As the Chinese proverb goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with a single step. Sometimes, a journey starts at the train station as my trip to Oxford did. London Paddington was a bustling station and Sundays were no exception. Travelers stood in mass staring up at time table boards that eventually indicated a platform number from one to fourteen. An inbound train might only be in the station minutes before departure. So a stampede followed the instant the platform was known. I dashed off to platform 1 and a kind man offered to lift my suitcase onto train. Oh, the perks of being a senior! Or maybe he recognized my Parkinson’s masked face!
I like to ride trains and have done so on other trips using a BritRail pass. It is an easy and efficient way to travel. Sixty-three minutes later I arrived in Oxford and taxied to Christ Church, one of thirty-eight constituent colleges in the University of Oxford system. I was about to embark on The Oxford Experience where I would be a student for six days. The impressive point of entry is known as Tom Gate. After being greeted and given a welcome packet, a scout (member of domestic staff) escorted me to the Meadows building. My private suite was on first floor which is second floor by American standards. The view looked out over a meadow, and I thought I was in the country. The exquisite blue sky was a beautiful backdrop for my photo shoot of architecture.
Later in the day following a short orientation meeting and wine reception, we had our first meal in the Great Hall of Christ Church. As I entered the hall, I was mesmerized. I commented later to a dinner companion, that if The Oxford Experience had ended at that moment, it would have been worth it. I am still at loss for the right words to describe my feelings. Being in a room where Henry the VIII and countless other historic figures have dined, was a pinch me I’m not dreaming moment!
A little background on great halls….They can be found in palaces, castles and large manor homes in the Middle Ages and in country homes in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Colleges at Durham, Cambridge, St. Andrews and Oxford also have great halls for dining. In the Middle Ages, the hall was a living space where the household of family and servants ate and slept together. The hall was typically a long rectangle room, roofed in timber and entered at a screen end with a high table at opposite end.
After dinner, we were escorted to our classroom by our tutor Nick Doggett (which is what the professor is called) for a short get acquainted meeting. The aerial photo at top of this post gives you an idea of the massive space Christ Church covers. We were hopeful we would find our way the next morning for the official start of class. The eclectic class of twelve students included three married couples from California. The rest of us gals represented New York, Ohio, Florida, California again, Germany and New Zealand. Many of us have had (or still have) education careers. Two are architects, and I suspect they will add an interesting perspective to the Country Homes course. Class dismissed!