(This is the third in a series of travel articles for visitors to the 2012 summer Olympic Games in London. Previous articles on George Smiley’s London and Geoffrey Household’s Dorset may be found by scrolling down this column).
Spectators to the Olympic Games in London, which run from Friday, July 27 through Tuesday, August 7, and who do not wish to attend the entire venue or are arriving earlier or staying afterwards, visiting Oxford is always a great side-trip. And as it is only an hour’s train ride from Paddington Station, it may be enjoyed either for the day or an overnight stay. An avid mystery and thriller writer, when I travel I have a tendency to gravitate toward my personal interests, and since this is the 25thAnniversary of the Inspector Morse television series, I find it most appropriate to make my tour of Oxford a Morse’s Pub Crawl.
For those who who Endeavor to follow my itinerary, I strongly encourage you to stay overnight, preferably at the Randolph Hotel which was used in several Morse television episodes and features the Inspector Morse Bar. Located in central Oxford, it faces the Ashmolean Museum As of today rooms are still available and can be booked online.
Following a proper English breakfast to fortify the system, a mid-morning train from Paddington is optimal, one that should deposit you at Oxford Station between 10 and 11 a.m. The Randolph, on Beaumont Street is only a quarter mile from the station and if you are traveling light, walking instead of taking a cab will allow you to cross over the Oxford Canal.[i] Continue on until you reach Worcester College.[ii] Make a another quick detour and go through the college’s main entry to see the front quadrangle with its sunken garden with a 15th century low monastic terrace on one side. Then retrace your steps to Beaumont Street and the Randolph[iii].
After checking in, deposit your luggage and head straight for the nearby EAGLE AND CHILD, 49 Saint Giles Street, which opens at the civilized hour of 11 a.m.[iv] Also known locally as the “Bird and Baby,” this pub was used as a location in two Morse episodes: Second Time Around and The Way through the Woods.
In The Way through the Woods, Morse, over a beer bought by Sgt. Lewis, belittles and patronizes his sidekick, more than usual, causing Lewis to lose his temper. Owned by St. John’s College and managed as part of the Nicholson Pubs group, the EAGLE AND CHILD is best known as the meeting place of the Inklings writers’ circle, which including J. R. R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who used to swap story lines over an ale or two. It serves decent pub grub, but since this is your first stop on the crawl, you may want to just opt for a pint of bitters to quench your thirst, or drink an early lunch, Morse style. If you insist on eating there is always Haddock filet fish and chips or the Wild Boar and Chorizo Burger, which clearly calls for another pint. Although never used in a Morse episode, THE LAMB AND FLAG, just across the street, is worth stopping in for a half-pint before continuing on the crawl.
Not far from the EAGLE AND CHILD is the Jericho district of Oxford with THE JERICHO TAVERN, 56 Walton Street, and the OLD BOOKBINDERS ALE HOUSE, 17-18 Victor Street, both of which open at the more puritanical noon hour. These are two of only six pubs left in Jericho, down from a peak of 24.
THE JERICHO, or the Jericho tavern, all in lower case, as it calls itself, is on a site that was once a medieval inn. The present pub, built in 1818, is featured in the second television episode of Morse, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. In this story, Lewis drops off Morse at the next door cinema. Morse, who had been looking forward all day to seeing Last Tango in Paris, is chagrined to find that the movie house is now featuring 101 Dalmatians. Morse heads into the pub and commiserates with himself about his misfortune over several pints of beer.
A few streets away and almost abutting the Oxford Canal is the OLD BOOKBINDERS, used in the filming of the first television Morse episode, The Dead of Jericho. Originally named the Bookbinders’ Arms, it opened shortly after the Oxford University Press moved to Jericho in the first half of the 18th century and catered to those employed in the bookbinding trade. I, the Television episode, it was called The Printer’s Devil and the internal scenes were not filmed here so it will look different to the Morse aficionado. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit and a pint. Don’t bother with faux French cuisine, for that is not the purpose of this tour. Caveat, the pub’s website has recently been suspended, never a good sign. If you find the pub closed, not to worry, as the Oxford Canal is nearby and worth several glimpses.
Heading back to the Randolph, you may considerer that Morse always needed a pint, not for pleasure but to help him think. And as you walk, you may recite the lines of A.E. Houseman:
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think.[v]
Reaching the Randolph, you may want to stop in at the Morse Bar for lunch (reservations are advisable at all times for this popular watering hole) and another beer. If you have already eaten, then stop at the Martyrs’ Memorial[vi] for a few minutes to rest. Then walk up Broad Street past Balliol and Trinity Colleges, looking at Trinity’s magnificent gardens, to THE WHITE HORSE, at 52 Broad Street, next to Blackwell’s book shop. The pub can be seen in three Morse episodes: The Dead of Jericho; The Wolvercote Tongue; and The Secret of Bay5B.
