I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and I’m an avid fan of the British TV and movie detective genre, in particular, the Morse, Lewis and Endeavor Series which were written by Colin Dexter. I tried to plan my own tour with a tour company for a group but ran into several roadblocks so I planned it with a friend. See my blog https://singleboomerlife.com/2017/06/04/single-baby-boomers-need-a-goal/ for how planning my trip became a positive short-term goal.
After a week in Paris, my friend and I took the Eurostar under the English Channel to London and then a train to Oxford, the fictional home of the equally fictional murder-ridden University city. I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we got off the train it was like I was in the middle of a mystery. The first part involved finding our Airbnb. Since I have no sense of direction and am a poor listener we headed in the wrong direction. A friendly University student pointed us in the right direction so we rolled our bags down the street, past the Thames to our 2nd-floor room. I was happy I’d opted for a carryon and a backpack but my friend had been in Paris for 3 weeks and had a much larger suitcase. It took both of us to get it up the narrow stairs. We Americans are used to having everything supersized so when we travel to other countries the size of everything is an adjustment for us. However, the smaller food serving portions are a much healthier choice.
After we got settled, we went in search of my first Morse Pub, The Kings Arms. I told the bartender that I had waited years to say, “Please give me a bitter.” He welcomed me to Oxford and handed me my first half pint (I had to pace myself. We were there 3 days and I’m a lightweight.) As I savored my drink and meat pie, I looked at the familiar artifacts from the Morse TV Series and breathed in the rarified air of Oxford University. I felt like I’d died and gone to detective heaven. After dinner, we walked around several of the 38 colleges that compose the University. I was surprised to find out that no matter which college you attended you take the same final exam, are considered a graduate of Oxford University and attended its graduation ceremony. During our visit, we encountered students wearing their robes to exams and graduates of the Masters Program with caps and gowns just after their graduation ceremony.
Academic dress is required for examinations, matriculation, disciplinary hearings, and when visiting university officers. A referendum held amongst the Oxford student body in 2015 showed 76% against making it voluntary in examinations – 8,671 students voted, with the 40.2% turnout the highest ever for a UK student union referendum. (Wikipedia)
I always like to get the lay of the land so the next day we took the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus for a city tour and then got off at Christ Church to see the grounds. We couldn’t go into the church because there was a special event. Little did we know that the members of all three series were inside for a memorial for the author Colin Dexter who passed away the preceding year. When I learned about it the next day from our tour director, I was so disappointed. Some of the participants had seen cast members and I was having a drink in the Morse Bar in The Randolph Hotel that very day. She did share some interesting insights with us from one of the cast and an important member of the creative team. It seems that the actor who played Hathaway in the Lewis series, Laurence Fox, said that a series about his character could be getting off the back burner. It may be filmed after the current series about the young Morse, Endeavor, is over. If you’re a fan you should check out Chris Sullivan’s blog at https://morseandlewisandendeavour.com/. He spoke at the memorial and is a real authority on all of the series. If you visit Oxford, I would also recommend the Inspector Morse and Lewis Walking Tour. You can book through Viator, at other sites and the Visitors Center. You can watch full episodes of Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavor on YouTube. I guarantee you will enjoy them.
Of all the pubs we visited from the three series I thought The Trout Inn was the nicest. Located in Wolvercote, just a short bus ride from Oxford, it was the location of the episode The Wolvercote Tongue. Since it was a cold day, I treated myself to an Irish Coffee and the Sticky Crispy Duck Salad. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I also stopped in the White Horse and had an interesting chat with the bartender and a regular. We ate dinner at the Eagle and Child. I chose the Beef Bone Marrow Pie since it sounded interesting and I have to say, it was delicious especially when paired with a half pint of bitter. It was a favorite watering hole of C.S. Lewis who held academic positions at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He’s best known for his works of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space. He was often joined there by his drinking buddy, J.R.R. Tolkien, an English writer, poet, philologist, university professor, and the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I’d have loved to have visited all of the pubs but 3 days wasn’t enough. I’d like to return and take a summer class. Several of the colleges offer programs for adults and high school students where you can stay on campus and enjoy the real Oxford experience.
