I have been to Oxford twice. The first time I was your typical tourist roaming the university grounds, admiring the architecture, and visiting some of the free museums.
The second time I was passing through on my way to and from Blenheim Palace (which I recommend). On the way back I decided to stay in Oxford for a bit before catching the train back to London. For whatever reason I decided to get dinner at The Eagle and Child, a pub on St. Giles.
Previously I had viewed this pub as a ‘tourist trap.’ This is because The Eagle and Child is famous for being the meeting place of the literary group the ‘Inklings,’ whose members once included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other renowned British writers. They would meet in this pub and primarily discussed their current writings.
Naturally the pub has capitalized on this history. The first time I was in Oxford I stopped by the pub, but it was packed with tourists and did not seem worth it, for I like going to the more local places. This time though I decided to give it another go.
It was still crowded, but when you are only one person it is easier to find a spot to sit. The back room was full, so I sat in a little two person table near the front that had an old fireplace and some written pages on the wall. I would later find out I was sitting in the ‘Rabbit Room,’ where the Inklings actually met before the pub expanded and added the back area and those pages were written by the Inklings.
Outside of this area there isn’t much about the Inklings. The food was really good but otherwise it felt that many pubs I had visited in Great Britain. But this changed as the night started to wear on and the tourists started to retire, either worn out by the day or needing to catch trains. It was at this time a group of ten individuals sat at the large table next to me. They were still from out of town, but most of them were professors visiting Oxford for a conference.
Somehow I wound up sitting with them and it was one of the most enjoyable nights I have had in England. At times we were joined by graduate students at Oxford University and got into conversations about their area of study and thesis topics. Then we started talking about literature. Here I was sitting in the Rabbit Room, talking about The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings with professors, many of whom were writers. I imagine most visitors to The Eagle and Child do not get this experience, for they do not strike up conversations or are simply satisfied with just visiting a place.
I sadly don’t remember most of their names, but am glad I joined in their conversation. It was such a great experience I even missed my train getting back to London and had to wait for the next. If possible you should be flexible with your travel plans, for you never know what you could be missing.