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What To Do In Oxford: An imagination tour by Alex Kerr

Be a tourist in your own town with new perspectives from Alex Kerr. Available at Blackwell's - ISBN 9781527258228

November 16, 2020
A fun and informative read

What To Do In Oxford, although published before the pandemic, is a useful book for this strange time. Whether we’re in full lockdown or moving through different tiers, as long as you’re able to legally get to the city, you’ll be able to follow this full, comprehensive tour around the famous sights of the city centre. Even locals and long-term residents will learn a thing or two, as Alex Kerr’s extensive knowledge of Oxford means that the book includes a huge number of historical and social titbits ranging from the well-known to the obscure.

Kerr’s book focuses on the centre of town, looking at the city’s most famous attractions – the colleges, Broad Street and Cornmarket, the Bodleian, the Castle and the museums, amongst other important Oxfordian places. As an avid reader, I particularly enjoyed Kerr’s focus on Oxford’s literary connections; the book includes an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland mini-tour focused around Christ Church, telling not only the story of the famous river trip and picnic where Carroll first told his story, but some lesser-known anecdotes (I had no idea that Alice Liddell’s former governess ran The Mitre pub for over fifty years!) There are some historical areas where I would have liked Kerr to delve into a little more detail, such as the history of the Botanic Gardens; I didn’t realise that the gardens were a Jewish cemetery until 1290, and it would have been helpful had Kerr given a greater explanation of the anti-Semitic history of Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion that caused this to change.

This pocket-sized book is written by an experienced tour guide, and it shows – the chatty style makes it an easy read, and you can imagine Kerr talking you through the different sights in person as you follow the trail around the city. Occasionally, this personal touch becomes a little too personal (the City Council get a less-than-honourable mention in the section about Cornmarket Street), but for the majority of the tour, the narration is a lot like walking around the city with an in-person guide. For Morse fans, the book ends with an Oxford-themed crossword, which I’m still puzzling over. If you want to get out of the house during lockdown and go for a socially-distanced walk with the appropriate number of friends, What To Do In Oxford is a fun and informative read that you can dip in and out of as you explore the city.

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