We had our own Afternoon Tea party after visiting Alice’s Shop which features author Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland themed souvenirs. See http://aliceshop.co.uk/about/. The sumptuous tea was more than enough for two.
While my friend went to Evening Song at one of the colleges, I went on Bill Spectre’s Ghost Trails which has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and is one of the top 10 ghost tours in the world. I highly recommend it. This was one of his many sleights of hand tricks. He also let us try it on ourselves.
I left Oxford sooner than I wanted and took the train to London where I met a local guide for a personal tour of the Marylebone section of London. The service was free, very enjoyable and informative. My tour guide sent me the summary below. https://londongreeters.org/your-tour
Here are a few notes from the walk around Marylebone. The area expanded along with the other areas of Westminster following the Great Plague and the Fire in 1666. You have a picture of the Sherlock Homes statue by John Doubleday. You have a photograph of Sherlock Holmes but here is another piece of work from the same sculptor.
After getting the tickets to the Museum we went under the Marylebone road via the Wonderpass to 94 Baker Street which was once the home of the Apple Boutique. Here is what it would have looked like.
The next stop was Paddington Street gardens which has a little statue of an Orderly Boy who is forever polishing his shoes. Orderly boys were road Sweepers during the Victorian era. Paddington Street Gardens was a burial ground before it was opened as a public garden by Princess Louise in 1886, and laid out by Fanny Wilkinson the first female professional landscape gardener.
Running alongside the gardens are Ossington buildings and Garbutt place. This, once known as “little hell” is where the social reformer Octavia Hill started her work. Financed by John Ruskin she went on to manage 3,000 families. She is also known as the founder of the National Trust which has been largely responsible for the preservation of green spaces.
My next stop was Harley Street where Florence Nightingale worked as a nurse in a hospital for gentlewomen. It was from here that she left for the Crimea and oversaw the hospitals in Scutari in 1854 when she became known as the Lady with the Lamp.
We then went to Station 39 in Wentworth Mews and had a look at the properties that were once used for stables and would have been the home to staff employed by the hoses they backed on to. Here is the sort of coach they would have housed which would have set you back £60,000 in today’s values. It was from this mews that many women volunteered during the Second World War as ambulance drivers.
I then took you to Portland Place, home of the BBC and RIBA. Both are art deco buildings built using Portland stone. RIBA was built by Grey Wornum, a WWI veteran who lost an eye at the Battle of the Somme. It was inspired by a visit to Stockholm where he visited the Town Hall. Between the two buildings, we stopped to look at the stature of Quintin Hogg, the Philanthropist who donated his life to the building of Ragged Schools.
Next door to the BBC is the only Church built by John Nash who is more famous for the Regency Terraces that surround Regent’s park. It’s a controversial piece of work, because of the mixture of Greek and Gothic styles. Across the road is where Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met at the Langham Hotel.
We then went onto Cavendish Square via Chandos Street, so named because of Chandos House at the end, one of the few surviving houses built by Robert Adam. It was the home of the Duke of Chandos who lends his name to the Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare which was the portrait that started the collection that now is housed in the National Portrait Gallery. Also in Chandos street is one of the oldest medical societies in the World – The Medical Society.
And I finished off in Cavendish Square and showed you the Jacob Epstein sculpture of the Madonna and Child that sits between the two buildings on the north side of the square that was once a convent.
And that was Marylebone. I hope you found it interesting. There is a rich assortment of architectural styles that start off with the Palladian influences through Georgian and Victorian styles, finishing with the Art Deco buildings on Portland Place.
I worked in as many authors that I could including Conan Doyle obviously, but also JM Barrie, AA Milne, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and George Orwell. There are many others.
