By Liz Swanton
Oxford means different things to different people, but for TV tragics it’s a chance to follow in the footsteps of two much-loved fictional detectives: Morse and Lewis.
I hasten to add it wasn’t my only reason for being there – a life-long love of English literature and architecture, and a more recent passion for the exploits of a certain boy wizard were additional inspirations for the visit – but certainly there were some must-see locations that did not fail to delight as I played the game of ‘can I remember which episode this was in’.
It goes without saying I also love the more recent ‘prequel’ production, Endeavour, about Inspector Morse’s early life. If you’re lucky enough to visit at the right time, you may even catch lead actor Shaun Evans in front of the camera … I wasn’t.
There are official walking tours on offer (http://www.experienceoxfordshire.org/shop/tickets/tours/inspector-morse-lewis-and-endeauvor-tour-oct-mar/) which ensure you visit the scenes of the series’ best-known cases, with plenty of anecdotes and inside information, but I decided to go it alone, and savour as I walked.
From where I was staying (Oxford Spires Four Pillars Hotel: https://www.oxfordspireshotel.co.uk/partner/oxford-spires/), it was an easy walk into town and a chance to play ‘spot the site’ as I went. One wise move though: I decided to do the hop-on/hop-off bus tour first to get my bearings and make the appropriate notes on my map, and it proved to be a very good investment.
The Ashmolean Museum featured in several episodes – The Wolvercote Tongue (Morse) and the Point of Vanishing (Lewis) – while the Bodleian Library was nearly as big a star as the actors, not just in terms of the detective series, but also in films including The Golden Compass and the Harry Potter and X-Men series.
The beautiful Radcliffe Square, behind the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, is another TV and film star, as is Bridge of Sighs, built in 1914 and modelled on Venice’s 16th century Rialto Bridge. Lewis and Hathaway appeared to haunt this area, it appeared in the series so often, so I haunted it too, hoping I might come across the crew filming Endeavour but, as mentioned before, without success.
Trinity, Christ, University and Magdalen Colleges also made regular appearances and I enjoyed strolling in their famous shadows. The famous Blackwell’s bookshop was very tempting (part of the reason I needed an extra suitcase for the trip home), while The Covered Market houses a huge variety of delights. Another place I ventured more than once, with a range of good options to refuel for the next part of the adventure.
Of course, if you’re a Morse fan, you’ll know he loved a beer, and it is very easy to do a ‘pub crawl’ of some of the hotels he drank in during the series. One of those most synonymous with Colin Dexter’s famous detective would be the Randolph Hotel. Built in 1866 in Gothic revival style, it’s an imposing building where you can have a coffee or a drink in the Morse Bar.
Or grab your map of the city and drop into The Eagle and Child (aka the Bird and Baby) – mainly famous as a watering hole for CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien – or The White Horse, The Kings Arms, The Turf Tavern and The Bear, all in the city centre and all having featured in different episodes. You can put your brain to work while you’re there, trying to remember what the story line was.
If you have transport, treat yourself to a beautiful meal at The Trout Inn at Wolvercote, again where Morse often enjoyed a pint while Lewis stuck to the orange juice. If the weather is right, you can grab a table right next to the Thames and enjoy the locals perambulating – a peacock and a duck joined the diners the night I was there!
If you pop into Exeter College, you will see the spot where John Thaw acted Morse’s fatal heart attack scene (The Remorseful Day), but earlier in that episode he visited a pub which I decided I would happily adopt as my local, if only I lived close enough.
The Victoria Arms (http://www.victoriaarms.co.uk/home) at Old Marston is a picture-perfect venue on the banks of the Cherwell River, with the lush green lawns of the beer garden sweeping down to the water’s edge. Three kilometres from the Oxford CBD, it’s a blissful spot to sit on a summer’s evening, watching the punts glide up and down the river.
There’s really good, well-priced food on offer, and a great range of wines and beers adds to the appeal, but the location and the atmosphere is so special that you could forgive easily if they announced the kitchen was closed and the cellar was empty!
It’s such a delightful spot that simply writing about it brings up a yearning more akin to homesickness than I would ever have thought possible, given I am talking about a ‘pub’!
It actually has more history than just being a ‘film set’. It was here in 1646 that Oliver Cromwell sat waiting for the Royalist forces to surrender after the Siege of Oxford during the Civil War. If it’s a cooler evening, you can grab a table in the ‘snug’ near the fireplace where he supposedly waited.
For me though, it was not about the history. Months down the track and the situation has changed: I used to watch re-runs of Morse and Lewis, dreaming of visiting the streets where they walked; now I watch, sighing over my memories of those now-familiar streets and dreaming of my return!
There are places around the city that I will visit again, and others I missed last time that are now on the list, but yes, my first Oxford meal when I return will be at the Victoria Arms!
** If you, like me, are ‘into’ Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, check out this great blog (https://morseandlewisandendeavour.wordpress.com/) that I discovered while I was in the UK. Everything you’ve always wanted to know, and more. It’s a labour of love and a fabulous read.