I am a local poet and I love welcoming people to this magical city, answering questions, and telling stories. I will be doing two tours during the Eurotas Creative Bridges 2024 conference weekend, and I hope you are able to join me. As an introduction, I thought I would write a few words about the history of the town, its spiritual side and its University.

Oxford is not just a place; it’s an experience—a journey through time and thought. It’s where the sacred meets the scholarly, where every corner holds a secret, and where the air is thick with the essence of creativity and contemplation. This city has been a muse for countless writers, from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to Dorothy L Sayers and Iris Murdoch. Each stone and spire seems to whisper fragments of poetry, stories of old, and philosophical ponderings.

As we walk through the cobblestone alleys, you’ll feel the echoes of those who have walked before us—scholars, poets, and dreamers, all seeking knowledge, inspiration, and a sense of belonging.  You may spot Tolkien’s Minas Tirith, Alice’s Wonderland, or even Aslan and Mr Tumnus. I will bring poems and extracts of literature to share as we wonder the town together.  Before we meet here is some history about this special spiritual place.

Ox Ford : The Saxons settled here because of a natural ford in the River Thames (the longest river in England), which flows through the center of the city of Oxford and on to London. This ford was shallow enough for farmers to cross their oxen without the use need for a bridge.  In 1167, King Henry II of England banned all English scholars from studying at the University of Paris, at the time one of just two universities in all of Europe. This forced English scholars to find a new place to study. Many ended up in Oxford, due in no small part to the significant city walls that would keep the scholars safe. We will pass some of the remaining walls on our amble and we will also pass through The University church of St Mary’s.

This church is where the University began. The education on offer in Oxford then was very limited, extending only to religious studies and training for a life spent in a monastic brotherhood. Students lived and studied in separate halls and received funding from different benefactors. Later, the nations in the city began to divide again, this time based on religious differences, and by the early 13th century, dozens of independent halls populated the city, each with their own facilities and their own tutors.

A number of wealthy private benefactors began to establish their own communities within the city, known as colleges, self-contained independent academic institutions. By the end of the 13th century, there were four of them: Balliol College, Merton College, University College, and Hertford College, all still in operation today and we will pass by most of them on our walk.

The first thing that many visitors want to know on arrival in the city is, “Where is the university?” The university is pretty much the city centre, and it is at the heart of the city that we will be doing our walking tour.

There are now 43 colleges, each with their own libraries, dining halls, accommodation, tutoring rooms, their own sports teams and facilities, their own everything. In addition, there are faculty buildings, subject departments, laboratories, other libraries, lecture theatres, various other central university facilities which combine with the colleges to form the University of Oxford as it is known today.

During our tour, I will be able to talk about how this works for students, many of the stories that have been inspired by its famous buildings, and hopefully we will have time to share what the town has inspired in us. We will embark on a journey of self-discovery and inner exploration as we navigate the historic streets of Oxford, uncovering hidden gems and sacred spaces that resonate with embodied consciousness, psyche, and soul. Led by a local zen coach and poet versed in both the rich history of Oxford and spiritual practices, this transformative walking tour offers a unique opportunity to connect with the deeper dimensions of the self and the world around us.

Tours are scheduled for Saturday 7th September 11:30-13:00, and Sunday from 8th September from 16:00-17:30. The Sunday tour will finish at Christ Church College where participants can join Evensong. Further details are in the full conference programme. Sign-up details will be available at the conference. 

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