Richard is an absolute goldmine of information about the city- and you never feel that he’s simply following a predetermined route or reeling out a memorised script, either. The tour sparkles with fascinating digressions, additions, and personal touches. It’s a little like chatting with a mix of Stephen Fry and Columbo- “Just one more thing about Shelley’s second expulsion from Oxford…” And I really do emphasise chatting- it might just be a feature of the intimate size of the group (about 10 on my tour), but Richard’s style is very personal- he even managed to summon up an individual Oxford fact for each member of the tour! An Australian visitor, for example, was informed that both Sydney and Melbourne Universities were founded by dons expelled from Oxford (for marrying, in case you were wondering. Women, not each other).
Richard’s an excellent guide, although his style definitely benefits from the small size of the group- he’s an expert, not a showman, and that means sometimes the fun comes from the facts, not how they’re presented. But he’s certainly a friendly, funny chap, and very easy to talk to- he clearly delights in answering questions about any obscure corner of Oxford. Finally, I know who he weird Woody Allen-esque gargoyle in Teddy Hall is!
The tour was relatively short and moved slowly enough that all the party could easily keep up (even my 80-year-old grandparents) but we still managed to take in a dozen or so points of interests (complete with interesting points) in an hour and a half. Frankly, I'd happily go on it again, and I might well pick up Richard's new book, which, if the tour is anything to go by, will be a mix of the intriguing, the unbelieveable and the amusing- with citations available on request.
Oh, and if you want to know the answer to the questions in the first paragraph- you'd better get in touch with Richard via Twitter (@RichardOSmith) or via his website. Apparently he's planning a new round of walks- by invitation only- in the autumn, so I'd get in on the ground floor!