After leaving THE WHITE HORSE, a short walk to the end of Broad Street will bring you to the THE KING’S ARMS, located at Park Road and Holywell Street. This site was originally an Augustinian priory that dates back to 1268, and has been a licensed pub since 1607. The last male-only bar in Oxford, it only opened its doors to women in 1973, outlasting by three years my New York office away from the office, MCSORLEY’S OLD ALE HOUSE, which ended its male-only status in 1970. This pub was used in two Morse episodes: Deadly Slumber and The Secret of Bay5B.
Only a short walk will bring you to THE TURF TAVERN at 4-5 Holywell Street. Try an Abbott Ale or an Old Speckled Hen; perhaps a half-pint of each, while enjoying a small plate. I recommend the Sticky Gloucestershire Old Spot Pork Wheezers, which are not only authentically British but more importantly sound like it and, as an added bonus, have wholegrain beer mustard as the condiment. A welcome pairing with any malt, but particularly Old Speckled Hen.
A short hop or stumble away is THE BEAR INN or THE BEAR, just north of Christ Church College at 6 Alfred Street, on the corner with Blue Boar Street. The pub proclaims itself to be dated back to 1242. More authentic are records that date it back to 1606, when it was part of a coaching inn on “The High” or Oxford’s High Street. It has been a pub since at least 1774, when it was called “The Jolly Trouper,” and carrying its present name since 1801. Its emblem of a bear and ragged and ragged staff is taken from the arms of a 15th century Earl of Warwick.”
THE BEAR was briefly featured in the Morse episode Absolute Conviction, when a miscreant named Charlie Bennett is spotted by More and Lewis in nearby Oriel Square. Chased on foot by Lewis, Bennett dusks into THE BEAR and runs out the back. The chase ends later when Morse in his red Jag, spots Bennett on The High and gives chase on foot, only to stumble into a greengrocer’s stall. Bennett, in a sign of respect for Morse, stops and helps him up.
By this time on the pub crawl, one must also be wary of stumbling and a cab is necessary to reach the next destination, THE VICTORIA ARMS in Marston on the eastern bank of the river Cherwell. There was once a ford here, in use since the 12th century, and an inn was built in the 17th century, and rebuilt in 1840.
A country pub, the “Vicky Arms” is my personal favorite and is featured in the final Morse episode, The Remorseful Day as Morse and Lewis enjoy a magnificent setting of the early spring sun over the river and the pastures beyond. Morse, while cadging a pint off of Lewis, tries to explain why he has horned in on his sidekick’s investigation. Lewis tells him to relax and enjoy the fiery sunset, causing Morse to recite a bit of A.E. Houseman:
Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.[vii]
The summer weather should be warmer and the sunset even more enjoyable so take your time and sit outside at one of the bench tables. The Vicky Arms features Wadworth’s beers and ales and you may enjoy a full bodied, malty 6X or a lighter, golden brown Henry’s Original IPA, or one of the weekly specials. You may want to have dinner here or after sunset take a cab back to the Randolph and hit THE MORSE BAR for evening cocktails in the cozy wood paneled room. Ask the barman to serve you The Morse Cocktail, a concoction of champagne, Calvados apple brandy, a sugar cube, and vanilla. The Morse Bar has a decent menu and if you didn’t have dinner at the Vicky Arms, order something and sip your cocktail while perusing the photographs on the walls. After you finish your meal, you may want to try one of the other cocktails, such as the Dexter, named after Colin Dexter.
The Randolph Hotel and its restaurant and the bar are featured in four Morse episodes: the Wolvercote Tongue; The Infernal Serpent; Second Time Around, and The Wench is Dead.
You may end your Endeavor by imagining the penurious but music loving Morse sitting dourly in one of the bar’s club chairs, telling his junior partner: “I’ll have a Glenfiddich and Wagner, Lewis.”
[i] The Oxford Canal is featured in three Morse television episodes: The first of the series, The Dead of Jericho; The Last Enemy; and The Wench is Dead.
[ii] Worcester College is featured in three episodes: The Last Bus to Woodstock (while this was the seventh television episode, it was based on the first Inspector Morse book); The Sins of the Fathers, and Deadly Slumber.
[iii] Room 310 of the Randolph gives the optimum view of the Ashmolean Museum.
[iv] The Eagle and Child is also featured in an Inspector Lewis episode, Allegory of Love.
[v] A Shropshire Lad.
[vi] The Martyrs Monument is a location in two episodes: The Wolvercote Tongue and Deadly Slumber.
[vii] A.E. Houseman, More Poems, XVI. Houseman, a St. John’s College old boy, is the favorite poet of the novelist and Morse creator, Colin Dexter.