and yoghurts accompanyents as well as a hot breakfast buffet where you can enjoy a full English with all the trimmings. Naturally, tea is served at our seats in beautiful silver teapots, because – this is England, after all. We clink our teacups neatly together and congratulate ourselves on an ultimately fabulous breakfast.
With breakfast over there is just an hour or so to enjoy the empty campus before the droves of tourists descend. We go for pleasant meander around the gardens, chatting with the friendly groundsmen, in search of some more famous literary artifacts housed by the Collage. First, an enormous tree, such as the enormous tree it’s limbs are held up with stakes. Better known for it’s literally mention as the “Cheshire cat’s tree”, this beautiful, gnarled relic is a testament to the Collage’s sheer age and history. Following through the gardens there’s one more literary detail I want to see – the “Alice door”. A small black doorway cut in to stone that sits between in the Cathederal garden and the Dean’s garden, beyond the wall. Said to have inspired the famous scene in Alice in Wonderland, it is a charming detail to take in. I fancied myself a bit of an Alice for a moment – sneaking over to mischievously turn the handle, but alas, still locked – just like it was for Alice Little, all those years ago.
As we made out way out through the quadrangle and through the ornate archways that seperated the magic of Christ Church from the outside world, I couldn’t help but appreciate how this place had come to influence so many literary minds. As we passed under the ornate ceiling of Tom’s gate, ensconced with crests, I felt as though we were leaving behind a part of literary history – and most certainly – a fine place to spend the night.
To book a magical overnight stay at University of Oxford (at Christ Church College, or any of the other collages) check out University Rooms. Please note: most accommodation is only available in the summer months, when the student dorms are vacant.