Alice in Wonderland
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Port Meadow, Oxford
We are visiting the very place on the river that was part of the inspiration behind the stories of Alice in Wonderland. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was a mathematics tutor at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1855 to 1898. He befriended the daughters of the Dean, Henry Liddell, and made up stories to entertain them. These grew into the now famous book. The story is of a little girl who falls asleep by the riverbank and disappears into a fantastical world. She falls down a rabbit hole to a place peppered with extraordinary animals: the White Rabbit, the Dodo, the Mock Turtle, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Queen of Hearts. Brimming with strange creatures, nonsense games without rules, rhymes and songs, logic and illogic, death, madness, drugs and dreams.
We will meander along the River Thames at Godstow, where Dodgson and Alice rowed along, making up silly rhymes, running Caucus races, looking for rabbit holes, collecting feathers, feeding the ducks and geese, spotting herons and the occasional kingfisher and watching boats floating serenely up and down the river.
Distance 5.5 km / 3.4 miles around the river.
Terrain Flat and easy walking along the banks of the River Thames. Can be muddy after rain and Port Meadow is susceptible to flooding.
WALK THE WALK
START Car Park, Godstow Road, Upper Wolvercote (Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 180 grid ref: 486 095)
1 Walk down towards the river and pass through a wooden gate. This is Godstow, the spot where the real Alice and the author Charles Dodgson rowed up the river to and from Oxford in July 1862. Walk along here with the dreaming spires of Oxford on the horizon whilst reciting all the nonsense and silly verses from the Alice stories: ‘How doth the Little Crocodile’; ‘You are Old, Father William’; ‘The Queen of Hearts’; ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat’; and make up a few of your own. Recite ‘Jabberwocky and create portmanteau words (squashing together of two words to make a new one) as described by the Walrus. Do a bit of bird watching, see what animals are grazing on the meadow. In spring there are baby coots, goslings and ducklings on the river. We even saw a nesting coot. Try to find some beautiful feathers discarded by the birds; they are great for making quills.
Wait to have your picnic on the other side of the river where it is animal free and therefore poo free.
2 Keep going through the meadow, along the edge of the river until you reach a gated wooden bridge. Cross here and turn right following the Thames Path. Shortly afterwards cross Rainbow Bridge (so called because of its shape). You will pass Bossom’s Boatyard, the Medley Sailing Club and the lock and lock keeper’s house. Keep going straight, following the river.
3 A little further on from here is the best place to have your picnic. Take the opportunity to have an unbirthday party (there are 364 unbirthdays every year) and sing the un-birthday song. After lunch entertain yourselves with a Caucus race (the way to dry off after the flood of tears). How to play: mark out a racecourse; run around madly ignoring the course; elect someone to shout ‘the race is won’. Who wins? ‘At last the Dodo said, “EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.”’ Depending on the season this is also a good place for making daisy chains, picking elderflowers or blackberries.
4 For a shorter walk, keep going on the Thames Path along this gorgeous stretch of river with fields to the left and the river to your right and look out for rabbit holes. Quite near the end of this stretch you will pass the beautiful but haunting ruins of Godstow Abbey, a twelfth-century nunnery. The nuns who inhabited it in the fourteenth century secured a reputation for licentiousness and scholars were banned from visiting.
5 At the end of the river path, by the bridge, you come out on to a narrow lane (watch out for cars). Turn right and make your way to the Trout Inn pub or then it’s just a short distance back to the car park.