Monday, October 22, 2007

A Pilgrim's Progress (but not A Pilgrim's Obtainment)

Avram loves the Lord of the Rings. Not like post-movie fans, or even movie fans at all. He's loved the books for years and years, reads them about every six months, and feels that Tolkien has been one of the largest influences in his life. Over the Summer, when everyone was making the list of ten books that were the largest for us in our life, Avram never made a list. He told me recently that was because really the three books of the Lord of the Rings (plus the Hobbit), were really all that would be on his list, because they are such a larger influence than anything else, that they need their own list or tier.

Tolkien taught at Oxford; while in school he was in Exeter college, and then as a don he was in Merton College. (Avram now regrets not applying to be in Exeter, so he could have been closer to Tolkien). Also, he lived in a close village near Oxford, named Wolvercote, which is about halfway between Yarnton and Oxford. Avram found out that Tolkien was buried in the Wolvercote cemetary, and ever since he's discovered this, he's really wanted to go down to Wolvercote and see his grave, as a pilgrimage of sorts.

So on Saturday at noon we headed down to see his grave, and in general to partake of the English countryside and get out of our flat. We walked along the Oxford canal, along which a multitude of long boats are moored. Long boats are six feet wide and forty feet long, and seem to be a fairly common form of alternate housing around here, although they're kind of like living in RVs - mostly older, retired couples seem to live in them. They go up and down the canals, and even the Thames River. They made me think of my parents, who used to always say that they wanted to buy an RV and then travel around and visit all of their kids, instead of having a house. A longboat would be quite the retirement home, although I would think it would take a lot of upkeep.

About halfway to Wolvercote the trail leaves the canal, into a patch of woods that looked like the entrance to fairyland to Avram and I.
This led us to Wolvercote, with only forty five minutes of walking total, so really a nice, short route. Then we ran into our real problems; we didn't know where the cemetery in Wolvercote was. It seemed to be a fairly small town, so we decided to just look around and find it that way. We found the church easily enough, with the requisite surrounding cemetery, but all of the cemeteries attached to the churches have been filled up long ago, so we knew not to look in there. Besides, Tolkien was catholic, and the church was an Anglican one, of course, so we didn't think he'd be buried in there anyway. After completely encasing the town, we went over a bridge over the railroad tracks, and found that there was still half the town on the other side. Did I mention we also don't have a map of the surrounding area? It would really come in handy, I think.

We walked through the town, past the Trout inn, where the Inklings used to walk up to from Oxford to eat and talk, kind of like a separate Eagle and Child. It's was very crowded, and looks fairly expensive, now. On the other side of the Thames (a small river, much smaller than I was expecting) we stumbled onto this
Which is the remains of Gladstow Abbey/Nunnery. By this point we had given up hope of finding the grave, so we just contented ourselves with poking around these ruins. Avram and I both love religious history, and ruins, so old churches are great for us. Mainly just the outer walls remain, but the original chapel is still standing:
albeit roofless. The Nunnery lies in a small green space, where apparently (according to a sign we read) there has been free ranging cows since the 1100s. There still are, and as there are no fences anywhere, they come right to the abbey, and probably would go inside too, except we were there to deter them.
Lydia loves to make animal sounds, but seems somewhat confused. She thinks that pigs, cows and sheep are all sheep, and go baa, except when a sheep is sheared, and then she thinks it's a dog, so then it's ruff. She labels every dog we see as doggie, and then ruff, ruffs at them. She also baa'd at ever cow, although I repeatedly went moo.

I don't really like free range cows. When I was only three months pregnant with Lydia, Avram and I went camping. I'm cheap, and so wanted to go somewhere that was free to camp, and our boss at work recommended the mountain south of Payson (not Mt. Nebo), so we drove up there one Friday after work. While driving up we had the unique experience of seeing the car full of stupid teenage boys behind us, with the stupidest one of all saran-wrapped to the top of the car, so he looked as if he were body surfing on the car. Not one of the high points in my life in my faith in the rising generation. We eventually settled on a spot, but as this was free camping, there were no campsites per se, with nicely graded ground to sleep on, but rather the extremely bumpy Mother Nature at her best. Also, although we didn't realize this at first, the mountain is covered with free range cows. This provided us with plenty of 'buffalo chips' if we needed them for a fire, but luckily I was able to start a fire with just wood we found, and didn't need to resort to such pioneer-like activities. The cows didn't really bother me until the middle of the night, when they began roaming all outside our tent. Cows in the middle of the night can be very scary creatures, and I began to fear they would fall/sit on our little defenseless tent and squish us flat. Or maybe stampede us. I know I'm showing my ignorance here, but I did grow up in a city, to be fair. Also, being pregnant, I had to urinate in the middle of the night, and was so scared of the cows that I woke up Avram and made him come with me, because I feared them so.

