Sightseeing for Locals

1. The Headington Shark

Confusing people on the top deck of the bus into town for over 30 years, a 25 foot long Shark juts out 2 New High Street in Headington. This fibreglass sculpture, commissioned by Bill Heine, was erected in 1986 on the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. When pushed to explain the meaning behind the sculpture, Heine described it as an action driven by 'impotence and anger and desperation... it's saying something about CND, nuclear power and Chernobyl'.

While the shark caused quite a stir with the local council in the 80s, these days it has become more of a local landmark and talking point with its own Wikipedia entry, a dedicated following on its Facebook appreciation page and even birthday parties for big anniversaries!

2. St Mary's Passage

If, like me, you're guilty of power-walking up and down the high street, you've probably never stopped to have a good look down the tiny 'St Mary's Passage' just past the University Church. It's easy to miss if you're distracted by Oriel College across the road or have your sights fully focused on whatever you're about to have for lunch at Taylor's, but this little street possibly holds the key to the imagination of one of Oxford's most celebrated authors.

Stop and take a look when you next have time and you'll find a glowing lamp post and an elaborate door with a lion head knocker that's guarded by two ornate, golden fawns. Did these curiosities on St Mary's Passage really inspire elements of C. S. Lewis's Narnia? Who am I to say...

3. Above Eye-Level on Broad Street

Once you've lived here for a while you start to forget how lovely Oxford is. It's so easy to keep your head down when you're walking about town and miss everything going on above eye level. So look up!

On Broad Street you can gawp at Michael Black's Emperor heads outside the Sheldonian Theatre, the elephant weathercock on the roof of the Martin School and a statue of a nude man by Antony Gormley (who sculpted the Angel of the North) on top of Blackwell’s Art and Poster shop, owned by Exeter College. Placed there in February 2009, the easily missed 7-foot-tall iron statue weighs half a tonne, and is sometimes dressed up in funny outfits by students in the know!

4. Shrunken Heads in the Pitt Rivers Museum

Even though you can visit for free, lots of people study and live in Oxford for years without ever setting foot in the Pitt Rivers Museum, found at the back end of the Museum of Natural History. Because they group their artefacts by type rather than by country or region, you get some fascinatingly specific displays, including the intriguing 'Treatment of Dead Enemies' case, that aren't to be missed.

Within this display is a gruesome must-see for tourists and locals alike: the museum's collection of shrunken heads or tsantas. These macabre trophies were made from the heads of monkeys, sloths and sometimes even from humans. You can read more about the history behind these grisly artefacts and the ethical implications of collecting them on the Pitt Rivers website.

5. 60s Grotesques

The twist and turn laden Queen's Lane is home to many hidden delights, including St Edmund Hall - one of the oldest educational establishments in Oxford and an underrated beauty of a college (and I'm not just saying that because I went there...)

If you look up at the tower of the 12th century church St Peter in the East, repurposed as the college library, you'll see it contains some deceptively modern additions. In the 1960s, around the time the Hall became a college, the sculptor and stonemason Michael Grosser added some loving caricatures of college staff. The Dean Revd. Midgely is pictured with his faithful dog, the Principal John Kelly with a squash racket and the Finance Bursar Reggie Alton gleefully holding two big bags of money!


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