"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Trip to Oxford

We had tickets for an event at Oxford Playhouse on Wednesday evening so we decided to journey down to Oxford at lunchtime and spend the afternoon looking around.

Unfortunately the Museum of Natural History is closed this year for urgent repairs to the glass panelled roof. We did visit the museum many years ago when David and Emily were little and it is excellent. David was a Member of Rockwatch (a society for children interested in geology and fossils) and they used to hold a yearly event here. At the meeting we attended Jack Horner (the palaentologist whose exploits were the inspiration for Alan Grant in Jurassic Park) gave a talk and there were various activities for Rockwatch members behind the scenes of the Museum. Chris Packham was also there.

Anyway, I digress!! We decided to have a look round the adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum

The Oxford Swift Research Project takes place at the museum. Swift colonies which nest inside ventilator shafts of the Museum have been researched since 1948. It is one of the longest continuous studies of a single bird species anywhere in the world. David Lack, Head of the Edward Grey Institute, began the project and studies have contributed a great deal to our knowledge of swifts.

Along the corridors leading to the Pitt Rivers Museum there were a lot of exhibits which had been moved from the natural history section. Lots of great information of evolution, natural selection, Charles Darwin and the History of Life.

And to my delight there were lots of fossils on display including one of my favourites - Sea Lilies (Crinoids). Crinoids are marine animals belonging to the Phylum Echinodermata and first evolved in the seas of the Middle Cambrian about 525 millions years ago. They did particularly well in the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic Eras and some species survive to the present day.

Even better my favourite creature of all time - the Trilobite - was much in evidence.

This is Walliserops trifurcates. The "trident" could have had several uses, for example, frightening off predators or disturbing a muddy seafloor as the animal searched for food. This fossil is from the Devonian Period (420 to 360 million years ago)

Trilobites were marine arthropods that evolved suddenly in the early Cambrian (545 million years ago). They dominated the Cambrian and early Ordovician seas before declining and finally becoming extinct in the Permian Period around 250 million years ago.

The Selenopeltis Slab


And finally onto the Pitt Rivers Museum which was just stuffed with artefacts. It contains collections of man-made objects from every continent and throughout human history. Its on 3 different levels. Just a few photos - the flash on my camera really is quite poor so most of the photos were too dark.

As you leave the museum you walk around the edge of the Natural History Museum and can see some of the exhibits being protected during the roof work

We had time for a walk into Oxford

This is the Sheldonian Theatre built from 1664 to 1668 and designed by Christopher Wren. It is the Official Ceremonial Hall for the University of Oxford.

We had a quick look round Balliol College - the Porter kindly let us in at half price for £1 as the Chapel and Dining Hall were closed!!!!

Must admit it was rather a whistle stop tour as we were running out of time!

I hope I am right in saying this is a sundial to commemorate 30 years of women at Balliol (they were first admitted in 1979).

Fellows' Garden

The stone feature in the garden is not Princess Dervorguilla's Tomb as people sometime say but a collection of fragments from the Old Broad Street Buildings and Lodge

Nineteenth century Balliol poets include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Swinburne and Robert Browning and 20th century novelists include Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and Neville Shute.

Oxford is definitely a city of cyclists - there were bikes everywhere.

We had pizza and chips at the White Rabbit

and then onto Oxford Playhouse for an evening's Conversation between Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman followed by a question and answer session and book signing. It reminded me a bit of taking David to see Philip Pullman in Waterstones, Birmingham, when he was a lot younger and a big fan of the Dark Materials Trilogy. Its an event that's always stuck in my mind as Emily had a horse riding session which didn't finish till five o'clock and we had an hour to drive from depths of Warwickshire countryside to Birmingham City Centre in the rush hour, park and walk to the event. I still don't know how we did it in time - although I do remember the children saying they had never seen me drive so fast!!!

It was a very late night but an enjoyable day out!


Tricia Ryder said...

Souonds an excellent and very well filled day out... glad you made it to the theatre on time!

Would love a wander around the uni... one day perhaps....

Ragged Robin said...

Tricia Ryder - Thanks Tricia - my main worry was the car parking but we parked easily in 3 different places although it was rather expensive!!!

Definitely worth a visit- very historic :)

Countryside Tales said...

I love Oxford and Pitt Rivers is a fascinating museum, although some of the stuff is a bit freaky! If you go again the park and ride is very good- we always use it and have never had a problem yet.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Agree with the freaky bit - wouldn't fancy being in there at night on my own!!
I thought about park and ride but I knew we'd be at Theatre till about 10.30 and didn't fancy the hassle late at night! Would use it next time in the day though :)

Chris Rohrer said...

This kind of outing would be right "up my alley":) Dinosaurs, Darwin and fossils are my kind of fun. I smiled at your Pizza and Chips. They serve chips(carbs) with pizza(more carbs)? Sounds delicious. Over here it's Pizza and breadsticks. Even better cheese topped breadsticks.....talk about heart stopper:)

SeagullSuzie said...

Great trip to Oxford-looks like you managed to get quite a lot into your day. Lovely images of Oxford-a place I have never visited, so thanks for this mini tour. Fascinating stuff about the swift project.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Yes, am sure you would have enjoyed it :) Oh my goodness cheese topped breadsticks sound delicious. Over here its cheesy chips :) Very unhealthy but once in a while..... :)

hart said...

In one day you got to see those wonderful fossils and Neil Gaiman--I am jealous.--hart

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Many thanks. Oxford is beautiful and so full of history. So glad you enjoyed :) I think the swift project was on tv recently but I just can't remember the programme.

Hart - Thank you for your comment. So sorry to make you envious - both were a privilege!

Wendy said...

I've been to Oxford three or four times but not for years - and I've never had the chance to go to any of the museums, so I found all this fascinating. I just wish Oxford was a bit closer! The Swift project sounds very interesting; I wonder how much of today's knowledge of them comes from this one project.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thank you so glad you enjoyed. If you are ever in the area and visit again the NH Museum (re-opens presumably next year) and the Pitt Rivers same location are well worth visit. Free admission too :)

Not sure re: swifts but would imagine quite a lot. There is a book on the project I think you can buy.