Most new students arrive in Oxford with a set of deeply emotional and intellectual expectations. We want to sit where J.R.R. Tolkien sat, study where Sir Thomas More studied, and wander where T.E. Lawrence wandered. We come prepared to explore every hidden corner of every library in every college. Yet the reality soon strikes us, as we find many locked doors and fenced gardens. Until, of course, someone unlocks the gate.
On the 23rd of October, under threatening (but not unanticipated) grey clouds, several Ertegun House scholars had the opportunity to visit New College’s tower. As it turns out, not even our Director had ever climbed it, as the tower is closed for those without a key. Dr. David Parrott, an historian and fellow of New College, kindly led us through archways and cloisters, explaining the history of the college and its fascinating controversies, such as that over the recent replacement of the founder’s statue by a new, chubbier version.
The tower’s entrance is accessed from the cloister where Malfoy was turned into a ferret in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (fact!). After some manoeuvring, the key unlocked the gate to the spiral stairs leading to the roof. Clearly, not many people frequent this place, as one could deduce from decades of accumulated spider webs and its unending steps. This setting finally satisfied my curiosity for hidden corners in Oxford. The view at the top, on the other hand, showed me how many more there are to aspire to. There are many towers in Oxford, though the setting of New College’s is unique. From it, one looks over not just New College, but also Holywell and Broad Streets, the Radcliffe Camera, and the whole of historic Oxford, framed by the hills around the city, which appeared in their full autumn splendour. The view inspired further exploration and roused many questions about the history of Oxford. Dr. Parrott and Bryan were extremely gracious in taming our curiosity.
Climbing to high places, as in ancient times, can bring a sense of connection with the divine and a perspective on our existence that one cannot find at ground level. Also, doing it with people who are passionate about being ‘implaced’ in their surroundings, as I have found Ertegun Scholars are, can only add to the experience. We left feeling a little bit lighter, and a little bit happier, eager to find the next unlocked door.
Mariana Losa E Ferreira De Castro