After the tour, I visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum with hundreds of tourist from around the world. http://www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk/ After waiting in line for an hour, Mrs. Watson, his landlady, started our tour with a visit to his study and then let us roam the rest of the house where we viewed period pieces and vignettes of some of his most interesting cases. It amazed me that so many people pay to visit the home of a fictional character in a location that isn’t even 221B Baker Street but I patiently waited in line with the other Holmes devotees too and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The following day I was off on a tour to Devonshire, Cornwall, and the Cotswolds. It was a small group, only four women, three of us from the U.S. and one from Australia so we were able to ask a lot of questions. This tour had fewer frills than other more expensive ones I’d been on. It was a variation on a Hop-on-Hop-off tour of the countryside with personalized narration and traveler-guide interaction. I opted for the Bed and Breakfast option and didn’t regret it for a moment. The breakfasts were outstanding, the room more spacious than my previous hotel rooms and the service excellent. The view of the English Channel at the Cornwall B&B was amazing and better than the hotel view the other guest had. We toured in a Mercedes Passenger Coach and traveled the backroads so as to see the sites larger buses couldn’t reach. Two of the travelers arranged with the guide to see places where their ancestors lived. I was excited to walk the moors near the historic Dartmoor Prison where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration so Sherlock Holmes could meet up with the Hound of the Baskervilles. I found there were several monster legends in the area such as the Legend of the Hairy Hands in which something seems to take over the vehicle’s steering wheel and drive it off the road and the Beast of Dartmoor. Here’s a possible explanation for the Beast. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/beast-of-bodmin-mystery-solved-as-dartmoor-zoo-released-pumas-in/. Pixies are also said to live in both Devonshire and Cornwall. Pixie (also pixy, pixi, pizkie, piskie and pigsie as it is sometimes known in Cornwall) is a mythical creature of folklore who can be both mischevious and helpful. Pixies are thought to be concentrated in the high moorland areas around Devon and Cornwall, suggesting some Celtic origin for the belief and name. They’re believed to inhabit ancient underground ancestor sites such as stone circles, barrows, dolmens, ringforts or menhirs. The story The 3 Little Pigs was originally written about pixies. Read the report at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixie. It’s a lot of fun. See https://www.visitdartmoor.co.uk/explore-dartmoor/arts-and-literature/folklore for more information. See https://www.go-tours.co.uk/cornwall-and-the-cotswolds-tour/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwu_jYBRD8ARIsAC3EGCKqDBVluadxyjc0_SUrV7mwLqsrFOKqs9KpnzC_ZNoibRuVJG1XbmUaApNpEALw_wcB
We visited many scenic seaside villages in Devonshire and Cornwall including the filming site for Poldark and my bucket list item, Port Isaac aka Port Wenn, the village where Doc Martin is filmed. From the photos, you’ll see that it’s as beautiful as it appears in the show. The residents are very friendly even though their idyllic home is inundated with tourist during filming and from what I could see, year round. Doc Martin, played by Martin Clunes, is much loved all over the world even though he plays a surly doctor who doesn’t suffer fools in a village of eccentrics. Here’s hoping there’s another season. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Martin. While these are not mystery series, they’re brilliant examples of the genius of British drama. In my opinion, these mysteries and dramas are more thought-provoking than those on American TV. If you’re interested you should also watch Midsummer Murders, Foyles War, Prime Suspect, Sherlock, Vera, Father Brown and a host of others on Netflix, Acorn, and Britbox. Some are no longer in productions but both Brits and Americans often lobby for spinoffs and reboots. Many of our most popular programs were created in the UK. Their sense of humor is fantastic.
Take a look at this episode. I didn’t realize this was on YouTube. I’m going to look for more things there rather than paying for streaming services. I can watch it on my TV with Comcast/Xfinity.
Next time I’ll tell you about my adventures in Gay Paree. Until then…
Continue the Adventure