By the grace of God we made it through the night with the wild cows, and ever since then I've always remembered my close escape from free range cows.

Of course, we weren't spending the night at the Nunnery, so it was alright. Apparently the Nunnery is considered haunted, so we wouldn't want to sleep there anyway, by the ghost of Rosamund, a mistress of Henry the II. She lived in this nunnery, and allegedly Eleanore of Aquitane poisoned her so she died, and she's haunted it ever since. Gladstow Abbey has quite a long history behind it; built in the 1100s, it existed as a strong abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries.

We decided to head home, sad in our lack of finding Tolkien's grave, and I had the bright idea of following the Thames river trail (which runs the length of the Thames) up to where the Oxford canal intersects with the Thames, and going home by that method. We went down a pleasant paved road, through a beautiful valley with sheep and cows grazing, a flock of Canadian Geese, and a breathtaking hill rising along the north/south, covered with trees. So I shouldn't go into description writing. Just let it be known that England is incredibly picturesque. Then we came to a series of locks (very common along both the Thames and the Oxford Canal), and past them our nice, paved path turned into a muddy morass of impassable (for Lydia's stroller at least) of churned earth. Lydia by this pound had fallen asleep, and slept calmly as we bounced her stroller up and down, her poor head hitting from one side of the stroller to the other. We had just decided to turn back when a couple of walkers came by, and took her picture. I'm not really sure why, but I think it was because it was so funny how she slept through her off-roading experience.

We asked the people at the locks where a bridge was to get to the Oxford canal, and they said there wasn't one, and the next bridge at all going up the river was in Eynsham, three miles away! There was no way we could get Lydia through three miles of that mud, so we turned back to Wolvercote in defeat. By this point we'd been walking for about four hours total, and are either getting old or are completely out of shape, because we were both dying. We slowly made our way home, though an hour later than planned.

Once home, Avram looked up the site of Wolvercote's Cemetery, with us assuming we probably missed it by only one street, or something. Well, no fear of that; it turns out the Wolvercote Cemetery isn't in Wolvercote at all, but actually about a mile away, in Oxford! So we never even came close to seeing Tolkien's grave. We do plan on trying again soon, with perhaps more complete directions next time.


  1. Love reading your detailed escapades and am so proud that you are now posting pictures. Thanks for taking us on your day's journeys with you.

  2. You have the unique "tourist" opportunity of living in England and with a child. I learned how to survive as an adult on the continent, but had to relearn everything when I was a nanny in Berlin, from how to maneuver a stroller over cobblestone to which sausage would the children eat. This led to new discoveries (like where the playgrounds are and that German diapers are less absorbent than American), but the most interesting was the Germans' reactions to children. You get to know an aspect of life and the people's character that most American tourists and students don't even think about. (Sorry this is long, but your Lydia-admiring walkers reminded me; and why shouldn't they admire Lydia - she's darling!)

  3. Love the photos! I know what you mean about free range cattle, having had the fun experience of surveying among them, on many occasions. Just outside Ophir, Utah, there's a yellow warning sign which originally warned of "range cattle," but which some wit has defaced by adding the letters DE in front of the first word, and D after it, so it now reads, "DErangeD cattle". My sentiments, exactly!

  4. Sounds Like an exciting adventure. You'll have to put a flower on Tolkien's grave for me. Something small and white.

  5. i like to read of your adventures... you say you awat to hear of my life but how can my drive to the gym and walmart compare to your days??? Anways i will try to post something on my blog.
    I am glad its so pretty and you are enjoying your walks through the countryside. sounds lovely!

  6. The secret, Camilla, is I usually only post on the exciting things. I think most of the time my life here isn't any different than in America (because of what Sarah says, being a tourist with Lydia - one aspect of that is we just don't get out and about as much as I would without her).

  7. Looking at your lovely photos makes me homesick. I'm originally from England, now living in USA, and have fond memories of Oxford and the surrounding countryside.

    Hope you go on one of those open bus tours of the town, with the guide telling facts you probably won't hear any other way. Fascinating.

    I landed on this blog via a link in my Profile. Couldn't resist the English Cottage title. :-) Enjoy your stay over there.

  8. I'm so excited, thank you, Anne, for visiting my website. I've always wanted someone I don't know to visit my site (sounds odd, I know). It makes me feel almost famous.